One of my absolute favorite projects that I’ve been working on for the upcoming show is called “The Candle” – an encaustic piece over a photograph, inspired by a meal I had in London last November on my ‘speed dating Europe’ trip. I found myself with 100,000 soon-to-expire frequent flyer miles and a raging case of wanderlust, so I booked my itinerary for a whirlwind 5 day tour of Chicago, London, and Paris. My plan was to sprint through London for just 1 full day, and I’d hoped to include the most spectacular meal I could get my hands on while there. I figured if I planned a lunch instead of dinner I could probably maximize my budget to be able to afford somewhere a bit nicer. So I google’d ‘Most amazing lunch in London’ and up popped Restaurant Story.
My lunch at Restaurant Story was a life altering meal, one of the most amazing culinary experiences I’ve ever had.
OK, I know – ‘food’s food, and even really fantastic food is still just food’ – but for anyone who proudly identifies with ‘lives to eat’ vs ‘eats to live’, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Food is not just food. Throughout the history of mankind, common to all cultures around the world, food is the glue that holds society together. It’s the fabric our social lives get pieced together from, the basis for how we come together when we come together to celebrate, mourn, discuss, debate, commiserate, nourish, or simply to meet our daily needs. It can be utterly simple or incredibly complex, both can be good; truly, both can be amazing… But as I tell my young daughter, the most important lesson in life (after be kind) is You are what you eat, and while when I say that I’m speaking in a more metaphorical sense, its truth begins in the literal sense.
Over the past year I’ve told anyone and everyone who would listen about my incredible meal (seriously, I’ve spent innumerable hours extolling the endless virtues of Restaurant Story), and so it was with overwhelming joy that I happened to catch this closing sentence the other day on PRI, “English chef Tom Sellers told his story to producer Alex Gallafent…” (quickly followed by my silently screamed nooooooooo…!) Whew, thank god for podcasts. Don’t you dare not listen!
As it turns out, Restaurant Story is the brainchild of 26 yr. old wunderkind chef Tom Sellers (acolyte of Thomas Keller at French Laundry & Rene Redzepi of Noma in Copenhagen, to name two). In reading up on the place, it had mentioned bringing a book to leave for their collection. In my mind’s eye, I imagined a thumb-worn, dusty space with books everywhere. I was surprised to arrive and find the place a study in clean modernity, clever touches of the interesting & peculiar dotted about, but barely a book in sight. An old-fashioned candle was placed on the table upon arrival, before the procession of delectables began arriving. The 6 course lunch that followed (which in truth turned out to be more like 12) was an unbelievable 3 hour succession of the most ingenious culinary feats I’ve ever experienced. Not the least of which was the bread offering. It turns out the meal’s focal point evolved around a sleight of hand of sorts. Midway through the meal, the waiter placed a lovely wooden board with warm bread and a small bowl of relish on it. He explained that the seemingly innocuous candle that had been burning for the past half hour was in fact a candle made from rendered animal fat, meant to dip your bread into.
It’s difficult to describe the peculiar pleasure of being surprised by something that has been sitting right there in front of you, staring you in the face. When an ordinary object all of a sudden appears to transform into the extraordinary. Being able to achieve this using the most humble course in the meal makes it that much more effective.
I could happily go on for hours describing each surprising course; an airy cloud of riced potato floating atop a pool of coal (yes, edible coal oil); whole flash-crisped tiny shrimps; a savory Oreo with smoked eel mousse; grilled onions in gin; wrapped leeks & candied lovage twigs; almond ice cream with dill snow, which tasted like eating Winter itself… Sigh. And the stories, remarkable stories that they only told you if you happened to ask, ‘why are the forks upside down?’ which led to the tale of a cultivated Spanish princess marrying a brutish prince whose boorish table manners – even with the addition of utensils – still necessitated the tines only touch the table in order to mitigate the filth… the fabulous bee insignia on the knives… on & on.
I hope to capture the eternal appeal of an artist transforming the mundane into the sublime.
Bioluminescence is simply light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism. These chemicals (called luciferin and luciferase) react with oxygen, causing light. Primarily it’s a marine phenomena, and is the main source of light in the ocean. (Because it occurs in so many different species, we assume it must serve many functions – like luring prey or mating – but we do know it can serve as both defensive and offensive tactics within the same organism.)
It can also occur on land, namely in fungi and bacteria, but also in fireflies.
It has been speculated that the 16th century Baroque painter Caravaggio used modern darkroom techniques to create his masterpieces more than 200 years before the invention of the camera. He may have prepared his canvases with a luminescent powder of dried fireflies to create a photosensitive surface on which he projected the image to be painted. He would then use white lead, mixed with chemicals such as mercury, to outline the image in greater clarity.
This hypothesis, by art teacher Roberta Lapucci who teaches at the Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy, was made in collaboration with research by British artist David Hockney, who wrote in his 2001 book “Secret Knowledge” that many old masters used optical instruments to compose their paintings.
In the spring of 1985, while a sophomore in college, I saw the Caravaggio show at the Met in NYC. It left an indelible impression on me, what with his incredibly effective combination of boldly intense subject matter and dramatic chiaroscuro contrasting light.
I look forward to sharing works of art in the upcoming 5050LIGHT show that are based on bioluminescence and also on artist David Hockney’s work.
Last summer, on the suggestion of a friend who had heard we would be travelling through Tuscany, we visited Il Giardino dei Tarocchi or ‘Tarot Garden’ by French sculptor, painter, and film maker, Niki de Saint Phalle. The garden – fantastic, in every sense of the word – was an explosion of mosaic-filled light and wonder. It reminded me of another incredible park we had visited 10 years earlier, Parco Dei Mostri in Bomarzo, Italy – built in the 16th century and, as it turns out, one of the inspirations for this garden.
After nearly 20 years Giardino Dei Tarocchi finally opened in 1998, and 16 years later it remains a remarkable wonder for both the eyes and the spirit.
After 13 years away, I recently had the good fortune to be back in Boston, and was able to spend time with one of my 5050LIGHT collaborators Peter Houk – a fantastically creative glass artist – who also happens to run the MIT Glass Lab. I became a fan of Peter’s work back in the late 80’s while volunteering at The Society of Art & Crafts in Boston and commissioned him to make a set of etched glass plates (who doesn’t love geckos?). A few years later, we collaborated on a grouping of vases with etched copper tubing lengths which became the necks which he blew the glass through. We discussed plans for our upcoming collaboration which, hopefully, will include a splinter study of a light installation he did based on the Rayleigh instability.
In a nutshell, the Rayleigh instability is part of a greater branch of fluid dynamics which explains why and how a falling stream of fluid breaks up into smaller packets with the same volume but less surface area. The driving force is that liquids, by virtue of their surface tensions, tend to minimize their surface area. The resulting effects offer some compelling visual possibilities for artistic pursuits. (Coincidentally, on a more mundane note, I’ve noticed numerous recent examples of the Rayleigh instability featured in the opening title sequences of films and in other popular media.)
I come from a family of geeks. Not internet geeks, mind you, but living, breathing, original 60’s, 70’s, & 80’s geeks. Father, mother, both brothers – all computer nerds. These people were online about 20 years before Google even became a word. We can even lay claim to a family member (to remain nameless) making national news for an entire week as a young teenager for cracking his school’s computer code, narrowly escaping notoriety only by wisely choosing not to do anything malicious. He just did it for the challenge.
As the lone artist living amongst a houseful of computer folk, I always felt like a bit of an outsider; my focus was always, and has only been, art. Not that I don’t enjoy computers, I do, I just never delved into it the way they did because, frankly, in comparison I would always be behind the curve.
It was, therefore, with great pleasure that I recently felt our worlds finally collide in a fortuitous manner. The following thoughts on light are excerpted from a note from my dad;
A fascinating process, finding the art in science, and the science in art.
‘Art, isn’t that a man’s name?’ quote by Andy Warhol
Recently, dear friend and collaborator Martino Pietropoli posted images from his visit to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Glass Tea House Mondrian at the Venice Biennale, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore . While googling it, I came across a notice that Sugimoto also currently had an exhibition up at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery, which would be ending the following week.
My daughter and I rushed into the city late that Saturday afternoon to catch the show an hour before closing. We entered, realizing to our delight that we were the only ones there, able to view & discuss the art freely. A short while later, however, we heard someone behind us enter and begin snapping photos. When we moved to step back so he could get a better shot he demurred, explaining that he wanted photos with us intentionally in the shot. He turned out to be professional photographer Richard Nagler, who’d just published Looking at Art, the Art of Looking, a book about the relationship between artwork and the viewer, and their interdependant dynamic. He was kind enough to forward me a photo of us examining Sugimoto’s piece titled In Praise of Shadows, itself a tribute to the Jun’inchiro Tanazaki’s book, with the following text:
Japanese novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki disdained the “violent” artificial light wrought by modern civilization. I, too, am an anachronist: rather than live at the cutting edge of the contemporary, I feel more at ease in the absent past.
Domesticating fire marks humankind’s ascendancy over other species. For tens of thousands of years, we have illuminated the night with flames. Reflecting upon this, I decided to record “the life of the candle”. Late one midsummer night, I thre open the windows and invited in the night breeze. Lighting a candle, I opened my camera lens. After several hours of wavering in the breeze, the candle burned out. Savoring the dark, I slowly closed the shutter. The candle’s life varied on any given night – short, intensely burning nights and long, constantly glowing lights – each different, yet equally lovely in its afterglow.
I left thinking about a Paulo Coelho quote from the book The Alchemist: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
Well, we’ve done it! The lease is signed, and our upcoming show finally has a home. Our place is a light-filled 3,600 SF space in the fabulous space formerly occupied by Black Oaks Books on Shattuck Ave, in the heart of the gourmet ghetto in North Berkeley. The space is being made available to us via the very generous support of Dana Ellsworth, Vice President of Rue-Ell Enterprises, the owners of the space.
It also would never have happened, without the helpful intervention on our behalf of our local councilmember, Laurie Capitelli (and his wonderful soon-to-be-retired assistant, Jill Martinucci.)
One of my collaborators, Jess Williams, and I had a conversation recently about the importance of volunteering – investing time in your community and finding ways to contribute. The value is not just to those who are are on the receiving end of your efforts, it is also deeply beneficial to you. Building relationships, connecting yourself in meaningful and personal ways to the issues that concern you and are important to your life – this all gives richness and meaning to our lives.
Many thanks to everyone who has been supportive – in all manner of ways – and to all who have helped make this possible. We could never have done it with you!
Mark your calendars! The 50/50 LIGHT show will run from Saturday, October4th thru Tuesday, October 28th. The opening will be on Sunday, October 12th, 2014.