15 questions with Eric Kirchner

Color us curious… does a Senior Color Scientist have a favorite hue? Eric is one of the AkzoNobel experts on the Operation Night Watch team working on color-related projects, contributing his fascination for paint, color, analytics and technology.

1.    Describe yourself in three words.

Curious, determined, goal-oriented.

2. What’s your favorite color and why?

Currently my favorite color is violet, because I just finished a long investigation into how this color was used since the ancient Greeks. Generally, I like colors that are hard to describe in words. Violet is between red and blue, but more to the blue side, so it’s of the same color family as mauve, burgundy, maroon and purple. But also between blue and green, there are so many nice colors!

3. When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?

I like hiking with friends or with my wife. Walking in the woods or through the countryside is a great way to empty my head and enjoy nice views. But as soon as it becomes possible again, I would like to visit art museums, one of my favorite hobbies. I have visited art exhibitions with a friend a couple of times a year for 20 years. We visited the great and stunning Jan van Eijck exhibition in Brussels just two days before the first lockdown started.

4. Tell us one thing you’re excited for in 2021.

No doubt about it: after vaccinations, I hope that with my family we can spend our holiday somewhere in the South of Europe again. I really love traveling to other countries, enjoying nature, culture and different cuisines.

5. What’s your most prized possession?

I am not very attached to objects, but I do really like the art object in my office that was created by renowned artist Itamar Gilboa. It’s a brain sculpture, as he calls it: a beautiful physical representation of Itamar’s brain processes during creative thinking. This beautiful artwork was handed to me when AkzoNobel named me as Scientist of the Year in December 2019. It was a highlight in my career, and an appreciation of all the work that we did in the color technology department with so many very talented colleagues.

6. What are your hidden talents?

Working so closely with the experts from the Rijksmuseum, and earlier also with those from the Van Gogh Museum, I became very interested in oil painting. Together with my daughter I took classes from an art teacher, and I do greatly enjoy working on an oil painting. This also made it clear to me that the art of painting is definitely not one of my talents, and if it is hidden, it’s hidden very deep indeed.

7. What’s your role on the Operation Night Watch team?

My role in the Operation Night Watch team is to find the best opportunities where the expertise in the Rijksmuseum and in AkzoNobel best complement each other in finding solutions to problems.

We’re working on two color-related topics with the Rijksmuseum. We’ve already made good progress in finding out how the representation of different shades of black can be improved in digital photographs of the Night Watch and other Dutch master paintings. The second topic is directly related to visitors of the Rijksmuseum, as we aim to further improve the way they experience the various colors in the Night Watch when viewing the painting at its location.

8. The partnership between AkzoNobel and the Rijksmuseum combines two different perspectives on paint and color – why do you think the partnership really works?

I think the partnership works because we recognize each other’s high level of expertise, and we all share the fascination for paint and color.

9. How would you describe The Night Watch in one word?

Groundbreaking; cutting-edge.

10. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I like trying to find solutions when brainstorming with other people, but also analyzing measurement data with physical insight. But most of all, I like it when technical solutions that we have often worked on for years are finally launched commercially and customers are enthusiastic about it.

In 2007, based on our research and in collaboration with two other companies, we introduced a new color instrument with unprecedented technical capabilities. This instrument became the standard in the global automotive industry. We introduced digital color visualization for the car refinishes market in 2013, scientifically solving the problem that displayed colors are often not accurate, and this was widely accepted in the market. Just a few examples I’m very proud of.

11. Which character, detail or aspect of The Night Watch interests you the most?

I’m most interested in how the Night Watch looked like originally, in its original place. When he was commissioned to create the painting, Rembrandt probably already knew that it would be in the large room of the Musketeers’ Meeting Hall (the Grote Feestzaal in the Kloveniersdoelen) in Amsterdam. He knew it would hang there among several other paintings that were created specifically for that location.

Currently researchers at the Rijksmuseum are investigating that whole ensemble of paintings. I’m also very interested in the light that fell during the day from large stained-glass windows opposite to the Night Watch, and in the light at night from the open fire just next to the Night Watch. I am very curious what the Night Watch looked like then at that place, and how Rembrandt possibly adjusted the colors and composition to fit well in that place.

12. In your opinion, what would Rembrandt think of Operation Night Watch?

I think Rembrandt would have been impressed by the meticulous work that is carried out on his masterpiece with such a large group of enthusiastic people. He would probably enjoy the enormous magnifications of the painting that were created by the Rijksmuseum’s photography, showing details in the painting that Rembrandt himself was also not able to see.

13. If you were given a chance to time travel, when would you go and why?

I would go to the future, to a point 100 or 200 years from now. Since technology is developing so rapidly, I think going to an even more distant future would make it impossible for me to understand the technology, science, art and ideas. But a fast-forward to say the year 2121 would be very interesting indeed. Will we still have cars then? How will people make sure they get sufficient physical exercise? What will be the dominant political powers in the world? How will popular music sound like?

14. What motivates you the most?

My main motivator is working with other people on new technologies that will excite our customers.

15. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you’re willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.

How do you go about restoring one of the world’s most famous paintings?

We asked some of the experts involved in Operation Night Watch to explain what will happen now our historic partnership with the Rijksmuseum is underway.

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