Humankind has always observed the succession of day and night, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the changing seasons. Light has been a subject not only for philosophers and scientists, but also for astronomers, poets and artists who have all, in different ways, sought to understand, record and replicate its effects. Artists have, in every conceivable media, exploited the contrasts between light and dark found in nature and the built environment, opposed cool and warm colours, drawn on science, and plumbed the depths of their imaginations in attempts to capture the transient effects and harness the emotional associations of light.
This book explores how artists have perceived, illustrated and utilised light since the eighteenth century. Beginning with the British artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) who captured triumphant explosions of light and sought to represent its ephemerality in paint, it reveals how his expressive use of colour and interest in evanescent light influenced the French Impressionists. For them, light became the subject itself, as the likes of Claude Monet (1840-1926), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Alfred Sisley (1839-99) and others ventured outside to capture the momentary effects of sunlight on canvas. Exploring later innovations in photographic processes, the book also highlights how photography became a critical vehicle through which artists began to use light itself as a medium, eschewing subject matter to create photographs that more closely resembled moving abstractions than still images. While early art-historical associations with light tend to be sublime or spiritual, by the 1960s artists including Dan Flavin (1933-96), James Turrell (1943) and Lis Rhodes (1942-) had begun to work with artificial light to create new types of sculptures and immersive installations, repositioning the spectator as participant. Many artists like Olafur Eliasson (1967-) and Tacita Dean (1965-) continue to work with light, encouraging viewers to question their own positions and perspectives. Showcasing over 100 remarkable artworks from the past 200 years, this beautiful book reveals how the intangibility of light continues to fascinate.