WHERE ALL I ATE WAS LIGHT

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A poem to contemplate.

butterfly 5

SELF HELP

The eye is the lamp of the body so I tried
to make a world where all I ate was light. Butterflies
complete a similar labor in the summer
garden, beating their wings slowly like a healthy
person, the kind of person who runs for fun, could
run from an attacker, eats greens in the same
quantity as the salty meats the storytelling part
of us appears to favor. I couldn’t decide
whether I wanted to stay alive or wanted to go
faster, they appeared to contradict each other, I tried
in all I did to eat light. I left the argument
about the difference between a slave and a servant
on the table though I think what I think is that
consent to servitude is as much a fiction as a butterfly
having a nervous breakdown because of the beauty
of the lavender. The longer your hunger takes
to find a shape the longer you can hold it. Consider the butterfly,
only at rest in the middle of consumption, but even
then practicing for departure, for disappearance,
closing in the middle of the landscape.
Trying to manage a world in which all you eat
is light is difficult. Labor, and the lungs should be like wings
of the butterfly beating, closing, slowly, the moonlight
tensing the edge of each, almost lifting the edge of each
towards the middle distance. So all that I consume
can make me healthy, illuminate my throat
and the interstate of my digestive tract
with what a butterfly’s been swimming in.

—KATIE PETERSON

In Praise of Shadows

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Photo of Artist Laura Raboff's delicate wire sculptures and their shadow play.
Photo of Artist Laura Raboff’s delicate wire sculptures and the resultant shadow play.

Years ago I came across a slim book by Japanese author Jun’ichirō Tanizaki titled In Praise of Shadows (1933).  It’s a wonderful meditation on aesthetics, which contrasts Traditional Eastern vs Modern Western thought and values. One excerpt that especially resonates,

“Such is our way of thinking—we find beauty not in the in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, the one thing against another creates.”

Recently, I had a great discussion with collaborator Jen Burke on the topic of shadows. Over the past several years, she has nurtured a connection which has focused around body work, and we are contemplating expanding on that work in our collaborative art piece.

Light is energy: it brightens, warms, illuminates, reveals. In pursuing these positive aspects of light we often neglect the inverse quality – one that paradoxically best reveals light: the contrasting absence of it, or shadows.

Shadows – in a wide range from subtly muted pale grey to highest contrasting stark black – transform objects in a multitude of ways to exaggerate, distort, create mood or add drama. A crisp crescent of darkness below the fullness of an orb implies heaviness of weight physically, while the murky pallor of a mid-winter sky conveys shadows weight emotionally. They illustrate an uncanny ability to lift or subdue mood, as they come and go.

Shadows are the yin to light’s yang.

Explorations in Light

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Did you know that the newly reopened Exploratorium – beautifully redesigned at San Francisco’s waterfront pier 15 – has over 50 exhibits alone specifically on LIGHT?

Exploratorium shots

Among these wonderful exhibits, you’ll find a fascinating exploration of light by artist Bob Miller, creator of the “Light Walk” experience (as well as numerous other exhibits there) – in addition to his online series of short talks/essays about light and images. One essay’s intro on differing aspects of light begins with this apt description;

“You can be light-hearted, light headed, light-fingered, or light on your feet. You can make light of things, bring secrets to light, or hide your light under a bushel. You can be quick as a flash, moving at lightning speed. You can seek the bright lights or trip the light fantastic. You can see the light and achieve enlightenment – or you can be completely in the dark.”

Check out more here: http://www.exploratorium.edu/sln/light_walk/

I also enjoyed his brief comments about how light works during an eclipse –http://www.exploratorium.edu/sln/light_walk/lw_page_4.html – this will be the subject of Amy Murray’s upcoming collaborative piece for the show…

Altered Paintings – Silver Lining

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show card
satorial improvements to hare by artist, Emily Bonnes

What do you get when you give 90 artists a mass-produced thrift store piece of art and ask them to breathe new life into it? Redux Studio and Gallery in Alameda posed just such a question, the results of which will be on display next month. I have submitted my entry which – of course, having the subject of light as its focus – is titled Silver Lining.

Redux is organized around the principles of creative reuse, and its efforts help fund St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County’s important social programs. This project represents the larger purpose of Redux, illustrating how interesting ideas can support a larger social mission and dialogue. The Altered Paintings Projects demonstrate that great things are possible when communities come together. I am thrilled to be participating along with another 50/50 LIGHT collaborator, lighting designer Gil Stancourt.

Opening reception for Altered Paintings 2 – Friday, April 11th 6pm – 9pm

@ Redux Studios & Gallery, 2315 Lincoln Avenue, Alameda, 510-865-1109.

Monday – Sunday 11:00am-6:30pm  www.facebook.com/ReduxStudiosandGallery

The Power of We

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Over the past few months we’ve begun work on a number of the collaborative pieces that will become part of the 50/50 LIGHT gallery show this October. A recurring theme in the conversations as we’ve worked is this; the collaborators have been sharing their project with other friends, and it has become an ad hoc vehicle for community building.

mask detailOne collaborator tells me that each of her friends and neighbors have made a habit of stopping by and contributing ideas and/or input, and it has influenced elements of her design and expanded her awareness of the piece. She looks forward each week to them seeing and weighing in on its evolution, and the meaty discussions that ensue.

It thrills me to hear this; to hear about the excitement the project is generating, and the ever-expanding ripples it’s creating throughout the different communities.

We’re in an age where it’s become more popular to self promote, compete, and get as much of a leg up as possible over the next guy rather than to work collaboratively. It’s important to realize the importance of working together to build real and lasting strength in our communities . Bringing ourselves into new, unusual, and unexpected combinations, building something that becomes greater than the sum of its individual parts, this is the goal well worth pursuing.

As the wonderful Japanese writer, Ryunosuke Satoro, said “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.

COLOR = LIGHT

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pastel stick colors

Color = Light.

Visible light, that is. All colors known to man can be found in the visible spectrum of light. On the longest wavelength/lowest frequency/lowest energy end we have RED, spanning across to the shortest wavelength/highest frequency/highest energy end with VIOLET (along with orange, yellow, green and blue in between).  So, radio waves (plus infrared and microwave) have the least energy, and gamma rays (plus UV and X-rays) have the most energy, which is part of what makes them so dangerous to humans. The whole range of frequencies and energies is called the electromagnetic spectrum.

light spectrum

Visible light occupies only one-thousandth of a percent of this spectrum.


Humankind’s attempts to recreate color in the natural world date back as far as our oldest civilizations, the early Paleolithic period, aprox 350,000 BC – where the first pigments, or pure color in powdered form, were suspended in a medium to make paint.

cave painting

“The world in which we live is teeming with color: the sky, earth, water, and fire all have distinct colors. From time immemorial, we who delight in such perceptions have tried to reproduce these colors in our day-to-day surroundings. What could be more normal? For color is the child of light, the source of all life on earth. The challenge in finding materials capable of producing lasting colors in the world around us has preoccupied humankind from prehistory to the present day. ” quote from Colors: The Story of Dyes and Pigments by Francois Delamare & Bernard Guineau

EPHEMERA & SEAT ASSIGNMENT

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Seung Mo Park

Many artists have been the inspiration for a number of the featured pieces being created for the upcoming 50/50LIGHT project. One of the most subtle yet profoundly striking examples is the work of Korean artist, Seung Mo Park. His transcendent pieces exemplify a most-admired technique in the formation of art: coalescing simple, utilitarian materials with visionary talent and ingenuity to create the sublime.

The end result astronomically exceeds the sum of its humble parts.

Seung Mo Park works with layer upon layer of flat stainless steel mesh sheets. Painstakingly cutting away thousands of individual wires to reveal an underlying image, he transforms something fundamentally 2D into something 3D – an illusion with great depth and presence. Most are personal, haunting and reflective, others slyly dynamic. All are breathtaking.   

www.thisiscolossal.com/2012/04/ephemeral-portraits-cut-from-layers-of-wire-mesh-by-seung-mo-park (Be sure to watch the step-by-step video documenting his process.)

Katchadourian_Lavatory_Self-Portrait_in_the_Flemish_Style_11_2011
Nina Katchadourian, Lavatory Self-Portrait in the Flemish Style #11, 2011

Another visionary of illusion and subtlety is artist Nina Khachadorian.  Nina came to my attention as a family friend of my in-laws – who recommended I see her fascinating show here in San Francisco at the Catharine Clark Gallery in 2012 titled “Seat Assignment”. The show – produced over the span of 70 airline flights – features a multitude of self-portraits created only with A.) materials readily available to passengers on commercial airplanes – mainly bathroom paper goods; and B.) her cell phone camera.

The results are deceptively convincing works that – at first glance – appear to be reflections of 15th century Flemish portrait subjects. But look more closely…

http://cclarkgallery.com/exhibitions/nina-katchadourian-seat-assignment-2012

Shedding light on Gil Stancourt, Lighting Designer

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By Deb Durant 

In November 2013, Gil and I began scouring salvage yards for the materials that would later become the focal elements of our collaborative project. In the subsequent months, the project has been developing nicely, so we took some time out to sit down and discuss his thoughts on process, inspiration, and how – at the end of the day – it all gets done.

Where did you start out in life?

On the Long Island Sound – in Huntington, New York.

What’s your first light memory?

Lightning bugs. We’d collect them in a jar – it was fun to see how many we could catch – (typically never more than 5 or 6). We’d just stare at them, endlessly, flying around the jar. I guess it was our version of a redneck lava lamp.

You’re a lighting designer – what was the first project you built?

The first lamp I actually built was made from an Almandine Wine bottle. I’d bought a “Lamp Building Kit” at the local hardware store. It turned out to be nothing more than a pre-wired socket with a cork jammed in it. I kept that lamp for 10 years…

Tell us a little about your philosophy and your work background.

Two sentences: ‘finding new ways to bring old things back to life’ and ‘if you can stack it on a stick, you can turn it into a lamp’. I’ve made a life out of building things from other people’s castoffs. When I was younger and still living at home, I’d announce “I’m going to the dump”, and my parents would cringe because they knew that meant I’d be coming home with more than I left with.

Back in the ‘80’s I noticed that salvage yards and antique shops were charging an arm and a leg compared to what I could find and put together myself, so that’s how my business was born. And here it is 30 years later.  I wake up every day looking forward to what cool thing I get to make next. My shop was one of the first small lighting shops in the Bay Area with a full production studio. It turns out I wasn’t as interested in making production pieces though, what I really wanted to focus on was one-of-a-kind pieces.

OK, tell us. What’s your best trash picking find ever?

Hmmm, tough one. There’ve been a lot of good ones. My best though would probably be a series of fixtures I built from old kitchen appliances, incorporating the old mechanisms into functional new lighting switches. It sounds simple and looked the same as in the original state, but was actually pretty tricky to get right. Using materials in unexpected ways, not the way they were intended to be used – I love that.

What’s the most fun part of what you do?

This one’s easy: lighting a lamp for the first time. It doesn’t matter what project I’m working on or how long I’ve worked on it, that moment when you see it lit up for the first time…

Inspirations?

Sometimes, out in the world, I’ll just see a line. Anything can spur an idea. Salvage yards. Glass. I started making my own a few years ago. Now, I’ll make a glass shade and it will end up dictating what kind of fixture it becomes.

I had no formal art training – I dropped out of school at 16 and am completely self- taught. I taught myself how to learn. This route can lead to a lot of insecurity, because society isn’t handing you proof of your achievements, or even acknowledging you.

It took a really long time to accept the idea of calling myself an artist. A client once called my work art and I said, No, it’s not art. But he corrected me, he said, Yes, it is, and you’re an artist. That moment really affected me – it was a pivotal moment.

What styles influence you most?

My influences are largely organic. I don’t aspire to emulate anyone. I like looking, but they’ve already done what they do. Generally speaking, I do like the lines of Nouveau period. Also Mission, which came out of Empire but straightened all the lines. Also the heaviness but flow of Empire…

Thoughts on your business, now 30 years later?

I feel blessed waking up every day getting to do what I love. In the past, I’ve had office jobs that made my stomach twist in a knot just thinking about starting my day. It was soul sucking, really. But now, to tell you the truth, I don’t even feel like I’m working while I do this.

FESTIVALS OF LIGHT

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Chinese Lanterns

Chinese Lantern Festival  The Chinese Lantern Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar calendar, marking the last day of the lunar New Year celebration. During the Lantern Festival, children go out at night to temples carrying paper lanterns and they solve riddles on the lanterns. In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, and only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones. In modern times though, lanterns have been embellished with many complex designs, often made in the shape of animals.

The lanterns are almost always red to symbolize good fortune, and they symbolize the people letting go of their past selves and getting new ones, which they will let go of again the next year.

porto Venere

Festa della Madonna Bianca  In 1399, the plague was sweeping through the small seaside village of Porto Venere (just south of the Cinque Terre) in French-occupied Italy. In desperation, a villager by the name of Lucciardo began begging a painting of the Virgin Mary for release from this terrible disease when suddenly a miraculous event occurred: the colors of the painting began to glow. Just as suddenly, the plague mysteriously vanished.

Witnessing this strange phenomenon, the villagers attributed the disappearance of the plague to the Virgin Mary, and transported the painting to safety in the nearby Church of San Lorenzo. Thus began the devotion of the faithful to Our Lady Madonna Bianca, patron saint of the community, named for her glowing skin in the painting.

Every year since, on August 17th, the villagers celebrate with a torchlight procession through town, lighting thousands of candles along the streets leading up to the Gothic Church of San Pietro and covering the cliffs below.

diwaliDiwali  Also called the “festival of lights”, it is an    ancient Hindu festival celebrated each autumn. The festival spiritually signifies the    victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, & hope over despair.

Festival preparations and rituals typically last five days, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon of the Hindu lunisolar month Kartik. In the Gregorian calendar, Diwali night falls between mid-October and mid-November.

In the days leading up to Diwali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes. On Diwali night itself Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfits, they light diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their homes and participate in family puja (prayers), typically to Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Puja are followed by fireworks and a family feast including mithai (sweets) and gifts are exchanged between family members and close friends.

MEDIUMS: A Short History of ENCAUSTICS

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Over the years, I’ve admired encaustic paintings but knew very little about the actual process. Last spring, as the seeds of the 50/50 LIGHT project were just being planted, I was introduced to the encaustic technique by my friend Jessica Abbott Williams – owner of Brushstrokes Studio in West Berkeley, CA – who hosted a series of classes first with artist Susan Brady, followed later by artist Barbara Maricle.

Group encaustic shot

Encaustics proved to be one of the rare mediums that a beginner could attempt and achieve incredible results with almost immediately. It also has the potential for incredible depth of technique, and can be quite complicated and complex. The work that resulted from this class was a marvel to all of us who participated.

The word encaustic comes from the Greek word enkaustikos meaning ‘to burn in’, and the element of heated wax is a requirement for a painting to be called encaustic. The earliest known examples of this technique date back to the 1st century BC.

Romano- Egyptian Fayun mummy portrait encaustic panel paintings, 1st century BC
Romano- Egyptian Fayun mummy portrait encaustic panel paintings, 1st century BC

Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, utilizes heated beeswax with the addition of colored pigments. The heated liquid is applied to a hard porous surface (necessary to bind the wax) – usually prepared wood, although canvas or other materials are also often used – to which multiple layers are then applied to build up the desired effect.

The wax can be worked in a multitude of ways to create an endless array of effects: metal tools, special brushes and/or other manipulatives can shape or texture the surface before the wax cools; or heated metal tools can manipulate the wax further once it has cooled on the surface. Historically, the wax was only able to be worked quickly and initially, as each layer was being applied. In modern times, though, tools such as heat lamps, heat guns, wax pens, and other methods of applying heat have allowed artists to extend the amount of time they have to work the materials.

Because the wax is the binder for the pigment, in addition to painting, encaustics can also be sculptural. 3D materials can be encased or collaged onto the surfaces, or into layers using the encaustic medium to adhere objects.