Thomas Brodhead – American, born 1968 – Tetrac(h)romagnon –2016 – acrylic on canvas – 24" x 36" x 1.25" (60.96cm x 91.44cm x 3.18cm)
Beginning some 35,000 years ago, Paleolithic Europeans began decorating the walls of a cave in today’s southwestern France with astonishing artwork on par with some creations that adorn modern-day museums. The images on the walls of the Chauvet cave system—drawings perhaps 20,000 years older than those in Lascaux—shock the viewer with the truth that the cave artists are we, and we are they: there is no division save the superficial. Our intellect and psychology are inescapably congruent across the 900 unknowable generations spanning the interval between those drawings and the first written word. Our human experience is not variable but constant, defined by friendship, ecstasy, frustration, failure, carnal desires, impregnable repulsions, dashed hopes, conquered fears, upward movements damned...all life-dramas made possible by the principal tool that transforms our dreams into realities, the human hand.
Since the Chauvet cave was discovered in 1994, the possibility of human tetrachromacy has come to light. In the main, we are trichromats, synthesizing our color experience from retinal cones in groups of three, one cone for each note of an RGB triad, with the possibility of approximately 1 million viewable colors. But a minute percentage of the population is gifted a fourth cone, one that skyrockets the possible perceptible colors to nearly 100 million; this condition is otherwise found only in certain fish, birds, and arthropods. Requiring two X chromosomes in humans, it can only occur in women or in men with Klinefelter syndrome, and the additional cone may not be activated in all those who have the gene. But at least one tetrachromatic woman—an artist, appropriately—has been identified, studied, and publicized widely.
But what of the colors of our unknowable past? What of the lives lived in the endless possible chiefdoms, kingdoms, and perhaps vast civilizations that have come and gone before cuneiform impressed our self-knowledge into hubristic relief?
And so, a study tetrachromatic is presented to view: red paired with green and orange paired with blue, traveling chromas in complementary hues spanning darkness to light, factoring optics by value.