Spencer Finch - University of Houston
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Spencer Finch

(American, b. 1962)

  • Back to Kansas, 2015

Text Transcript: Back to Kansas

My name is Spencer Finch, and we're in Los Altos where I'm installing a new piece for this SFMOMA project, and the title Back to Kansas refers, of course, to The Wizard of Oz, which starts in black and white, and then, when Dorothy goes to Oz, she's in Technicolor. So, the idea is to take the Technicolor and to go back to black and white.

What happens is at the end of the day, people will sit here and watch as the colors disappear. The blues and the purples disappear first. Then the greens, and then the yellows, and then the reds and the oranges, and so over the course of about half an hour, the whole work changes from color to black and white. The colors are all taken from The Wizard of Oz, which, of course, has this amazing kind of Technicolor, which is hyperreal in some way, and even though it's a totally abstract creative color, it's also, in some ways, an abstraction of the film. So, for example, that green on the upper left is from the Emerald City. There's several of the yellows from the yellow brick road. Toto is there somewhere.

The shape of the grid is based on the aspect ratio of the film itself, and so there is a sort of formal connection to the idea of watching film. It's really half an hour of really exciting action of color disappearing, and I think that it is, in some ways, a sort of antidote for everything being so speedy and watching, especially images - we’re so used to images changing so fast, because we're looking at them on screens all the time - to see this image that really is changing so slowly. There's no device at all involved. It's really about experiencing nature and color and light and time directly with no mediations.

I'm very interested in how color appears different in different light conditions, in different cultures, in different languages, and different individuals. Even the idea of white - no one ever actually sees pure white. Look at those two very different images of white up there where the sun is hitting the wall. The ideal outcome is that someone would leave this, and then at some point later, they would be looking at the color changing in the morning, or the color changing at night, or the color changing just when a passing cloud comes and having some sort of experience that feels, I guess, human.

Exterior household paint on canvas
Collection of Christian Keesee, New York and Oklahoma
Location: College of Technology

Back to Kansas is comprised of 70 blocks of brilliant and subtle color gleaned from the artist's own repeated viewing of The Wizard of Oz. Each color in the grid corresponds to a color from the film, such as “Yellow Brick Road” and “Ruby Slippers.” The size and shape of the billboard is a reference to the proportional relationship between the width and height—or aspect ratio—in which the film was originally projected (1.37:1).

Back to Kansas, Artist Notes

If you sit with this work for at least 30 minutes during the dimming light of sunset, you will see how the colors shift from vibrant to grayscale. This change is not an illusion, but an effect of your eye’s response to color and light over time. Finch chose this effect as a reference to the film, which begins as it ends, depicting Kansas on black and white film; only shifting to Technicolor while in the fantasyland of Oz.

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  • Meet Spencer Finch

    Watch a recording of Color Talks with Spencer Finch and Don Bacigalupi, museum leader, counsel, and former Director & Chief Curator of the Blaffer Art Museum.

  • Virtual Tour

    Take a virtual tour of Spencer Finch's artwork at the University of Houston led by Public Art UHS Curator, Mike Guidry.
  • Art Project

    Learn about how movies work and create a colorful thaumatrope inspired by Finch's work.

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