Prof. Harry Wohlfarth


Harry Wohlfarth willed a sizeable number of his works to The Banff Centre Music Department in order to support their Artist's Fund. We are pleased to represent Harry's work, on behalf of The Banff Centre, knowing that a portion of sales from some of these works will realize this generous artist's wish.

Harry Wohlfarth (1921-96), professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, was president of the International Academy of Color Sciences and a consulting staff member of the Institute for Psychobiological Studies at California State University.  He lectured in a variety of countries,  was one of the first to conduct color and light experiments (color psychodynamics) in the 1950s, he made important contributions to the understanding of early Renaissance painting, and enjoyed an international reputation as an artist.  In the 1960s Wohlfarth “discovered” high frequency color kinetics.  His investigations of the moving-color phenomenon resulted in a 90-page thesis and exhibition entitled Principles and Functions of Kinetics and High Frequency Color Kinetics.  In 1970 the Tiberian Academy of Rome (the former Royal Italian Academy) presented its Great Gold Medal to Wohlfarth during an invitational one-man exhibition at the Academy.  He was the fifth person to receive the gold medal in that field in the 150-year history of the Academia Tiberina.  This medal was the first of many honors – and six gold medals – for Wohlfarth.  In 1980 Wohlfarth was the first modern North American artist to have his works shown in Moscow at the State Gallery.

After military service in WWII, Wohlfarth attended the art academy at Dresden and took postgraduate studies under German expressionist Oskar Kokoschka in Salzburg.  He moved to Canada to lecture in the University of Alberta’s Department of Extension (now a faculty).  He taught for more than three decades.  Wohlfarth and the Extension Faculty played a prominent role in establishing art classes and art schools throughout Alberta.  His efforts led to the formation of the Alberta Community Art Clubs Association (ACACA) in 1968.  Wohlfarth pointed out with pride that he never missed a single class and traveled the length and breadth of the province, all by Greyhound, conducting art classes, judging art shows, and in other ways encouraging development of visual art and artists in Alberta.

"Wohlfarth's nudes, endowed with a physique which we would describe as sculptural, are governed by artistic aesthetics...." (Wohlfarth by Aurelio T. Prete. Rome: Accademia Internazionale per l'Unita della Cultura, 1970)."

Wohlfarth has described the color kinetic effect as being “like an atomic chain reaction.”  It is derived from the afterimage created by bright colors – look at a bright red object for a few seconds, transfer your gaze to a blank white space and you will see a green after image of the red object (green being the complementary color of red).  With careful choice and positioning of colors, he exploited this phenomenon to the point where adjacent colors, reinforcing each other over and over again, became so vivid that they appeared to move.  He explored this effect in a series of paintings depicting the human female form using simple, hardedge shapes without apparent dimension or depth – The Kinetic Series.

Wohlfarth’s findings helped form beliefs that now have international support: that color and light affect people and their behavior.  These studies included working with institutions such as schools.  For example, his five-year study in schools found reduced aggressiveness and higher positive performance when students faced warm light yellow on three walls, there was light blue on the wall and vertical surfaces of the desk that the teacher faced, the blackboard color was blue rather than green, all the carpets were warm golden-gray, and the lights were changed to "full spectrum."  His early 1980s study found that schoolchildren exposed to full spectrum lighting, which includes ultraviolet and simulates natural lighting containing all the colors, were absent due to illness one-third less than children whose classroom had standard fluorescent lighting.  He also showed that certain colors have measurable and predictable effects on the autonomic nervous system of people. In numerous studies, Wohlfarth found that blood pressure, pulse, and respiration rates increased most under yellow light, moderately under orange, and minimally under red, while they decreased most under black, moderately under blue, and minimally under green.