Chinese X Jewish cultures

Exhibition: You See, I Hear You

This series of colourful dotty paintings is dedicated to my mentor, Henry Steiner – world-renowned graphic designer, for his inspiring teachings and encouragement for my artistic career.

The first time I had dinner with Henry, he pointed at a dish of fried eggplant and asked me, “What do you call this colour?”  I paused, then replied – “Aubergine, purple”. He subsequently corrected me and said that it was, in fact, magenta.  No words, but as a master in graphic design, arguing with him would prove inevitably prove futile.  Three years later, after he visited Vienna, he finally “came out of the closet” and revealed his colour-blindness, which had until then remained a undisclosed, to the audience at a design seminar.

It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most mesmerising reveal that I’ve ever heard in my humble art career. The design master is red-green deficient; how did he manage to create thousands of stunning, successful, unforgettable, and communicative corporate identities? I kept asking myself – “How does this mastermind work?” for months on end as it lingered in my psyche.

I began researching this unique form vision. I came across a few scientific terms: Ishihara colour test plates, chromaticity theories, hidden digit design, transformation design, confusion line and Daltonism; after weeks of examinations and experimentation, I finally got a grip of how a red-green deficient person may see the world.

Based on the research I’ve conducted into color blindness, I took to creating my own colour vision plates, differing from the original Ishihara plates, by challenging what people cannot see. My works have hidden images and messages only visible to an audience with red-green deficiency. While the majority of us rejoice over our ability to see the objects in a colour-blind plates, we still depend on the minority within our communities to tell us what exists outside of our “normal” vision.

About the artist

Carol Man was born in and grew up in a traditional Chinese family in Hong Kong. She converted to Judaism — a non-missionary religion unfamiliar to the majority of the people in Hong Kong. Her works reflect her dual identity of being Chinese and Jewish, and her journey of migrating from the majority to the minority and sharing the minority vision with the majority.

On his (color) blindness – Henry Steiner

(Allusion to John Milton acknowledged.)

My parents and I were at the home of relatives in Sheepshead Bay, New York. Along with the other pre-teen children I was scribbling a picture of a house with, above it, a childish monochrome arc. The other kids rushed to show it to their parents in another room, revealing that my sky was colored purple. Thus was my color blindness confirmed. This minor affliction is currently called by the politically correct name: color deficiency. 

It turned out that my mother’s brother (Uncle Egon) was also afflicted by an extreme form of the illness which allowed him to see the world only in black and white. Mine was of a different sort, as gradually confirmed; a brand of chromatic deficiency that involves confusing subtle colors like chartreuse, mauve, etc. I have never kept this minor handicap a secret, except from printers who would not hesitate to use the information to push substandard color proofs on me, if divulged.

Carol Man, a gifted and adventurous painter, heard me explain my deficiency in a conversation about the Ishihara color test. Dr Ishihara Shigenobu was professor at Tokyo University who published a book of tests for color blindness in 1917. It involves a series of plates: dots in various sizes and hues which included some dotted numerals only visible by those with normal chromatic vision.

Carol’s work is both intellectually stimulating and visually striking. She was intrigued by my stories of coping with the handicap and diligently created a series of art works in which dotted silhouettes of say, animals, could only be discerned by those with normal vision.

Her work is hands-on and she discovered a technique where she uses flat ended brushes, in varying sizes, held at right angle to the canvas, transferring the pigment by twirling the brush.

The results are a set of striking and stimulating paintings. They are stunning creations and deserve wide exposure. Carol’s ebullient new direction is, literally, eye opening.

Henry Steiner

14 April 2020


This entry was posted on August 22, 2020 by in News, Paintings, Writings.

© Carol Man 文頴恩 2014 – 2022