When darkness falls, mysterious streaks of colored light appear at The Hyde Collection.
In mid-June, when this outdoor light show first appeared, residents of a nursing home across the street from the art museum were enchanted. By July, they were waiting every night for the light to grow brighter and deeper.
“It’s like a sunset,” David F. Setford, the Hyde’s executive director, says of the 13-by-22-foot-long artwork that hangs next to the front door.
And the folks at the nursing home are not alone. Every day, people at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the Abuja Hyatt Regency hotel in Nigeria, Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City and many other public and corporate buildings, find themselves gazing intently at large-scale “light paintings” created by Stephen Knapp.
A Massachusetts artist who is internationally known, the 64-year-old Knapp has been exploring light as a medium for more than 30 years. He is the lone pioneer of this kind of abstract art, which he creates by shining a small single light source onto hand-sized pieces of glass that are fastened to a wall so they jut out like the fins of a fish. As the light is reflected and refracted through each prism-like piece of glass, viewers see pointy beams of color that travel without boundaries on the wall, breaking into geometric patterns and layers of colors.
“People think it’s painted. It’s just one beam of light that creates all of that,” says Setford, standing before “Serenata,” a 2008 work with crystal-like beams of colored light that stretch 22 feet to the ceiling, down onto the floor and about 12 feet across the white wall.
‘Stephen Knapp: New Light’ and ‘Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light’
WHERE: The Hyde Collection, 161 Warren St., Glens Falls
WHEN: Through Sunday, Sept. 16. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
HOW MUCH: $8; $6 for seniors; $4 for students; free children 12 and under. Free for active members of the military and their families. Free on Wednesdays.
MORE INFO: www.hydecollection.org, 792-1761 or www.stephenknapp.com
-- Artist Stephen Knapp will give a lecture about his “light paintings” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19 at The Hyde Collection.
Admission is free from 1 to 4:30 p.m. as part of a Community Day Open House, with glass art demonstrations and a free art program for children during the lecture.
-- Demonstrations by regional glass artists, 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council (LARAC), 7 Lapham Place, during the Glens Falls Third Thursday Art Walks. Free
“If you take that piece of glass and change its angle to the light, it changes color,” Knapp explained in a phone conversation with The Gazette. “You change the angle, you change the wave length.”
It’s the “Summer of Light” at The Hyde. Until mid-September, “Stephen Knapp: New Light” will appear in the Charles R. Wood Gallery, and a sidekick show, “Tiffany Glass: Painting With Color and Light,” from The Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass in New York City, will glow in the smaller Hoopes Gallery.
In the Wood Gallery, the atmosphere is meditative, cathedral-like, as nine “light paintings,” pieces on panels and works directly on the wall, measuring from 9 feet to 12 feet, illuminate the darkened room.
In the Hoopes, coming upon the 19 stained-glass Tiffany masterpieces is like entering a sumptuous parlor from the early 1900s, as light shines through and animates table lamps, standing lamps, windows and hanging lampshades with designs of lotus, peonies, dogwood and bamboo.
“They go so well together. But they are creating free color in very different ways,” Setford says of the two exhibits. Tiffany glass is “restrained in a matrix,” and “Knapp is freeing the color so it dances and flows across the wall. It’s almost like a deconstructed Tiffany lamp.”
Knapp spoke to The Gazette from his home in Princeton in central Massachusetts, a scenic rural community near the Wachusett Mountain ski resort where he and his wife moved in March after living for many years in his hometown of Worcester.
“We’ve just put the finishing touches on a 7,000-square-foot studio next door, made just for light paintings,” Knapp says.
“There’s a huge area which is essentially my palette room, where I have all these shapes stacked. So I’ll go in that room and pick and choose, put them in little carts and roll them into the main studio.”
Knapp, who has a history degree from Hamilton College, and never studied art, started out as a fine-art photographer. In the 1970s, he worked closely with Polaroid Corp., as he used their 20-by-24 camera to create large-scale instant photographs.
Knapp developed “light painting” after years of researching and experimenting with different materials. He has made etched metal murals, ceramic murals and glass walls, all large-scale, and has worked in marble and slate.
His current work is made with dichroic glass, which contains multiple layers of reflective metals or oxides.
While many viewers sense spirituality in his works, Knapp says that’s not necessarily his intention.
“I’m not trying to do a spiritual piece per se. But light in itself does that to us. We’re all attracted to light. There’s something about light. That’s why we have light in cathedrals. It gives you kind of a lift. I like the fact that you can see whatever you want to see in this, and the next person sees what ever they want to see in this.”
This spring, Knapp was invited to show his work at the Conduit Gallery, a contemporary gallery in Dallas, at the same time that a major retrospective of glass sculpture by the famous Dale Chihuly was opening at the Dallas Arboretum.
“I told them that I’m not a glass artist, I’m a light artist,” he says. “Glass is how I get there, but light is my medium.”
The piece that Knapp sent to the Conduit Gallery was not colorful, unlike the glass sculptures associated with Chihuly.
“It was gray and shadowy and moody and different,” he says.
His process begins with sheets of glass. After the glass is cut into strips, it’s sent out to be laminated, so it becomes “safety glass,” appropriate for public works of art.
“You can stick this outdoors. It’s not going to fade. It’s going to outlive paintings,” Knapp says.
One or two assistants cut the laminated glass into smaller shapes, usually up to eight inches long.
“We’ve actually developed a lot of our own tools to cut and polish the glass,” he says.
After the glass is cut and Knapp selects the pieces, he retreats to the studio.
“I start with the light,” he says.
“If it’s on a panel piece, I’ll spend a good amount of time playing with that light, clamping it to the back of that panel. . . . Normally, it [the artwork] starts up high, with one piece of glass near the light, and then it builds from there. I spend a lot of time really just holding the glass up, looking at the glass, turning it to the side, deciding what I want to do,” Knapp says.
Looking and thinking
“It’s really just a lot of looking, a lot of thinking. It’s a very physical process. Basically I’m holding a screw gun in one hand and a piece of glass in the other hand.”
As the light goes through each piece of glass, “it transmits one color and reflects its complement,” he says. “That’s what makes it all work.
“It also makes it extraordinarily difficult at times, because there are times that you want to drop in a red or whatever color here, and you don’t want that reflected green going anywhere.”
The process gets even trickier because the color can be altered by even the slightest change in the angle of the glass as it is attached by a metal bracket to the wall or panel.
“Think of window screens stacked up in front of your house. You can see through one window screen but when you have two or three stacked up, it’s hard to see through them,” he says.
Inspiration for Knapp’s light paintings come from daydreams and observations.
“I try to be aware of the world around me. I travel, I go to museums. I look at things. And nature plays a part in it, too,” he says.
“This may sound really corny, but I feel a responsibility, to do it right. This is a brand-new medium, there’s nothing like it in the world.”