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LetThereBeLight
Let There Be Light

Shimmering Reflections on Contemporary Art

Eric C. Shiner

 

The three artists included in Gallery Hangilʼs exhibition “Let There Be Light” are all masters at capturing the ephemeral qualities of one of lifeʼs most important elements, that of the illuminated realm of light. And although this life-sustaining and emotion-lifting topic is paramount to our own existence, it has also played a crucial role in the development and production of art through time immemorial. Whether in terms of painting, where light and shadow play a primary function in an artistʼs framing of space, construction of perspective, or overall depiction of a given subject, or in relation to photography, which by its very definition is the “recording of light,” the subject of lighting in art reaches into all corners of the canon, spanning mediums, eras and national borders without fail. Lighting also becomes duly important in terms of how we see a certain work of art, and under what conditions, in a gallery setting: to be well lit is of great importance to the successful display of a work of art, for, if not correctly lit, the intent of the artist will otherwise go unnoticed or unappreciated. From philosophical underpinnings to the cycle of production and through to presentation, nothing is more important in the lifespan of an artwork than the all-so- important element of light.

Japanese artist Shigeno Ichimura is incredibly skilled at capturing light in the reflective surfaces of his gleaming silver paintings that are host to countless protruding dots that create sumptuous patterns across the picture plane. In some works, these dots play out in circular patterns, one after another—and in a variety of sizes—as though they are bubbles of air rising from the depths of a silver-infused sea. In other canvases, the dots become zig-zagging patterns covering nearly the entire picture, an effect which gives the illusion of movement, thanks not only to the position of the dots in their radical back-and-forth, but also to the way that light bounces off of the metallic silver ground of the work. By using silver metallic acrylics exclusively, Ichimura instills light into his work as an integral and prime element by default; whenever light hits the paintingsʼ reflective surfaces, it will bounce and play and revel there, finding ultimate rest in the viewerʼs eye before it.

 

Korean artist Kim Myungsook is also incredibly adept at capturing light in her hyper-real paintings that at first appear to be radiant jewels floating through space. In reality, Kim uses richly hued glass beads submerged in water as the studies for her paintings, a practice which results in gorgeously radiant orbs of color and light which seem to hover in a transparent ocean of lapping waves. Upon close inspection, the viewer can allow his or her eye to delve into the inner recesses of these colorful spheres, which both reflect and refract Kimʼs painterly light—for she makes sure to include the reflections right there on the surface of the globes in white paint. Light and water unite in Kimʼs paintings to play havoc with our sense of vision, contorting the shapes of the beads as though we were looking at an actual real-time scene. Thanks to her steadfast handling of paint, Kim is able to produce the illusion of light being reflected upon completely imaginary glass and liquid surfaces, a feat that is much easier to analyze than exact.

 

Toshiyuki Nanjo is a Japanese photographer who also plays with light in his monochromatic works that at first glance might be taken to be Abstract-Expressionist paintings thanks to the frolicking streaks of white that rhythmically snake across the pebble-strewn ground below. But as one draws near, it becomes evident that these are photographs of water which capture light playing across aquatic surfaces with the stone beds visible below. By using a longer exposure than a standard photograph, Nanjo is able to record sunlight as it interacts with the never static water upon which it shines. Here, we see the true nature of light as something which cannot be contained and as an element that embodies energy first and foremost. As though freezing a bolt of lightning in time, Nanjo allows us an intimate window onto those aspects of light that are not visible to the naked eye thanks to the cameraʼs ability to record that light over seconds instead of in a mere and instantaneous blink.

 

All of the artists in “Let There Be Light” are working in a similar aesthetic language, but with very different aesthetic outcomes. A central theme that arises in all of their work is that of the circle or the curvaceous line. It thinking about light, it makes sense that these artists choose these non-linear modes of presentation, simply because light always originates from a sphere or non-angular object, whether it be the sun, a light bulb or a jumping flame. And although light travels in linear rays, it still seems to be something that cannot be properly described, depicted or made sense of in a straight line. For all of the artists represented here, light becomes a soft and delicate substance that gives shape to their work; it inhabits it, just as it inspires it. Further, thanks to its prime role in keeping our emotions on high, light is something that seems to enliven us, to give us energy and to push us to higher attainment. As a symbol, light represents knowledge and education, benevolence and faith. Ichimura, Kim and Nanjo present us with equally powerful imagery that, thanks to the resounding presence of awe-inspiring light held within and reflected without it, impels us to bask in its glory and to go away from the experience feeling refreshed and hopefully elated.

 

 

Eric C. Shiner is a Director of Andy Warhol Museum .

Contact: cnstudio@mac.com

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