Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How I came to plasma neon.

How I came to plasma neon.
I’ve always had an interest in the underlying physics of neon illumination.  I began working in neon because there was magical the way the gas inside the tube vibrated and glowed.   I’d been a apprentice neon worker for a couple of years when a college friend built a Tesla coil with me one afternoon.  We used only wire, sheet glass , aluminum foil and some other basic materials, it was all powered by a neon transformer.  We were lighting tubes up without wire and striking 3” lightning bolts, which seemed to defy everything I thought I know about electricity.   That was a turning point for me and I knew there was more to this neon thing then letters and symbols for signage.  The next big step came when I became a T.A. for Cork Marcheschi at Pilchuck in summer of 1995, I’d already been working in traditional neon for over 15 years.  That session we began exploring the potential of single electrode neon and radio frequency transformers combined with off-hand glass working techniques what we now consider plasma neon.  The results were a revelation, the blown glass form was defined by its interior shape illuminated by radio waves.  In that Pilchuck course, I met glass artist James ‘Animal’ Nowak, he invited me to build a neon shop for plasma at his glass studio below Pioneer Square in Seattle.  
 Animal and I Teaching at Corning Studio 2004

That Fall began a intense creative collaboration to develop the methods of adapting exisiting neon tools and methods to make experimental plasma neon sculptures.   Together, Animal and I created the capability to use any combination of inert gas not just neon and argon but nitrogen, krypton, helium, xenon as well.  This required building high vacuum equipment to suit the needs of an artist working in practice of plasma physics.  This new way of working also necessitated creating glass techniques for attaching electrodes to blow glass forms.   I feel this media is still at an early phase of artist development.  I’m certain this summer at Pilchuck, we’ll invent new ways of working and forms I’ve never even considered possible before.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why " Interactive Light" ?

What does the class title “Interactive Light” mean?

Seeing isn't believing, we want to reach out and touch to confirm our observation, its as if we’re hardwired to react to wonder in this wayThis was apparent from the first time at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1972, when I reached out and touched the lightning in a Bill Parker Xenon filled plasma sculpture.  Parker is widely considered the father of modern plasma art, establishing a high technical and artistic benchmark for all artists to follow.   He’s responsible for the large plasma globes we're all familiar with utilizing an external electrode that I will go over in a later blog entry.

 Bill Parker with "Quiet Lightning" at SF Exploratorium

Behind this interaction of wonderment there is also a fundamental principle of physics at work calling for your contact with a plasma object. These streaming wisps of light are positively charge ions flowing around looking to discharge their energy to a negatively charged  body(you) or earth ground.  There can be a greater or lesser emphasis placed upon this interaction but it is impossible to ignore.

Mundy Hepburn installation at Charles F Smith Fund 2006

Then of course there’s the whimsical sculptures of Mundy Hepburn.  Hepburn has been combining offhand blown forms with neon flameworking for decades.  These are  displayed in large dancing groups of luminous forms.  I want to introduce to you some of whom I consider the best plasma artists of our time in the course of this blog.