Monday, November 25, 2013

Painting With Light

From painting with light -to shellfish for prayer shawls - to God in the desert, our recent Artists' Lab gathering spanned a wide range of topics. 

We continued our exploration of the theme of light with a perspective on theater lighting. Owen Moldow, lead electrician at the Guthrie Theater, talked with us about the process of lighting a show. And of course he brought visual aids, a collection of spotlights and a light board.

Owen told us that lighting is actually quite an ancient art. The Greeks used large bronze mirrors and a flaming cauldron to project light. Today the most common stage light is an elliptical reflector spot which can be directed, sharpened or shuttered to create forms allowing one to in effect paint with light. He inserted a "Go-Bo" and the light suddenly took the form of leaves. A Go-Bo is a pattern designed by a lighting designer which is stamped into metal. It is not too unlike creating a font, but in this case it is an image. Specific colors can also be created. As they create the lighting for a show they can record it on the light board. Motion can also be created, sometimes in a fairly low tech manner. Owen recalled that for Peer Gynt they needed headlights so he fastened a light at either end of a bar and a stagehand moved them to created the sense of headlights.

In the US the lighting designer comes up with a concept for the show which may be abstract or naturalistic. There is a cue for each lighting change. On the night of a production a board operator manages the implementation. Things don't always go according to plan. Owen recalled when he was lighting the Bill T. Jones dance performance and the light board froze. They had to improvise manually in what proved to be a successful, but rather stressful experience.

Owen noted the type of lighting can vary with the desired effect. Sharper focus can be more jarring and ominous. Dance is often lit through side lighting. Certain colors create different moods, although green is seldom used because it doesn't look good on skin. And there are black lights that react to laundry detergent, allowing one to paint with laundry detergent.

Our facilitator Meryll Page then spoke with us about color, leading off with the parsha this week of Jacob giving his son the coat of many colors, the first desired objet d'art. That led into a discussion of the Biblical dyes for the colors blue, purple, red and gold. Blue and purple come from a shellfish, the Murex Trunculus, (more info) red from the cochineal beetle and yellow/gold from madder. I recalled a book I had read, Colors, A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay which in fact explored the origins of each of these colors. Finlay too notes the paradox raised by one of our group, that Jews are forbidden to eat shellfish, yet are permitted to destroy them in order to obtain the pigment for Tyrian blue and purple to dye the fringes of prayer shawls, one of the most sacred of garments.

We then welcomed special guest, photographer Stuart Klipper who in describing what he does, says he "goes out and looks around". Having photographed at both the North and South Pole, he can now claim the title of "bi-polar". He described the Pole as the "highest, driest, windiest and coldest place on the planet".

Klipper spoke of his interest in a monotheistic God who could only have come out of an empty place, the desert. Again, a theme that echoed for me. On my recent trip to Israel I had been intrigued with a similar reflection from our guide who noted that Moses received the Commandments in a desert; and both Jesus and Mohammed's stories also link to the desert.The sheer vastness of the desert seems to bear a linkage to man's understanding of a monotheistic God. Klipper noted that "the contours of the external world are mirrored spiritually". This interest took him to Cairo in 1985 where he traveled in the Sinai for a week with a Bedouin guide and completed a series of photographs which capture that vastness. (For Klipper handouts)

To view information on lab artists and lab discussion links and handouts, please go to the Jewish Artists' Laboratory website.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 25 artists exploring the theme of Light through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Light is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.

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