About Papillon

During the summer Patrick Riley was staying in a farmhouse with a small, enclosed garden that was full of butterflies attracted by the nectar of a buddleia bush. The butterflies spent much time basking in the warm sun with their wings extended and Riley became intrigued by this behaviour and wondered if the insects were warming themselves, possibly to increase the release of pheromones from their scent glands. Following up on this conjecture, he took some thermographic pictures. 

The basis of any artistic endeavour is to evoke an emotional response in the perceiver. This generality applies to every genre, and Patrick Riley’s interest in visual arts and in music has led him to analyse the fundamental nature of this receptiveness in terms of the spiritual content embodied in the concept of beauty. Important aspects of this analysis embrace visual symbolism, such as the apparent significance of symmetry, especially bilateral symmetry, in generating pleasing patterns, and also the equivalent of musical harmony present in the patterns created by adjacent colours.

This type of optical information is able to empower an image with the emotional potential capable of engaging many layers of conscious thought involved in the visual response. In this series of images, Riley has used colour filtration in a fashion analogous to the chord structure of a musical sequence to explore the perceptual nuances inherent in the symmetrical chromatic images obtained from thermographs of butterflies.

The images featured in the present exhibit grew out of an aestival encounter with a cloud of butterflies. 

The pictures presented in this exhibition were inspired by the elegance and beauty of these thermographic images. 

Lepidopteran Thermographs

The thermographs demonstrate the emitted heat in the form of temperature gradients which were colour coded and these varied according to the time of exposure to the sun. Images obtained after brief basking periods showed the highest temperature emitted from the body [see thermograph upper right, temperature scale indicated in left-hand margin]. This pattern was confirmed by segmental analysis of the primary image to show isothermic contours [see thermograph, lower right] temperature scale shown in the bar on the right of image].(Fig2)

 Thermographs obtained after prolonged basking showed heat emission corresponding to the dorsal wing pattern. For example, in the case of the Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) the white and orange zones of the wing show lower thermal emission [see thermograph compared to Red Admiral photo]. (Fig 3-4) This suggests that sun exposure results in greater heat absorption by black pigment. Since relatively little is known about butterfly optical receptor sensitives it is not possible to impute any function to the observed patterns, but, since the display is a characteristic of mating behaviour, it may be that sun-induced temperature modification of wing pattern has some deeper significance. 



The equipment consisted of a thermal imaging camera manufactured by Seek Thermal which has an array of 206 x 156 pixels with a thermal detection range of between -40 to +330 degrees C and a 36-degree view. Most of the images were obtained using the minimum focal distance of 6 inches and using the spectral thermal scale. The recorded images were processed digitally.