SANTA FE – For some, there’s more to a Georgia O’Keeffe painting than initially meets the eye.
The way Albuquerque residents Matt Olguin and Salomon Garcia normally see art — and everything around them — is affected by colorblindness.
Friday, as they examined O’Keeffe’s “Black Hollycock Blue Larkspur,” a 1930 painting of two flowers that hangs near the entrance of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the only colors they could see on their own were black and blue.
Looking at it through corrective glasses provided by the museum, however, they grew excited as all the other hues started to emerge. Subtle shades of brown were noticeable at the bottom of the black flower. Pops of pink also became clear.
“And there’s purple in there too,” Garcia said.
“Is there really?” Olguin asked, taking a further look. “And there’s green. Oh dang, man! There’s all kinds of colors in this sucker. We were at two colors.”
Glasses made by EnChroma, a California-based company, correct for red-green color vision deficiency, the most common type of colorblindness.
The glasses’ filters readjust how light hits overlapping color-sensitive cones in the eyes. The overlaps make detecting certain colors or shades on the red and green spectrums difficult, said EnChroma marketing director Kent Streeb.
Through a partnership with the company, pairs of the special specs are now available for check-out the O’Keeffe Museum. Friday was the first day they were loaned to visitors.
The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, Flint Institute of Arts in Michigan, and the Rhode Island Institute of Design also carry the glasses. O’Keeffe staffers first saw them in viral videos, in which users document emotional first experiences after they put the glasses on, according to Katrina Stacy, the museum’s curator of Education and Interpretation.
On Friday, a handful of local men with red-green deficiencies, ranging in age from 18 to 80 — including 28-year-old Olguin and 26-year-old Garcia — were invited to try the glasses first. Colorblindness is most common with men, affecting about 8 percent of males.
The group, which put on the glasses together in the gallery, reacted slowly. The paintings looked a lot “brighter,” Olguin was first to say, pointing out the green trees in O’Keeffe’s 1930 “Black Mesa Landscape.”
“Everything’s clearer, more crisp, and more vivid for sure,” Steve McClung, a 57-year-old Albuquerque resident, said as he got closer to that painting. Unlike before, McClung said he could notice the contrasting shades in the red mountain at the image’s center.
The testers described a new vibrancy and ability to spot different shades and nuances.
McClung and others emphasized htat a new challenge will be learning colors now seen correctly for the first time. What other people know as a certain color — like purple or pink, he explained — he doesn’t have name recognition for yet.
“I’ve got more learning to do,” said McClung.
“To me, it’s like getting the Rosetta Stone for color-sighted people and be able to talk that language,” said Cliff Vance of Santa Fe. The 67-year-old semi-retired truck driver was comparing views of 1929’s “Black Cross with Red Sky” with 18-year-old Jake Dekker. The painting has a dark red background. Without the glasses, Vance saw it as brown.
Other changes were more stark. A small group gathered around a painting of an adobe wall. Without the glasses, the wall looked green rather than adobe brown, they said.
Jim Redd, an 80-year-old Santa Fe resident, discovered he was color blind at age 17 after failing an exam for a Navy scholarship. His wife is a museum volunteer. He described his deficiency as seemingly less severe than others.
What he saw Friday wasn’t a huge difference, but the glasses made the paintings more “attractive,” particularly with reds and yellows now more clear.
“It’s nice to see things like everybody else does,” Redd said. “In the way Georgia O’Keeffe wanted me to see it.”