Jul 31, 2012

Pay-what-you-wish on Tuesdays

Our community is in recovery, and we want to show our support with the most powerful resource we can offer: art. Now through Labor Day, we're waiving our regular museum admission fees on Tuesdays in favor of whatever small or large contributions our visitors can make. Pay What You Wish on Tuesdays through Labor Day.

The Arts are powerful. They affirm our tremendous ability to overcome hardship, provide a place of refuge from adversity, deepen our capacity for empathy, and much more.

Scott Johnson, The Alluvian Room (detail), 2012.

We hope that over the coming weeks, our community will visit the Fine Arts Center often and feel renewed in their capacity for resilience, find peace in our galleries, and experience a greater empathy for others as we go forward together to address the loss that so many of our friends and neighbors have experienced.

We hope you enjoy what's on view, what's on stage, and what's taking place in our classrooms.

Pay What You Wish on Tuesdays through Labor Day
July 31, Aug. 7, 14, 21, and 28

Jul 30, 2012

As Thousands Cheer - Sneak Peek Photos

Colorado Springs Youth Repertory Theatre's As Thousands Cheer open's THIS THURSDAY, August 2, and the cast and crew are hard at work. I was lucky to get a sneak peak snap some photos during tech rehearsal - check out the pictures below.

We are in for a terrific show! 

Thurs. - Sat., Aug. 2-4 | 7 p.m.
Sun., Aug. 5 | 2 p.m.
TICKETS: $10, $5 for kids 12 and under

Jul 27, 2012

Paper Cutting Master Hyakkimaru is Here to Entertain

Hyakkimaru (image source)
Japanese artist, and Colorado Springs “sibling” if you will, Hyakkimaru will exhibit his masterful “kirie” paper cuttings at the Fine Arts Center this Saturday. The show entitled, Hyakkimaru’s Kirie Worldis part of a 50th anniversary celebration of Fujiyoshida, the artist’s hometown, and our own Colorado Springs becoming sister cities. Hyakkimaru could not be more thrilled to be involved.

When asked what he is looking forward to most in the days to come, Hyakkimaru responded without hesitation – “Entertainment! My art is lively like you, I want you to come enjoy my Kirie”. And enjoy it you will – how could you not? Hyakkimaru’s show buzzes with life; his paper cuttings depict sword bearing Samurai standing so tall you can look them in the eye and his live performances are sure to send jaws dropping to the floor. Come Saturday to the FAC's Glass Corridor at 11am  and 1pm (free!) and you can request a subject to be cut by Hyakkimaru live – your vision will materialize in a matter of  minutes as the artist sketches, snips, and slices at an awe-inspiring speed.

I was lucky to speak with Hyakkimaru and get a sneak peek of his work while he prepared for the upcoming show and I can guarantee, Hyakkimaru will succeed in his efforts to entertain. Below is an  excerpt of our chat :

FAC: This weekend you will be exhibiting your unique “kirie” style paper cuttings at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center as well as demonstrating your artistic process live. Would you describe the kirie art form and tell me a bit about its history?

Hyakkimaru: Kirie is the ancient Japanese art form of paper cutting. It originated long ago in the Shinto Shrine. Artists would use paper and knives to make symbols of spiritual animals such as the turtle and dedicate their work to the gods. Kirie was then lost for a very long time; only recently did it resurface and begin to be recognized again in Japan.

FAC: Would you tell me a bit about your personal journey as a kirie artist?

Hyakkimaru: Certainly. After graduating from college with a degree in architecture I decided very quickly that I did not have enough talent to make it as an architect. Looking back on this decision with greater maturity, I see it is more likely I just did not have enough confidence - I was thinking too much as a young student and I quit very early on in my career.

But in the end, my choice was a very good one. I feel that the meaning of life is just to be happy, so after I quit architecture I began to search for some type of work where I could feel the meaning every day. I knew I wanted to do something with my hands - to really create something. I began doing pottery.

Of course as a young man I felt that I did not have enough talent for pottery either. When I began working with clay at 25, I knew that there were people my age who were already expert professors while I was just learning. I looked back on a lesson I had learned only a few years prior. In college I started to play tennis and I wanted to be very good so I studied it very hard, and I improved so much, so quickly. I applied this approach to art and again I progressed so fast!

To set my work apart from that of other Japanese artists, I thought deeply about how to make something very different. I printed clay with woodcarvings like a block print and for a while; I thought that was really cool. But I soon realized I did not love pottery. I still wanted to become successful in something that could make me truly happy.

So I began to think, I have always had a mind full of ideas. One day I began putting them on paper, drawing tirelessly to give form to thoughts. I realized I should use these ideas for my art - I started to cut away at my paper drawings with an Exacto knife and I thought the final product looked remarkably good. At that time I was also the manager of a modeling company; I had the professional experience to easily get my work into  publishing world.

FAC: I understand you take requests from visitors when creating Kirie images live. Once you were asked to create an image of a man’s mother, which you call “Female Farmer”, and the visitor who requested the piece was so touched by the finished product he wept. How does it feel to create artwork that is so personally moving for your visitors?

Hyakkimaru: I am always shocked when people have such a powerful reaction to my work. Although it was never my intention to elicit such emotional responses in my viewers, I have found time and time again that there is something unique about my work that people can connect with in a very profound way. I hope that you will feel this too at my upcoming show. Another powerful example of an emotional connection is when I was doing a live kirie performance but no one made requests. I decided to do a portrait of a Buddhist symbol that came into my mind. It was an image of a mother and child and one woman in the audience right in front started to cry so much. She asked me, “Hyakkimaru, can I buy this piece?” and told me she had just recently lost a child.

It is amazing that what I do can be so moving for other people. It is always a wonderful moment.

FAC: Do you ever draw on your own personal experience when creating your work?

Hyakkimaru: My artwork is a product of the way I have always looked at art. Growing up I would walk through Japanese museums and would leave wondering "what was that?"; what I saw really didn't mean anything to me. Later in life when looking at Picasso, C├ęzanne, and Pissarro, I still see that average people off of the street feel as I did – they see that the painting is nice, even beautiful, but without knowing art history it is very hard to be excited. When I was becoming an artist I wanted to make sure that my spectators were entertained. I believe art should fun, appealing, energetic and entertaining. When I create, I need a reaction - happy or sad, but never just "OK", never boring.

FAC: The exhibition will include a kirie warrior collection featuring Native American figures. What about the Native American people has compelled you to include them in your work?

Hyakkimaru: As an artist, and as a person, we all go through life's struggles. Going through college I felt that my life was not normal - I felt I had so many hardships. This made me attracted to all human struggles. I know the Native American people struggled for many years and I see a strong connection between their struggle and those of my people. Native Americans, like Japanese Samurai warriors, had to fight with others who wanted to take resources from them. They were driven to fight bloody wars and experience extreme grief.  I do not believe war is beautiful, but it is appealing to me because it is a form of true humanity. I want to portray this very real struggle.

At the same time I do not just want to show struggle, I want to make something that is appealing for the audience. It is difficult to show the pain that people have to go through in life, but at the same time be beautiful. It is important to understand it was never my intention to make people feel pain when they view my work. I want them to feel only the invigorating nature of humanity that comes from struggle. As I have said before, I hope my work is only beautiful and exciting.

FAC: This year marks the 50th anniversary of your hometown, Fujiyoshida, and Colorado Springs becoming sister cities. How do you feel about representing Fujiyoshida for the celebration here in Colorado Springs?

Hyakkimaru: Our coming together is very special. I was born in 1951, the year my city was officially founded; I think this may be something meaningful and I am glad I can be here for the celebration with other leaders from Fujiyoshida. I love my town very much and I want only great things for my people. I hope that our connection and my visit here can help us become more prosperous like Colorado Springs. When I arrived last week I was shocked by how lively your city is. The energy is high and this is something I enjoy it very much. I hope that one day my city can be like this.

FAC: With the FAC exhibition fast approaching, what aspects of Japanese art are you most excited about bringing to us here in Colorado Springs?

Hyakkimaru: Entertainment! My art is lively like you, I want you to come enjoy my kirie! Art should be simply fun, I want you to see it does not need to be so serious - all studies and perfection. I have three unique elements of my work that I think make my Kirie appealing for all audiences. First, I have live performance (this part is my favorite, I really enjoy interacting with people). Second, my Kirie can be very big; I think people are surprised to see life size figures. And third, I have 3D paper cuttings that are quite unique.

"I am excited to share this all with you. I hope you will be stunned and become excited by the possibilities of kirie".

Hyakkimaru | Hyakkimaru's Kirie World

July 28 | Exhibition Opening
To celebrate the opening of this exhibition, artist Hyakkimaru will demonstrate his artistic process of creating kirie—the traditional Japanese art form of paper cutting. FAC's Glass Corridor, 11a, 1p, FREE.Invite friends on Facebook!

Aug. 4 | Mountain Festival
Celebrating 50 years, the Mountain Festivalfeatures diverse performances and cultural activities, including a demonstration by the artist Hyakkimura. America the Beautiful Park, 12-8p, FREE.
Aug. 18 | Family Adventure Day
Artist Hyakkimura demonstrates his process of creating kirie at Family Adventure Day: 10:30a; 11:30a; 12:30p, FREE.
Aug. 25 | Kirie Workshop
Artist Hyakkimura guides participants through the process of making kirie in this two-hour workshop. Create kirie works based on your own drawings. Bemis School of Art, 10a-12p, $27 for Members, $30 for non-members. REGISTER
Aug. 28 | Kirie Workshop
Artist Hyakkimura guides participants through the process of making kirie in this two-hour workshop. Create kirie works based on your own drawings. Bemis School of Art, 4:30-6:30p, $27 for Members, $30 for non-members. REGISTER

Jul 26, 2012

Marc Salem: Mentalist not Magician

Marc Salem in not a magician  he is not a psychic  and he is not a mind reader. 
Marc Salem is a mentalist.

But what exactly does this mean? If his "powers" do not not stem from supernatural phenomena, how is Salem seemingly able to read minds while the rest of us cannot? Salem's answer  he is merely talented.

Talented indeed. Salem is considered one of the greatest mentalists on the planet. Yet he has much more than talent on his side, he has the scientific expertise and the psychoanalytic background to run circles around the rest of us mental lay people. Salem holds advanced degrees from NYU and University of Pennsylvania, including a a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology and is considered one of the wold's foremost scholars on non-verbal communication. He has been on the faculty of NYU, UP, Manhattan College and Marymount Manhattan College. The man is a true scholar of the mind.

The mind is a mysterious thing . . . unless you are Marc Salem of course. 
Check out this incredible video - see Salem's "talent" for yourself!

"Hide your thoughts! Marc Salem is in town! Quick-witted family fun with a WOW finish!"  -  New York Times
"Mind-blowing is the only way to describe Marc Salem's Mind Games. This is a one man tour de force as Marc wows and charms his audience for an hour and a half with his incredible ability to read minds." - New York Post 
"It's far and away the best mentalist show I've ever seen." -  Village Voice 

Marc Salem: Mind Over Colorado
Fri.-Sat., Aug. 10 - 11 | 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS: $18 FAC Members | $20 for non-members
all the Box Office at 710.634.5583.

Jul 25, 2012

Sister Peaks: Pikes Peak and Mt Fuji — by the numbers

Fujiyoshida was Colorado Springs' first sister city and began the trend of Colorado Springs linking up to five other cities around the world (click here for the rest of them). Fujiyoshida and Colorado Springs entered into this relationship because both these cities lie at the base of  two of the most iconic (and most visited) mountains in the world.

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of becoming sister cities, both will re-create the 600-year-old Fujiyoshida Festival that celebrates Mount Fuji (above is a video of the preparation that goes into the Fujiyoshida Festival). The Mountain Festival will be at America the Beautiful Park Aug. 4. Below are some fun stats that compare Colorado Springs' Pikes Peak to Fujiyoshida's Mt Fuji.


Pikes Peak (image source).

14,115 feet above sea level
4,302 meters above sea level
-39.0 lowest recorded temperature, in Fahrenheit
64 highest recorded temperature, in Fahrenheit
15,000 average number of people who (attempt to) climb it a year
2nd most visited mountain in the world
31st highest peak in Colorado
426,388 approximate number of people living in Colorado Springs

Mt. Fuji (image source).

12,389 feet above sea level
3,776 meters above sea level
-38.0 lowest recorded temperature, in Fahrenheit
64 highest recorded temperature, in Fahrenheit
200,000 average number of people who (attempt to) climb it a year
1st most visited mountain in the world
1st highest peak in Japan
52,000 approximate number of people living in Fujiyoshida


The FAC is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the link between Colorado Springs and Fujiyoshida with the opening of a new exhibition that features paper cutting art by Japanese artist Hyakkimaru.  Hyakkimaru's art is inspired by the similarities between the culture of the Samurai and the culture of Native Americans.

Hyakkimaru's Kirie World
July 28 - Sept. 15

Honoring a Legacy: Selections from the Taylor Museum of Native American Works

Jul 24, 2012

Herbert Vogel, 1922-2012

Our thoughts are with Dorothy Vogel today as we celebrate the life of Herbert, a great collector and patron. Herb and Dorothy's support for artists and art museums has had a deep and lasting impact.

Daryl Trivieri, part of the Vogel collection. 

The Fine Arts Center's collection of contemporary art attained a new dynamic range with their gift of 50 works in 2009,  and we join an extensive museum community in mourning Herb's passing.

Sylvia Plimack Mangold, part of the Vogel collection. 

Rest in peace, Herb. Your memory and legacy continues to inspire.

Distillery 291

World Whisky Day has come and gone (it was March 27, and you can find out the difference between Whiskey and Whisky on our blog), but the FAC's hosting an annual fundraiser that'll give you a chance to sample local, hand-crafted beers and whiskeys from Colorado. 

One of the featured artisan distilleries is Distillery 291, located right here in Colorado Springs.  

After 20 years of working in photography, Michael Myers started Distillery 291, and has successfully created three recipes for distinct, flavorful whiskey: Colorado White Dog Rye, Colorado Fresh (un-aged, corn whiskey) and Colorado Aged Whiskey.

Myers designed the still himself, having welded it together out of copper photogravures  he had from his photography days. If you look closely at the still, you can see some of the beautiful landscapes and architecture that Myers photographed. Inside the hose is a photogravure of the Chrysler Building. 

Photogravure of a cactus landscape
photo credit
Photogravure is a process where a photograph negative is transferred onto copper plates and etched on a surface.

The name of the distillery was fate after Myers learned about Gallery 291 by  photographer Alfred Stieglitz in college at the Savannah College of Art and Design. And interestingly enough, his dorm room number was also 291. Myers still has his dorm room key hanging in Distillery 291

While Myers isn't a Colorado native, he wanted to keep everything in the distillery local to Colorado. From the welders who welded the still to where he buys the ingredients for the whiskey, it is all made in Colorado. 

Enjoy tasting the three Colorado whiskeys at Whiskey for My Men, Beer for My Horses.

Fri., August 17 | 6 - 9 p.m.
Non-members $25 (FAC Members $20) — $5 discount if you wear a big-ass belt buckle
Tickets online, Box Office 719.634.5583, or at the door

Jul 23, 2012

As Thousands Cheer

On Aug 2 the Colorado Springs Youth Repertory Theatre will open its performances of As Thousands Cheer. Youth Repertory Theatre is the FAC Theatre Company program dedicated to young actors and technicians. The program is a five-week intensive culminating in the production of As Thousands Cheer.

Ethel Waters
Jose Limon and Letita Ide

As Thousands Cheer originally opened on September 30th 1933 at the Music Box Theater on Broadway. Written by Moss Hart with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the musical is a 21 scene compilation of wit, satire, and drama that covers a wide variety of themes from Depression-era news articles. An instant sensation on Broadway that ran for 400 consecutive performances, As Thousands Cheer represents a theatrical phenomenon unheard of during the Great Depression. The show has boasted such big names as Joan Crawford, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Noel Coward, Josephine Baker, and Aimee Semple McPherson as it leads. The musical also popularized songs such as "Easter Parade," "Harlem on My Mind" and "Heat Wave"-- a timely tune for this summertime showing.

As Thousands Cheer
Thurs. - Sat., Aug. 2-4 | 7 p.m.
Sun., Aug. 5 | 2 p.m.
TICKETS: $10, $5 for kids 12 and under
Buy Tickets Online
Invite your friends

Jul 20, 2012

Scott Johnson's Literary Inspiration

Similar to Terry Maker's inspiration from John Milton's Paradise Lost, current temporary exhibition artist Scott Johnson draws from a variety of literary sources for his artistic inspiration. Here are some of the artist's favorite snippets from various books and poems.

Rainer Maria Rilke
(image source).
"For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us."
— Rainer Maria Rilke, from "First Duino Elegy"

"But what most puzzled and confounded you was a long, limber, portentous, black mass of something hovering in the centre of the picture... A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to drive a nervous man distracted. Yet was there a sort of indefinite, half-attained, unimaginable sublimity about it that fairly froze you to it, till you involuntarily took an oath with yourself to find out what that marvellous painting meant... But stop; does it not bear a faint resemblance to... even the great leviathan himself?"
— Herman Melville, from Moby Dick

"His visionary sketch of the habitat for postmodern humans recalls us to the elemental relationship we have to the earth, to its place within the cosmos, and to previous human cultures who have understood, so well, the limits of human powers. This is the vision of tragic man."
— John Gilmour, from Fire On The Earth: Anselm Kiefer and the Postmodern World (The Arts And Their Philosophie

Scott Johnson, The No Plateau, detail, 2012. 
"Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the shadow"
— T.S. Eliot, from "The Hollow Men"

"Our normal waking consciousness... is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different... No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question -- for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they fail to give a map."
— William James, from The Varieties of Religious Experience

James Turrell | Trace Elements: Light into Space
Scott Johnson | Places Apart
July 14 - Sept. 30

Jul 19, 2012

...In the Community (July 19 - Aug 2)

View of Hayman Fire burn area Aspen Valley Ranch is holding a 10-year benefit concert on Sun., July 22
(image source).

We're featuring a bi-monthly glance at some exciting upcoming local events — some art, some nature, some music... hopefully you'll find a little bit of everything. Share your experience of these events in the comments section, Facebook, or Twitter (use #inthecommunity) if you go to any of these! Please note: phone numbers listed are for the event, not necessarily the venue.

Ranch Day
Sat., 7/21 | 2 - 8:30 p.m.
$7 daily (park admission) at Cheyenne Mountain State Park (map) — 719.576.2016 (reservations optional)
Cornerstone Arts Center at Colorado College, the venue
for the screening and discussion of "The Social Network"
(image source).
A celebration of the park's ranching history through various outdoor activities. End the evening with square dancing.

Hayman Fire 10th Anniversary Restoration Festival and Benefit Concert
Sun., 7/22 | 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
$20 at door, $15 in advance at Aspen Valley Ranch (Firefighters and Kids under 12 free) (map) — 719.748.0033
(image source)
The Haunted Windchimes and six other bands, along with art, food and drinks will provide all-day entertainment to commemorate and support victims of the Hayman Fire.

Screening of "The Social Network"
Tues., 7/24 | 6:30 p.m.
Free at Colorado College, Cornerstone Arts Center (map) —719.389.6066
Colorado College professors Dylan Nelson and Clay Haskell will provide analysis and post-screening talkback of the 2010 film about the drama of the founding of Facebook.

Marilyn Kirkman, Follow your Bliss,
sculptured silk dye. From 3 Dimensions in 
Silk and Bronze,an exhibition at the
Arati Artists Gallery
Olympic Downtown Celebration
Fri., 7/27 | 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Free in Downtown Colorado Springs (map) — 719.884.1199
Watch the London Olympic Opening Ceremonies on an HD screen, in addition to other activities for the whole family, including a synthetic ice rink. Gold Medalist Kristi Yamaguchi will light the downtown torch.

Omar Sy and Jamoral
Fri., 7/27 | 7 - 9 p.m.
$15 at Marmalade at Smokebrush (map) — 719.444.1012
Sufi drummer Omar Sy hails from the Casamance region of Senegal and will put on an interactive concert. Some extra drums will be available, but bring your if you have one.

3 Dimensions in Silk and Bronze
7/6 - 7/31 | see gallery site for hours
Free at Arati Artists Gallery (map) — 719.636.1901
Featured artists are Peggy Cook (bronze) and Marilyn Kirkman (silk).

...In the Community runs on the first and third Thursdays of each month on the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Blog.

Jul 17, 2012

Public Free Day — Tues., July 17

Mario Reis, Nature Watercolors, Colorado (Colorado Rivers), river sediment on cotton cloth, 1992. From current Permanent Collection exhibition Convolutions.

This Public Free Day will be your chance to EXPERIENCE the newly opened Scott Johnson and James Turrell exhibitions in the second-floor galleries. Last Free Day, the upstairs galleries were closed for the installation, but now the whole museum is open again! From western horses to anniversary murals, skeleton figures to beeswax sculpture, summer at the FAC has a little something for everyone!

Nasario Lopez, La Muerte en su Carreta (Death in Her
Cart), cottonwood, pine, gesso, wood and leather, ca. 1860.
From current Permanent Collection exhibition,
An Enduring Vision.

With the whole museum open, the exhibition possibilites are practically endless! Raiding the Crates is an ongoing permanent collection exhibition series intended to follow exciting grooves in the collection and spin new experiences with a spectrum of artists, ideas, styles, and media. Permanent collection works presented in Convolutions were chosen in response to the James Turrell and Scott Johnson exhibitions. Raiding the Crates: Convolutions includes art from the FAC's permanent collection, showcasing works by Monica Petty Aiello, Herbert Bayer, Larry Bell, Arthur Dove, Oskar Fischinger, Adam Fuss, Isamu Noguchi, Mario Reis, and Cady Wells. 

Public Free Day — Tues., July 17
10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Admission: Free!

Jul 16, 2012

Remaining One-Day Workshops at Bemis

Beat the summer heat and join us at Bemis School of Art for a one-day art class workshop. Most of the one-days are jewelry-making related. There are no one-day workshops in August, so soak up the summer art while you can until the Fall session starts (Sept. 17)! All classes are for ages 16+, unless otherwise noted. Some classes have additional supply lists, click through to the individual class site to find out more. 

A84 Learn to Solder

Sat., 7/21 | 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
$115 (Members $100)
Soldering is the technique used to join metals, allowing you to create pieces out of a variety of precious metals like copper brass and silver. ($25 materials fee)

Sat., 7/28 | 10:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
$93 (Members $78)
Combine the basics of soldering and polishing to create some simple wire rings. ($5 materials fee)

Sat., 7/28 | 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Learn bezels and bails to give a more complete look to your metal jewelry. Basic soldering skills required.

Here's the online registration for all classes — or you can mail, fax, or drop off the form to Bemis. Become a member and enjoy Bemis discounts and early registration, among other FAC benefits.

Jul 13, 2012

Go Experience It

It is not an object, it is an encounter.
It is not a picture, it is a sensation.
It is not an exhibit, it is a revelation.

It cannot be described, it has to be experienced.
July 14 - Sept. 30, 2012


Starting at 5 pm, FAC Members get to preview and be the first to experience the Turrell and Johnson exhibitions. Tonight's exclusive Members Preview will also feature a conversation with artist Scott Johnson, which we'll live tweet for those unable to attend. Use #GoExperienceIt to follow and join the conversation. 

Scott Johnson, detail from The Alluvium Room in Places Apart, 2012.

Jul 12, 2012

Anthropology of Light and Art

An Interview with ALTON BROOKS PARKER, 

This Saturday, July 14th, The Fine Arts Center will present James Turrell’s installation piece, Trace Elements: Light Into Space, in conjunction with an exhibition, Places Apart, by Colorado College professor and artist, Scott Johnson. We have asked Colorado College visiting professor, anthropologist, and expert on all things 'light', Alton Brooks Parker, to share his insights on light in art, cavemen, James Turrell,  even life and death.

Colorado College students create final 'light performance' as a part of "Anthropology of Light" course (image source).
FAC: You teach a course at Colorado College entitled "The Anthropology of Light". Would you give us a quick crash course?

Alton: The ‘Anthropology of Light’ is a study of the human relationship to light and to color theory throughout recorded history. The course covers the science of light and its current applications; as well as deconstructs our modern language of light and the unconscious symbolism we attribute to it.

When we talk about light, there is a natural transition from physics to anthropology. The five human senses developed independently, evolving as information portals to monitor the surrounding environment. The fourth sensory mutation, sight, provided humans the ability to ingest and decode photon activity and became man’s most powerful connection to the observable universe. It follows logically that many of our religious definitions use the language of light and illumination as metaphor.

Colorado College student experiments in 'Anthropology of Light' .
(image source)
When Prometheus brought us the ability to control fire, he gave man the leisure to develop forms of communication, to pursue philosophy and entertainment. Fire produced warmth in the winter and light at night, resulting in gatherings of people who took the opportunity to create language and to 'entertain' each other.  Yet long before the advent of written language, legends and myths were enacted by firelight.  From ancient Anasazi culture to Nordic peoples, traditions and ceremony were enshrouded by smoke and shadow play. The course examines the sociological development of entertainment through civilization’s emerging sources of light.

FAC: So humans have been harnessing light for entertainment since the days of Promethius. Visual artists are no exception - painters have toiled for centuries attempting to capture the effects of light in their work. Manet wrote, “the principal person in a picture is light”, and Monet stated “For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere (air and light) which gives subjects their true value”.  What are your thoughts on the human effort to capture, or mimic, the effects of light for aesthetic purposes?

Alton: I’m not certain that the aesthetic human effort with light is only to ‘capture or mimic’.  Some are, certainly, with static mediums of imagery such as painting and photography but I believe that we are more fundamentally entwined with light. For example, the first caveman to dig a window into the side of a cave became the first architectural lighting specialist.  Humans are intrinsically drawn to light.  Mediums such as architecture and performance, I would say ‘use’ or ‘acknowledge’ light rather than just ‘mimic’.

FAC: In the 1960’s, California based “Light and Space” artists took on the age-old challenge of capturing the beauty of light, but this time cut right to the chase – they used light as the medium.  What are your thoughts regarding this revolutionary “Light and Space” art movement?

What was observed in the 60’s I believe was a surge in the technologies of the time that gave rise to a zeitgeist of culture, including a proliferation of light medium artists.  I worked closely with ‘The Brotherhood of Light Show’ for many years (Founded in San Francisco, 1967) and one interesting theory Chris Samardizch proposed was specifically that the launch of the Pantone Matching System in
1963 created an explosion of physical color, which in turn informed the cultural revolution of that decade.

So in the 60’s, we have the rise of many great light artists, but the foundations of using light as the medium have been around since before the builders of Stonehenge were mapping giant boulders to the sky.  In 1730, the Jesuit, Father Louis Bertrand Castel, built an Ocular Harpsichord of small colored glass windows attached to specific keys. From the 1920’s-50’s, Thomas Wilfred created dozens of inspired ‘Clavilux’ light organs for performing ‘Lumia’.

FAC: For “Light and Space” artists of the 1960s, the result of using light as a medium was perceptual experience rather than a picture. What type of psychological effects could this type of “light experience” have on a viewer?

Alton: We perceive light and color with the entirety of our being.  A mechanical process of the visual cortex instantly transforms into an emotional, social, and spatial phenomena composed of vivid meaning. At 650 nanometers of wavelength, light is considered red.  However, it is experienced as danger or warmth, revolution or romance, evil or heroism, depending on the context in which it appears.  Creating spaces and experiences for people to explore this context is the fundamental role of the artist.
Student 'light performance' (image source)

4. James Turrell’s installation piece, Trace Elements: Light Into Space, will be on view in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in just a few short days. Westword news wrote, “Trace Elements (is) a light sculpture exuding such visual magnetism that viewers may believe
they’ve died and gone to heaven”. Heavy. Would you share your insights on the connections between life, death, and light?
Alton: No.  [Grin] Just kidding, but like you said, that’s a heavy question. I’m tempted to just quote the first line of the Tao Te Ching and walk away but then I’d feel obliged to punch myself in the face for being an art fink and have to explain the black eye to my wife.  So maybe stream of consciousness instead…
To begin with, I am a huge fan of James Turrell.  His grasp of concepts, study of science, and core understanding of light is evident in all of his works.  His Roden Crater project is breathtaking in scope.

The eye is the only sensory organ that can perceive information far beyond the observer’s immediate experience.  Touch, taste, and smell are immediate sensory responses.  Even sound dissipates and requires atmosphere… but light… light allows us to see not only solar system phenomena, but ancient galactic phenomena that has no immediate consequence to our survival mechanisms.  Light gives us a window into the divine and the constant by which we join it.


James Turrell | Trace Elements: Light into Space
Scott Johnson | Places Apart
July 14 - Sept. 30