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.

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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.

Aspects of Light

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illumination ~ refraction ~ reflection ~ luminosity ~ incandescence ~ glow

it’s effect on color vibrations ~ saturation ~ full spectrum ~ translucence

energy ~ connection to heat ~ embers ~ scintillation ~ combustion ~ prism

weightlessness ~ light as a feather ~ hummingbird ~ diaphanous ~ waves

hardness vs softness ~ contrast vs diffusion ~ glare ~ blur ~ scattering

light at the end of the tunnel ~ speed of light ~ light of my life ~ glimmer

the gloaming ~ Delft licht ~ by the light of the moon ~ shadows and light

aurora borealis ~ rainbow ~ eclipse ~ mirage ~ fireflies ~ bioluminescence 

light vs dark…

50/50 LIGHT PROJECT

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BLOG FRONT PAGE 3

A yearlong exploration of LIGHT.

In the year between October 2013 – October 2014 a group of 25 artists, led by Deb Durant, will work to create 50 pieces of artwork all focusing on the concept of LIGHT. This common thread interrelates all of the artwork pieces via each artists’ chosen aspect of light: be it literal, physical, temporal, metaphorical…

The groups’ collective works represent numerous differing media – metalsmithing, lighting, photography, written word, painting, glass, encaustics, ceramics, and textiles. The collaborators are all artists whom Deb has worked with over the past decades.

The goal, simply put: to amass an artistic collection that represents a unique community of artists. This particular compilation stems from the many creative associations formed and developed over the years by artist Deb Durant as she explored, struggled with, and finally forged an artistic career of her own. It’s a revelation of decades of work, in contact with and inspired by these talented artists. It’s also a reflection of the ways in which individuals can deeply affect you, and how they can mold your creativity.

The aim of this show is also to mark the celebration of life at 50; a momentous and deeply fruitful time in most artists lives, as they shed the insecurities of youth and embrace a sense of growing professional maturity and freedom. Often it marks a time of hitting your stride, an opportunity for sinking your teeth into the meat of your endeavors, prompting a renewed sense of ‘I’m really just getting started…’

This project will culminate in a gallery show in San Francisco this October – (to coincide with Deb’s 50th birthday) where all 50 pieces will be on display.

We welcome you to the celebration!