Rainbows are among the most beloved phenomena nature has to offer. When one of these spectacles emerges, it’s hard not to stop what we’re doing and take in our fill of the splendor. Scientifically, a rainbow is a simple optical illusion: sunlight passes through water droplets in the air, refracting to form the seven-colored arch we know so well.
The white light of the sun contains the full spectrum of colors, each color possessing its own, distinct wavelength. These wavelengths are traveling at different speeds when they move from air to water, slowing down with the shift in density. Each wavelength is affected uniquely, causing the light to “separate” out into isolated colors. Red light represents the longest wavelength and bends at an angle of only 42 degrees, while violet light represents the shortest wavelength and bends at an angle of around 40 degrees. This is why red and violet stand as the outer and inner layers of the rainbow arch, respectively.
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Yet, the symbolism we attach to rainbows extends far beyond this rather technical account. For most, rainbows bring hope. They represent a breath of beauty after a thunderous storm. The Book of Genesis describes the rainbow God sends to Noah after the great flood: a new beginning. In Celtic mythology, rainbows mean good fortune, signaling a chance at finding gold at the other end. Rainbow colors have also been adopted as the official symbol of LGBTQ+ pride.
It’s indisputable that rainbow colors have a unique power over us. The simultaneous experience of so many different shades creates an ephemeral vibrancy that’s captivating. In the design world, playing on this sensation yields masterful work: rainbow pieces capture an expansive meaning, something that the usage of a single color may not be able to achieve.
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This past spring, artist Kyle Meyer transformed a West Village townhouse into an installation of color. 95 Bedford Street, now set to be completely gutted, was constructed in 1894. Originally used to house horses and carriages, the townhouse eventually passed to crucible manufacturer Julius Goebel, who converted the structure to office and warehouse space. For his piece, Meyer covered the interior of the townhouse in rainbow-dyed fabric. “’I am physically recording the history of the house, allowing the cement walls, windows and fireplaces to imprint its DNA into the fabric, within this last moment before it becomes a modernist structure,’” said the artist. Meyer took photographs of the rooms, planning to weave them into the rainbow fabric. The final product will be a cross between architectural preservation and visual art piece, its hues as vibrant as the history of the townhouse itself.
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Designers Thomas Scott and Jim Golden have released a new digital print, a flat lay of rainbow-colored gloves organized perfectly in an ombre grid. In the first few months of 2022, Scott collected wayward work gloves, cleaning gloves, and knit mittens from the side of the road. The precise arrangement of rainbow shades is viscerally satisfying, so the piece fits in well with the rest of the artists’ collection, “Things Organized Neatly.” We can all rest easier knowing that the many gloves we’ve lost along the way may be repurposed into beautiful artwork.
Photo courtesy of Jim Golden
In June, the world lost artist Sam Gilliam, whose innovative, mid-20
century work marked a shift in American abstractionism. Gilliam is known for his draped canvas pieces, on which splashes of vibrant color undulate and seem to move. Partly inspired by his studio- window-view of women hanging laundry from clotheslines, Gilliam created sweeping landscapes of color. His hues range from bright yellow to soft pink to earthy brown on a single canvas. Critic Steph Rodney wrote for Hyperallergic, “’each painting of Gilliam’s is like a tidal occurrence, something naturally wafting to the shore of your vision and out again, but never quite still, never settled.’” Gilliam’s work can be seen in Sam Gilliam: Full Circle, on display at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, through September 11.
Ultrafabrics’ sumptuous shades touch every inch of the color wheel. Celebrate the colors of the rainbow with these eye-catching hues:
533-1383 Pompeiian Red
740-82593 Lino Carrot
531-5266 Wired Lemon Drop
363-4481 Promessa Scallion
624-2722 Reef Pro Saltwater
601-9362 Tottori Orchid
291-6580 Ultraleather Sorbet
Photo courtesy of Fredrik Nilsen Studio