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  • Writer's pictureBrenda Harrop

Light and Space Immersive Aesthetics

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

A vibrant, expressive fusion of the mysterious qualities of dichroic color shifting, light and space, Ray Howlett’s (born 1940) visionary body of work rewards close, intimate viewing as one encounters his sculptures. There’s a sense of discovery which is always different and changes over time. In essence, Howlett dematerializes his sculpture and with the viewer’s kinetic participation, alters their perception and creates an immersive infinite environment.

Throughout the 1960s, his art was inspired by the “infinity of space joining with the vast horizon of the ocean.” Howlett explored the push and pull of space and found different perspectives in his early work which included painting and photography. During the 1970s, he combined his passion for engineering, light and infinite space and invented optically expansive dimensions within pristine complex glass panel constructions comprised of mirror panel and a concealed light source. By 1973, his fabrication process included these new materials: vacuum deposition of metallic coatings on the surface of glass, stainless steel, silicone glue and fluorescent light.

Howlett’s practice expanded in 1978 when he experimented with a new aerospace technology classified as “dichroism.” In California, during the 1950s, the aerospace industries produced interference light filters, also known as dichroic color. These transparent light filters select a single wavelength of light (color) and reflect other wavelengths away, by using the refractive indexes of thin layers of titanium oxide and quartz. The thin film coats the surface of glass and exhibits dynamic color shifting when light is transmitted and reflected.

Similar to the Finish Fetish artists, Howlett’s sleek geometric sculptures are often painstakingly constructed. The preliminary stages of preparing and assembling the glass consists of cutting, grinding and sandblasting. Howlett mastered these techniques to create the phenomenal visual effects he desires. Within a slightly darkened space, his art becomes fully present when the viewer moves around the luminous sculptures, experiencing the immersive aesthetics from multiple vantages.

Image: Ray Howlett, Ascending Within, 2000, glass, coated glass, mirror and incandescent light on stainless steel base,

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