polyester resin, plywood, fiberglass
243,8 x 76,2 x 40,6 cm
Electron transitions: John McCracken
When atoms are heated enough, the energy level of the electrons changes. When they go back to their previous energy level, it is called electron transitions. During this transition, photons are released that we observe as light. If this light falls on an object, we can see this object through the reflection of the light on it. There are different types of reflection, such as the targeted and the diffuse reflection. These species are important in applications for matte paint or lacquer paint.
“I think of color as being the structural material I use to build the forms I am interested in. The fact that in another sense I use plywood, fiberglass and lacquer as structural materials is of less importance. I have found that a certain combination of color intensity and transparency and surface finish provide me with the expressive means I way, at least for the present”
Neville Wakefield. John McCracken: Sketchbook. Santa Fe: Radius Books, 2008: p. 66.
John McCracken (1934 - 2011) was an American artist who lived and worked in Los Angeles, Santa Fe, New Mexico and New York. After high school, he first went to the army for four years and then studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts. In 1965 McCracken moved from Oakland to Los Angeles because the artistic landscape suited him better than in California. Before that period McCracken made oil paintings. He evolved into combinations of oil paintings with plywood and car paint, ultimately to end up with full-fledged sculptures in plywood and car paint.
“California culture did of itself offer some inspiration for art, too. The style of the place was sort of willy-nilly creativity. And the cars, with their sometimes attractive finishes, was one thing I looked at. The car-finish materials were what I was using and learning to use for my work...Not that many of them had great finishes – but the light in Los Angeles does something, too, and anyway there were some ‘inspiring’ glints of things here and there in Los Angeles that I was able to bounce off of in my track toward making what I felt in my intuitions was possible.”
Rachel Rivenc. Made in Los Angeles: Materials, Processes, and the Birth of West Coast Minimalism. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2016: p. 96.
In 1968 McCracken moves to New York and meets, among others, Flavin, Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Barnett Newman. When McCracken leaves New York, attention for him fades for a while, but in the 1980s, renewed interest comes from the art world for his work. From then on McCracken is investigating how he can use different materials for his work and also pays more attention to the architectural context where his work will be exhibited.
I chose his work 'Wave' (2004). This work consists of a rectangular plinth, a base in plywood treated with polyester resin and black pigment. McCracken has several works like this black beam, and there are also similar sculptures with other pigments and polyester resin as well as pedestals in polished metal. The shape of this sculpture is a beam, a purified minimalist form. For McCracken this form represents human proportions. But this form, the rectangle or plinth, is actually the bearer of the real work, namely the colour that this plinth has been given - in this case a deep black. The extremely thorough technique of processing the black pigment and polyester resin on the surface actually determines the entire work. Like a real pedestal, the work therefore fully supports this intensive colour treatment. The black pigment and the polyester resin have been made and applied with such skill and expertise that a certain depth has been created in the colour layer, making this colour seem elusive. This is reinforced by the high gloss obtained during the processing of the polyester resin.
Partly because of this high gloss, the work reflects its surroundings, so that the colour seems to merge into the surroundings and vice versa. The minimalist form, the depth in the layer of colour and the reflective character give this work an unreal and inviolable quality. The work seems to merge into its surroundings and the surroundings seem to merge into the work. This is possibly reinforced when several copies are placed in a room, as during the exhibition at David Zwirner in New York in 2006. Due to the repetition or doubling of the works and the penetrating and reflective nature of the surface, as a viewer you lose your focus. Because of the intense black reflection, the environment seems to continue behind the mirror and there is a suggestion of another environment in the deep black. If only Alice could have seen this!
Greet Billet (BE)
RGB and three mirrors
MDF, plexiglass, mirrors, wall paint, 2 x (112 x 150 x 112) cm
installation view: Gallery El Welle
courtesy of the artist
photo: Kristien Daem
This work consists of a pedestal in MDF with three plexiglas plates on it, first a blue one, on top of that a green one and at the very top a red one. These plexiglas plates refer to the additive colour system. The sheets are originally transparent, but as they lie on top of each other, they lose their transparency and their colours are mixed in a certain way. When the sheets are placed on top of each other in a different order, a different colour is obtained. The difference in colour also depends on the thickness of the sheets. In this order and thickness, the result is an indeterminate deep brown or deep black colour. Due to the mirroring effect of the sheets, the environmental colour of the exhibition space is also absorbed into the work, so that the colour depends on the place where the work is exhibited.
The dimensions of the plates are 112 x 150 cm. The dimensions of the pedestal correspond to this in order to pursue a certain peace and harmony. For this exhibition, the pedestal was painted white with the same paint used for the walls of the gallery. In this way, the pedestal becomes part of the architecture. In John McCracken's case, the pedestal is completely covered by the deep black colour, making the colour completely dominant. As a spectator, you drown, as it were, in the deep black. In my work, the confrontation between the colour and the spectator is more subtle than in John McCracken's. In this case, the plinth merely lifts the deep colour and only the top of the gallery is reflected. The viewer is not initially reflected, as is the case with McCracken's pedestals. Only when he bends over the work he will see himself.
The materiality of the colour, obtained through an excellent technique in John McCracken's work, is inimitable. By sanding layer after layer with great intensity and by manipulating the black surface in such a way, McCracken manipulates the light in a very exceptional way. In my work, I want to let the light manipulate itself by offering it a certain material that is unprocessed. In this way I hope to give the viewer the purest possible view of the light itself.
Greet Billet, sections of the PhD 'Light as an artistic medium'