Stephen Knapp: Light Paintings

Light Painting,  Stephen Knapp. Light (noun) 1. something that makes things visible or affords illumination. All colors depend on light.

Light Painting, Stephen Knapp. Light (noun) 1. something that makes things visible or affords illumination. All colors depend on light.

There is no right answer hidden within each piece, only a shared journey.” - Stephen Knapp

New works of Stephen Knapp, internationally known light artist, created specifically in scale for the Maitland Art Center, bring the viewer up close and personal to his light paintings and the astonishment at what a single light bulb and dichroic glass can do in an artists hands.

This exhibition may be of special interest for those interested in photography, Knapp's earlier medium; anyone that is following the direction of art moving towards the integration of technology; and those that appreciate beautiful work and work in alternative media.

Light Painting , Stephen Knapp

Light Painting, Stephen Knapp

Maitland Art Center Chief Curator, Rebecca Sexton Larson shared some history and information about the artist during a curator tour of the exhibition. “He does not consider himself a glass artist; he considers himself an artist that paints with light. Knapp credits himself to be the first person to do this work, and establishes himself as a light painter. He originally started as a photographer; he did quite a bit of work with Polaroid using the 20 x 24 camera, and he was a commercial photographer in New York. Those of you that are photographers, or follow photography, know it is very important to see the light. I think a lot of that plays into how he developed into light paintings, as he was very used to working with light and how light changes and how you see the light.” 

Light Painting,  Stephen Knapp

Light Painting, Stephen Knapp

Knapp's light paintings are created by using a special glass (dichroic glass) treated with layers of metallic coatings that act as a selective prism to separate focused light into different wavelengths of the spectrum. He cuts, shapes and polishes the glass in his studio to make a palette that he can use to refract and reflect light onto a surface and the surrounding space.

Generally, for large scale installations and his commisson work, the light drawings are put directly on the walls, as seen in this image of one of the Art Center's gallery spaces. Because of improvements in the museum historic building and windows over the course of a year of contact with the artist, Knapp also created works on panels for the larger gallery. These light paintings show the unusual effect of how he incorporates "light frames" in the images. 

In some of these images (taken during the light of day - the light paintings are even more spectacular at night), you can see the placement of the dichroic glass. Larson stated, "when the light passes through the dichroic glass, you will get one color going one way and its complementary color going the other way. It breaks the beam and divides that spectrum of light. Dichroic glass has been around since the 18th century; you may have seen it used in jewelry. The glass has compounds inside it, usually silver or gold compounds.  The interesting thing about dichroic glass is that you might intially think the color is being projected by that small night light, but it is clear."

Light Painting  installation map

Light Painting installation map

Dan Hess, the Art Center's chief preparator, joined the curator tour to talk about Knapp's studio and installiation process, "Knapp constructs these pieces in his studio and when he gets the lighting to look the way he wants for each individual piece, he photographs it. He then makes a life sized cartoon*, similiar to those made in Renaissance art, which has all the angles of the glass. That is the crucial thing; it must be specific, as the glass activates at a specific point." Knapp had a diagram of the Maitland Art Center gallery space and created specific works for the space. As much as possible with a historic building, the museum wired the lights into the tract lighting so the cords didn’t show. 

It is hard to imagine the scale of the "cartoons" for the massive public art work or commisson pieces Knapp creates. Knapp sent a studio assisitant to oversee the installation, and Hess stated, "his instructions were very specific. We used a machinists' compass to create the positive or negative angle; we have to get it within half degree. Knapp creates a map which designates where the light source is; we put silicone on each screw to lock in the spot. We come back and check the angles. Anytime you handle glass, it has to be taken care of very well. While we do dust the glass regularly, dust on the glass doesn't affect what you are seeing."

What you are seeing is unique and cutting edge artwork. It is easy to simply become consumed with the process of the light paintings, but the color and experience is worth marveling at as well. 

Light Painting , Stephen Knapp

Light Painting, Stephen Knapp

The entire exhibition is tittled:  Borrowed Light – Stephen Knapp, Deanna Morse & Ryan Buyssens on exhibit through April 16. A complimentary piece of artwork, created by Ryan Buyssens, ( marries technology and art to create Kinetic sculptures that address issues of time and space. Buyssens' work engages the viewer through the unique assimilation of movement and sculpture. A UCF professor, who works with technology and art, Buyssens has a real interest in how to incorporate math and science into the art world. Larson noted, "for those that read a lot about art, a lot of art is going with this merging of technology. "

Tampa, Florida residents may know Knapp’s work from the City of Tampa Public Art piece, “Luminous Affirmations”, created for a Lights on Tampa event. His light painting is featured on City Hall every night for citizens and visitors to enjoy. 

Curator Rebecca Sexton Larson, Maitland Art and History Museum.  Light Painting,  Stephen Knapp

Curator Rebecca Sexton Larson, Maitland Art and History Museum. Light Painting, Stephen Knapp

We were at the Maitland Art Center during the curator tour of Stephen Knapp “Light Paintings." While I always encourage everyone to take the opportunity to speak with an artist about their work, at this museum a curator tour can be comparable to speaking with the artist who lives in Maine and was unable to come down for the show. Larson is fully knowledgeable about the artist, his history and place in the art world, how his work may influence or be timely with current art trends, as well as the fun details about the installation of the work and changes in this year long project. (Full disclosure: Larson is a personal friend, and I own her photography work - but I am comfortable in my assessment of her as a curator.). 

Please browse Stephen Knapp's website for more information and photographs of his work:

The museum is offering the curator tour in March on Tuesdays at noon (but always check the schedule), the exhibition runs through April 16, and is an easy driving distance from either Florida coast. 

*In Italian the word for paper is carta and the suffix "–one" means large, the “cartone” was a very large sheet of paper.  These cartone or cartoons as we have come to call them were specifically: large and very detailed drawings used to create paintings and frescoes.  These differed from sketches or studies in that they were the same size as the intended painting and were created to transfer the image.The drawings were made to transfer the images to the painting surface in one of two ways.  In the first the cartoon acted as a type of stencil, thousands of small holes pricked the edges of each line and a bag of charcoal dust was “pounced” upon the cartoon.  In the second the cartoon acted as carbon paper, the back of the image was coated with charcoal dust and the image was carefully traced.  Since either process was messy and damaged the original paper, very few of these survive.  Those that remain were typically created for paintings that weren’t executed.