North East universities’ app reveals hidden secrets of paintings

BENEATH the surface of a painting lie the secrets of its creation, but an app designed in the North East could expose them all.

From left, Dr Jonathan Hook, Dr Jo Briggs and Prof Mark Blythe
From left, Dr Jonathan Hook, Dr Jo Briggs and Prof Mark Blythe

BENEATH the surface of a painting lie the secrets of its creation, but an app designed in the North East could expose them all.

The smart phone and tablet app was unveiled in Paris by a team of experts from Newcastle and Northumbria universities.

They believe the app, called Repentir, could enhance the experience of gallery visitors by revealing an artist’s creative process.

Currently the app is applicable to just one painting, Transamerica, by realist painter Nathan Walsh who specialises in colourful city scenes.

The app allows people to rub away the painting’s built-up layers to see how it was done.

Repentir – an art term meaning alterations made during creation – was developed using a high resolution digital camera installed in the artist’s studio in York. Using images tracking the artwork from blank canvas to vibrant painting, the team then created the app.

Dr Jo Briggs, lead researcher at Northumbria University, said: “We’ve been working with Nathan for over a year and were struck by the sheer effort and time he invests in each painting.

“We wanted to expose and celebrate this as a new digital artefact.”

Newcastle University researcher Dr Jonathan Hook said Repentir was able to find the position of the painting in any photo taken on a gallery visitor’s mobile and then augment it with images taken during the creative process.

“It works by picking out prominent features of the original painting, such as corners of buildings, and then looking for the same features in the image taken by the mobile device,” he said.

“The process works even if only a small area of the painting is photographed, allowing gallery visitors to get up close to the painting and inspect particular regions.

“Because every visitor will capture the image from a slightly different angle, rub away layers in a different way and focus in on different points, it means everyone’s appreciation of the piece will be totally unique.”

Project leader Prof Mark Blythe, a specialist in human-computer interaction at Northumbria University, said: “Picasso once remarked that the problem with any painting is that eventually it is hung on a wall and nobody ever looks at it again.

“It may be that new forms of reproduction, such as Repentir, will open up new ways of looking.”

Far from feeling exposed by the app, Nathan Walsh said: “Repentir shows how I construct every element of my paintings from scratch.

“I’m quite happy to promote my original drawings as it demonstrates the fact that drawing is at the heart of what I do.”

The team hope to incorporate more of the artist’s work in Repentir and to develop apps with other painters.

Following its unveiling in Paris at a computing conference, both app and painting will be displayed at an art gallery in New York.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer