i’ve often thought of stained glass windows as a dizzying mystery. i attended a catholic high school, and while the priest beguiled the student body with quizzical mythologies of sin, i would obsess over the stained glass windows, certain they contained some arcane and ancient secret. how could they be so perfect?
at the risk of being presumptuous, it seems i wasn’t alone. kate nichols fuses the chemistry of color with abstract ablutions; stained glass coming clean.
i find my favorite art is that in which the initial inspiration is clear. nichols’ work began with the study of color chemistry: working to create her own paints and pigments, she became obsessed with the iridescent color of blue inherent in morpho butterfly wings. she found that this unusual and iridescent blue is created by nano-sized geometric structures. [for more obsessive studies on the color blue, check out carol mavor’s upcoming opus “duplicitous blue”]
nichols’ moved to the study of the geometric structures of nano-particles of silver, using nineteenth century photography as initial inspiration. silver’s use in photography is due to its sensitivity to light. according to her website, “Structural color is about scale and geometry. It has little to do with a substance’s chemical properties and everything to do with its physical ones.”
but it is this work in which the morpho butterfly influence is clear. her commissioned work for the leonardo museum in salt lake city includes this work on glass. the work brings all the mystery and wonder that i have associated with renaissance era stained glass, without the befuddlement of historical context. nichols makes it clear: the scientific exploration of pigment, color chemistry, and structure is hardly due to contemporary discoveries in chemistry. it has been the backbone for our societal aesthetic for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
i once had to fight with liturgical baggage to stare in wonder at stained glass windows. i have traded it in for an obsession with the ordained, quiet cleanliness that nichols’ brings to her fusion of contemporary chemistry, renaissance painting techniques and nineteenth century photography. enjoy a selection of her work below, and check out her ted talk here.