Category Archives: Tetrachomacy

The World’s First Tetrachromat Artist

The unique nature of an artist can be considered art itself. What sets great artists apart may not be their talents but their circumstances. While we know much of our destinies are determined by the decisions we make, remnants of happenstance hover over many of the artists we know and love.

No one understands this better than Concetta Antico, who, in 2012, received news that would change her life and send her already successful art career into high gear.

The Making of an Artist

To Concetta, art and life have always been one in the same. Her love of art began at the age of seven, when she found herself fascinated by color. This was around the time she started painting. Even at a young age her peers recognized the Australian native’s creative talent.
America's Finest City Lights, San Diego 10x10Now in San Diego, the place she considers home, Concetta’s days begin at the sight of color. The moment she opens her eyes she feels inspired by the color variations outside her windows and inside her home. Even the different fibers found in her wood floors can captivate this color connoisseur. These everyday sightings are what encourage Concetta to paint extraordinary works of art.

As an oil painter, Concetta paints each piece of art in one sitting and may accomplish 12 or more paintings per month. (With an exhibit on the horizon she has been known to paint up to 30 pieces in that time.) As it may seem, there is no time for creative blocks in Concetta’s world, although, she rarely feels confined by the age-old artist’s plague. Each day Concetta’s appreciation for art is renewed as she takes in the millions of shades, tones and hues that color her world.

Beyond her own art, Concetta also owns and operates an oil painting school called The Salon of Art (http://www.thesalonofart.com/). In her 25 years of teaching, she has instructed over 15,000 people on how to paint.

At a glance, it seems Concetta Antico has lived multiple lives, all dedicated to the pursuit of art. But these are merely chapters of a single story; the story of an artist. And the current chapter, the one where she and her art become known throughout the world, is only just beginning.

Behind the Artist’s Eyes

Concetta describes some of her recent fame as a result of being at the right place at the right time. And to some degree, this is true. In fact, had Concetta’s life not unfolded the way it has, the world may still not fully understand tetrachromacy, a condition where a person possesses four types of cone cells (independent channels for conveying colors) in the eye. It is typical to possess three cone cells but not four. Ultimately, a person with tetrachromacy, or a tetrachromat, may see 99 million more colors than the average person.

Rainbow Gully, Mission Hills, SD 12×16 Hi resConcetta Antico is the world’s first tetrachromat artist, a combination that some researchers have dubbed “The Perfect Storm.” One reason why few people know about tetrachromacy is because not many people know they are seeing more colors than other people. Concetta, on the other hand, has been immersed in color her entire life. Therefore, she is a highly functioning tetrachromat who fully embraced her condition before she knew it was there. This is why Concetta is able to help researchers better understand 2-3 percent of the world’s population that have four color cones. Tetrachromacy involves a unique connection between one’s eyes and brain. Sometimes, people who are unaware they are tetrachromat’s have not allowed their brains to recognize the large amount of colors their eyes take in. Because Concetta has been using color her entire life, her brain is quick to recognize assortments of color that others (even fellow tectrachromats) cannot process.

However, if it weren’t for being at the right place at the right time Concetta may not have learned she has tetrachromacy. Nor would the world have the first artist who can shed light on what it is like to see life through rich color.

Recognizing Tetrachromacy

Two separate occasions led Concetta to the team of researchers who would genotype her as a tetrachromat. The first was a trip to an optometrist with her daughter, and the second came in the form of an email from one of her students.

Peacock Tango! 40x60 Hi ResIn 2009, Concetta’s then 8-year-old daughter came home from school with an uncommon concern. She couldn’t see the board when her teacher wrote on it in orange. It seemed like a case of colorblindness, which is odd because it is very rare for girls to be colorblind. However, a trip to the eye doctor proved that Concetta, a lifelong lover of color, had a daughter with colorblindness.

Concetta didn’t think too much of the rarity in her line of DNA until a student of hers, Wendy Martin, sent her an email about a genetic factor that may influence how some individuals see color. Wendy was a research scientist herself and had noted an “alchemy” in Concetta’s work. When Wendy told the artist/teacher that she couldn’t put her finger on what made the art unique, Concetta joked that it must be her fourth receptor. Shortly after this conversation, Wendy sent Concetta an email with an article that connected the dots of her unique talent. The article stated that a person with four receptors could, in fact, have a colorblind daughter.

On this day in November, 2012, Concetta emailed the authors of the article, thus taking the first step in recognizing what the world knows her for today. Concetta Antico is a tetrachromat.

Same Art, New Fame

What has changed since receiving this news? Concetta still wakes up inspired by colors outside her windows and inside her home; she still owns and teaches at The Salon of Art; she completes each painting in one sitting. But on top of these decades-long practices, Concetta now has a press career. With the eloquence of a tenure educator, the accent of an Australian empress, and the poise of an internationally renowned artist, Concetta grants interviews about her artwork and how tetrachromacy influences her craft.

There is no doubt that Concetta’s talent and work ethic are worthy of fame, but much of this new wave of success has come from her accepting and embracing a DNA condition that is propelling her career to new heights.

Idyll Hours ~ Daisy Days 24×36 Hi ResSo in an exclusive interview with Concetta Antico, the world’s first tetrachromat artist, Segmation has one burning question: What is your favorite color?

Her response might come as a surprise. “White,” she says.

An artist who is known to live in a world of color is most drawn to the color white. Some might argue that white is not a color, but those people are not tetrachromats. “Everything speaks to me,” explains Concetta. “It’s hard to detach from color. It is a huge component of everything I do.” She also expresses that colors like red and yellow are too strong. To her, white is peaceful. And let us not forget, to a tetrachromat, even white is a mosaic of color.

Images made available by Concetta Antico.

The Gift of Color Vision

There is a rare condition that’s not fatal, but many artists would kill to have it. It is called tetrachomacy. Its main symptom is near-superhuman vision.

Impressionist painter Concetta Antico has tetrachomacy. When she examines a leaf, she sees a “mosaic of color,” not just shades of green.

“Around the edge I’ll see orange or red or purple in the shadow; you might see dark green but I’ll see violet, turquoise, blue,” she says. In her line of work, this ‘disorder’ is a rare gift that produces extraordinary works of art.

Tetrachromats have more receptors in their eyes to absorb color, letting them see hues that are invisible to everyone else. The average person has three cones, or photoreceptor cells in the retina that control color vision and allow people to see up to a million colors. Tetrachromats have four cones, so they can detect nuances and dimensions of color that others can’t.

Researchers believe that one percent of the world population is tetrachromatic. According to Kimberly Jameson, a cognitive scientist at the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences at the University of California in Irvine, the differences between the color range perceived by a tetrachromat and someone with normal vision is not as drastic as the difference between someone who is colorblind and someone who is not.

After studying Concetta Antico’s genes, Jameson determined that her fourth cone absorbs color wavelengths that are “reddish-orangey-yellow.” As a cognitive scientist, Jameson is fascinated with how people like tetrachromats can form and communicate concepts, especially since their visual perception of the world is so different.

Research suggests that tetrachromacy may be more widespread than assumed: those who have it don’t always notice because they haven’t trained their brains to pay attention. Antico admits that she was more color-aware than most children; at age seven she was painting and thoroughly fascinated with color. Because of the extensive exposure at an early age, her brain wired itself to notice and take advantage of her tetrachromacy.

She actively supports continued research into mutations that affect color perception. Her reasons are personal: five years ago, her seven-year old daughter was diagnosed as colorblind. Antico believes that the more she helps science professionals understand tetrachromacy, the better they will be able to help her daughter one day.

Kimberly Jameson agrees. “If we understand genetic potential for tetrachromacy and how their perception differs,” she says, “we can understand quite a lot about visual processing of color that we currently don’t understand.”

Antico may actually be helping colorblind individuals via her art. She has been teaching painting for over 20 years, and many of her students have been color-deficient. Jameson has looked at their artwork and found it to be surprisingly color-aware. She believes that Antico’s sensitivity to color differences at a very early age may have given her the understanding and articulation to help these students. It’s a hypothesis that still needs to be proved empirically, but raises the possibility that people’s perception of color can be improved by retraining their brains.

Antico has her own art gallery in San Diego and hopes to one day open an art school for the colorblind, to help them improve their color-awareness.

“What if we tetrachromats can show the way to color for people who are less fortunate than us?” she says. “I want everyone to realize how beautiful the world is.”

Read more Segmation blog posts about art and color:

EnChroma Introduces Colorblind People to Color

The Importance of Color Vision and Art

Blind Artist’s Vision is Clearer than that of Sighted Individuals

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