Light is therefore color.
One of the most significant art networks in the UK, Tate opened its doors to the public in 1897, and has been currently hosting exhibitions and art programs in its four galleries: Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives. Running until October 2nd this year at the National Art Center, Tokyo, Light: Works from the Tate Collection proudly presents over a hundred works from Tate’s collection of over 77,000, surrounding the theme of light.
The subject of light has always dominated the art stage as a crucial element of visual expression. Rembrandt, Monet, Turrell, Turner, and the contemporary Dan Flavin and Olafur Eliasson have all explored the infinite capacities of light impressions, whether natural or artificial.
The exhibition provides the viewers with an extensive timeline of light manipulation in art covering about 200 years from the end of the 18th century to the present day. Invariable light qualities seen in painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, installation, and moving images attest how they illuminate the power to define atmosphere and dictate our emotions.
In the first section, Spiritual and Sublime Light, we recall how the Christian belief of God creating light shaped man’s general perception of light as life and darkness as death. Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 –1851) was called the “Painter of Light.” Using oils in transparent glazes and warm-toned colors, he expressed light in an obscure mood, blending it with nature. Sun Setting over a Lake (c.1840), Shade and Darkness—the Evening of the Deluge (exhibited 1843), and The Angel Standing in the Sun (exhibited 1846) are some of Turner’s displayed masterworks that surely captivate the viewer’s attention towards the force of luminescence. Additionally, Light and Color (Goethe's Theory)—The Morning After the Flood—Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (exhibited 1843) is being presented in Japan for the first time.
Considered one of Britain’s greatest landscape artists, Turner’s contemporary John Constable (1776–1837), on the other hand, emphasized naturalism with almost exact precision. The second section on Natural Light showcases an array of monochrome prints of landscape sceneries highlighting his masterful technique in light contrast. Harwich Lighthouse (?exhibited 1820) clearly lifts the overhead clouds blowing inland while the lighthouse radiates in bright sunlight.
Not to be missed are English artist John Brett’s huge The British Channel Seen from the Dorsetshire Cliffs (1871) and several Impressionist works by Monet, Sisley, and Pissarro. Brett’s masterpiece captures intense rays showering from the clouds that mirror spotlights on the ocean. Monet, like Turner, had always been revered for his impeccable direction of light. Poplars on the Epte (1891) is known to be the artist’s favorite among many series of pictures he painted of rows of tall trees lining the Epte River. Monet magnificently accentuates the blazing light escaping from the clear clouds, which diffuses across the spread of blue sky behind the giant trees.
A surprise installation by celebrity artist Yayoi Kusama, The Passing Winter (2005), stands in the middle of the room, bridging the gap between classical and modern art. The mirrored cube consists of circular holes on the sides. Viewers peep through the holes to detect overlapping reflections as light bounces around the cube.
Towards the end of the 19th century, modernization swept across urban life. Artists began to interpret privacy in homes and manners by which light effects seeped through windows and doors, creating shadows. In the section on interior light, viewers can admire works by Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) and William Rothenstein (1872-1945) who are both widely recognized for their intimate portraits and interior spaces, drawing on light cast over the subject’s hair, hands, and clothes. Rothenstein’s Mother and Child (1903), for instance, emits tender lighting on the walls and faces of the mother and the child, which embraces the affection between them.
With the invention of photography in the 1830s and the propagation of scientific experiments, advanced technology opened opportunities to further understand and expand the impact of light on art media. The Bauhaus school studied abstract forms and colors that influenced light tonality. The light effects and Color and Light sections demonstrate the evolution of light from its natural existence into higher dimensions of image projection. Exhibits by László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946) and Josef Albers (1888–1976) suggest the deep relationship between light and color using geometric compositions.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) went further to manifest a sense of movement and illusion by harmonizing light, structure and color. Swinging (1925) is one of Kandinsky’s prominent works integrating multiple geometric shapes, lines, and colors liberated from conventional drawing. At the same time, he is able to focus on the brightness of light on the background and commanding colors.
Notable works by Mark Rothko (1903-70), Barnett Newman (1905-70) and Gerhard Richter, among others, also feature exemplary techniques of juxtaposing light and color on a myriad of configurations. Richter’s Abstract Painting (726) (1990) depicts the artist’s popular photo-painting approach of over-painting, scraping, and scratching into the surface, in an attempt to recreate a new image of abstraction.
Among the contemporary installation displays, Pae White’s Morceau Accrochant(2004) is a charming hanging mobile installation of strands of string and silk-screened paper suspended from the ceiling, creating a three-dimensional space. The viewer’s eye travels through different axes of bright hues simulating each other. David Batchelor’s large-scale illuminated Spectrum of Brick Lane 2 (2007) and I Love King's Cross and King's Cross Loves Me, 8 (2002-07) installations of light boxes collate 2D and 3D creations of neon art that has prevailed urban cityscapes today. Finally, in Yellow versus purple (2003) and Stardust particle (2014), Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson orchestrates the motion of reflected light passing through colors, and generating complex geometric patterns.
From archaic to modern interpretations, we grasp the enormous weight Light holds in the evolution of art expression.