This week it was my privilege to attend a lecture given by Ena Heller, Executive Director of the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) on Painting the Unseen: Symbolism of Light from Giotto to da Vinci. Having spent the day schlepping through galleries in Chelsea viewing all kinds of contemporary art; some good, some bad, but most derivatives and some even what seemed to me pornographic (sex sells) and/or offensive packaged as art it was a relief to wind up at MOBIA.
In Chelsea, one show, Hiding in the Light, at the Mary Boone gallery stood out and challenged the viewer. its curator, Neville Wakefield, was the real star of the show, since it was the interplay of the elements -- the works – that gave the show meaning for me.. It was further unified by Rudolf Stingel's untitled 2004 work of a mirror-polished aluminum floor throughout the major gallery space.
Sitting in the dark MoBIA lecture room slides of the works of Fra Angelico washed the detritus of the day from my vision. As Ena Heller spoke eloquently about the use of light to symbolize unseen reality, such as the Holy Spirit in the Annunciation and halos for Jesus and saints, I felt soothed, invigorated and as an artist, challenged.
Without light there is no vision, a statement that both pertains to reality and art and can also be taken symbolically.
It is interesting to note that most of the Western world's greatest artists were very concerned with light, and most were innovators of its use in painting: Giotto, Fra Angelico, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Turner, Monet and Van Gogh all innovated and used light masterfully. In America , the Hudson River School , notably Cole, Church and Bierdstat painted beautiful light.
In more modern or contemporary art, it seems to me only the Minimalists, Dan Flavin (neon sculpture) and Donald Judd (sculpture, where the interplay with the light is important) were especially concerned with light and innovation as were Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright – but this diverges into sculpture and architecture – not painting. Photography continues to remain concerned with light, but perhaps it is the medium of film and bits and bytes that insures that concentration.
Photographers basically remain concerned with light, maybe due to the medium of film, but few contemporary artists, other than realists of one sort or another, seem very concerned with light per se.
It is interesting that when I think of Dali's greater use of light, I am recalling his religious and more spiritual works. Perhaps the basic dearth in modern and contemporary painting's innovation with light is that the paintings have become so secular. Is there a connection between an artist's inner truth and intent the use of light in his/her paintings? Perhaps. It's something I will continue to ponder.
I am curious to how this could relate to my own work over time.
January 29, 2006