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Special Year of the Arts lecture on art and optics

03/14/2012

Charles Falco, the University of Arizona chair of condensed matter physics, will present a special Year of the Arts lecture at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, in room 100 of the art building. He will speak about the "Science of Optics; the History of Art" and the Hockney-Falco Thesis, developed during an unusual collaboration between an artist — David Hockney — and a scientist, Falco.

Hockney is a renowned British painter, printmaker, stage designer and photographer. He and Falco argue that certain elements in certain paintings made as early as 1430 were produced as a result of the artist using either concave mirrors or refractive lenses to project the images of objects illuminated by sunlight onto his board/canvas.

Hockney observed that certain drawings and 
paintings from as early as the Renaissance seemed almost "photographic" in 
detail. Following an extensive visual investigation of western art of
the past 1000 years he made the revolutionary claim that artists, even of the 
prominence of van Eyck and Bellini, must have used optical aids, according to Falco. However, many art historians insisted there was no supporting evidence for such an assertion.

In his talk, Falco will show a wealth of optical evidence for his and 
Hockney’s claim. He will also discuss the imaging properties of the "mirror lens" (concave mirror), and some of the implications this work has for the history of science as well as the history of art. He will show how these discoveries convincingly demonstrate that optical instruments were in use — by artists, not scientists — nearly 200 years earlier than commonly thought possible, and account for the remarkable transformation in the reality of portraits that occurred early in the 15th century.

Two international conferences have been organized around these discoveries; recognition for them includes the 2008 Ziegfield Lecture Award from the National Art Education Association.

Falco, a professor of optical sciences and of physics at the University of Arizona, is a Fellow of four professional societies (the American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Optical Society of America, and the Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE)), has published more than 250 scientific manuscripts, co-edited two books and has seven U.S. patents.

In addition to his scientific research, he was co-curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum's "The Art of the Motorcycle" in 1998, which, with over 2 million visitors in New York, Chicago, Bilbao, and the Guggenheim Las Vegas, was the most successful exhibition of industrial design ever assembled.

Falco’s talk, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the department of physics, the School of Fine Arts and the College of Arts and Science.

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