The secrets of light have slowly been revealed over the last 600 years although it is clear that the ancients also understood some of its properties. Scientists still can't determine whether light moves as particles or waves or both so essentially this prime energy source continues to mystify in many ways.
Artists have over the centuries increasingly understood light and its properties and make art by working with it as an essential concern. From the renaissance period in particular, artists have tried to manipulate light sources with mirrors and windows in order to escalate the effects of contrast, focus and drama by the use of modulated hues and shadow. An outstanding example of this use of painted light is "The Sleep Of Endymion" a mythological tableau by Girodet painted in 1791 (shown above). These acquired painting techniques spurred innovation for hundreds of years until Malevich's black and white "Suprematist" paintings appeared in 1915 effectively ending the use of light in art to depict natural, "real" images of fictional or allegorical scenes from life.
Prime art movements like Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop championed these particular ways of viewing the world as art became more and more "object" oriented. They still dominate the art world today! They all use light in various ways whether as 2D, 3D or 4D installations. From the 20's artists like Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Naum Gabo and Man Ray had started to experiment with light using artificial light sources as part of the artwork. The modern interest in light and the perception of light effects in/on artworks started in earnest in the mid 50's with groups like "Zero" in Germany (see Dec Blog) as well as artists in France, the UK and the USA.
During the 50's a new type of art concerned with the perceived movement of light on painted flat and built up "relief" surfaces came to be known as "Kinetic" and later also as "Op" art. Light is activated by the confluence of colour and form across the painted/built surface causing perceptual shifts in the viewers mind.
One of the foremost inventors/practitioners of this kind of art is the Argentinian born Italian Luis Tomasello who died recently at the grand old age age of 99. Tomasello moved to Paris after completing his formal art education in Buenos Aries, Argentina. It was here that he discovered Mondrian and began to experiment with geometric constructions. He associated and exhibited there with a group of innovative Latin American artists who had been making Abstract Constructivist style artworks and were beginning to develop Kinetic art. Tomasello discovered his own direction early realizing his central interest was in "flat" "wall hung" artworks with built up surfaces. The issue in his work isn't the image constructed with paint but the surface constructed with different materials and then painted over. His work ceases to be "representational image" but rather "painted object" as "moving (dynamic) surface."
Below are three images showing the transition of his paintings from the 60's to the 80's.
Essentially Tomasello is an architecturally oriented artist (he has admitted as much) constructing small scale painted structures that serve as vertical wall pieces. He also designed and helped install large public wall installations and some complete room environments.The central focus is always the illusion of movement, (the flicker) that occurs as the eye tries to apprehend the play of light across built up, painted formations. Tomasello spent his life finding ways and opportunities to intensify this perceptual function in his work, often painting one side of the protruding shapes with a red that would cast a glimmering shadow as the viewer changed direction in relation to the work. This subtle yet dynamic illusory "kinetic" effect totally captivated him and provided all the creative impetus he needed.
The video interview below provides some insights into the artists thinking.
I'm only able to show a small sample of his work here so please check out his whole oeuvre. There are many beautiful, sophisticated works in his total creative output.
Click below to find out more about Luis Tomasello and his elegant, flickering art.