Europium. Symbol: Eu. Atomic number: 63
It’s alright if you don’t remember this rare Earth element from your high school science class. Here’s what you need to know: The metal is phosphorescent, meaning it glows in the dark. Why the chemistry lesson? Because europium is what makes Patrick Zoller‘s paintings visible in the dark for up to 24 hours. The 54-year-old artist buys the powdered pigment from scientists (or the stores said scientists shop at) and mixes it with acrylic gels to make different hues of paint, which he uses—flicking the lights on and off—to craft his works. With the canvas or wood flat on a table, he drips paint into sections he’s outlined in black with a toothpick. The result is what Zoller calls “luminous paintings”: They’re black-and-white in the daylight, neon under a black light, and glow with fading color in the dark. (Expose the painting to light again for a period of time and it will regain its glow.)
His early efforts (like the circular work above) are reminiscent of stained glass windows. But Zoller, who moved to Colorado in 2009 from the East Coast, is also expanding into landscapes. (For the first two years he lived here, he painted a landscape in Rocky Mountain National Park every day.) In a small study of Lake Tahoe created with europium, the blue sky and yellow sun transform into a starry night sky shining in the moonlight as the light of day disappears. Zoller only started this process about 18 months ago, discovering it in his quest to create something new and interesting after a 30-year painting career. Some pieces take as long as six months to complete. “I’m painting with light,” he says. “We’re 21st-century painters; we should be painting 21st-century things.”
In person: You can see six of Zoller’s luminous paintings in the small downstairs gallery at Artwork Network through September 28. (Upstairs, the venue is showcasing Vivid Visions, a selection of bold, large-scale works by three artists.) Feel free to turn the lights on and off as you explore Zoller’s fascinating art experiment.