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Dan Flavin: Monument for V Tatlin (1964)

Dramatic biblical scenes and neon light bulbs: what do they have in common? How can such apparently opposite works of art be part of the same concept?

For me, it is the most fascinating parts of painting. Light and how the artist manages to capture the sensations it produces: the chill of a bright and crisp winter morning, the warmth of sunlight at the beach or the comfort of a candle.

They achieve all this just by using colours. It is quite interesting how in reality, light creates the colours of the rainbow whereas in the world of painting, it is colour that creates the illusion of light.

Baroque painters such as Caravaggio loved to use intense contrast of light and darkness called chiaroscuro to build drama. They illuminated their scenes as if they were part of a theatre scene and sometimes they even made the lighting came out of a person, such as baby Jesus.

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Gerard Van Honthorst: Adoration of the shepards (1620)

Light not only alters colour but also form. Objects might seem different according to how they are illuminated. Famous impressionist painter Monet experimented with this by painting the same scene in different lighting, for instance Rouen Cathedral or his celebrated haystack paintings. As opposed to this, Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla preferred to paint always under the same intense Mediterranean light that almost destroyed forms. The same idea of light breaking objects was further developed by Russian painters Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova who wanted to depict rays of light in their abstract works.

Painting with light as a protagonist was all about creating the illusion of light. During the 1960’s this changed when artists such as Dan Flavin and Robert Irwing decided to use actual light: they introduces sculptures and installations made with neon light bulbs.

Sometimes, contemporary art is not that new.



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