by Ray Zone
"World Within a World".
"title to come.
(Museum of Neon Art, Downtown) In the 1950s, the laser industries began to develop interference light optics, also known as dichroic (or 2-color) filters. These filters transmit one specific wavelength of color and reflect its complementary, or opposite, color. Produced by the application of thin, alternating layers of vaporized titanium oxide and quartz onto glass, the filter is at once transparent and highly reflective. A subtle color shift over the surface of the glass is apparent as the angle of viewing changes.
First experimenting with dichroic filters in 1973, Ray Howlett was intrigued with structural optics and electric light that yielded an array of reflections. His experience with the art of M.C. Escher and Victor Vasarely made a profound impression and he attempted to create what he called an "optically expanded space" using light.
All of Howlett's light sculptures created after 1978 have used dichroic filters. His current exhibition, Dichroism in Light, unveils twelve fine examples of the artistic possibilities presented by this unique medium. In addition to dichroic glass, the works use an internal fluorescent light source, and often the dichroic filter is also etched with geometric shapes so that a complex array of infinite light patterns is also produced.
There is an elegant formality to the work, which is shown under low light optimizing the luminous color housed in each piece. As you move around each work, dramatic color changes occur, shifting interior imagery as viewing position shifts. Each work is a unique "hall of mirrors," invoking a meditative state.
On entering, you first encounter a large pyramidal work titled Pinnacle. This 1997 work rises elegantly to an apex with dynamic pink and yellow obliques shifting in its interior, recalling the geometric motifs of Art Deco and the Chrysler Building in New York City. Several works make a similar use of a steep vertical and pyramidal ascent with subtle variations: Ascension creates an array of kinetic lines and half circles shifting their color as the viewer moves laterally; Orderly Universe incorporates internally lit clear glass marbles with reflecting mirrors to create a dynamic and virtual kinetic effect.
The exhibit is best typified by World Inside A World, in which a circular convex mirror creates an interior microcosm reflected into infinity as yellow-green circles transmit their complement of purple. The convex mirror floats in a vibrant pink sphere.
The mixed media Quest-Traveling Light features an opened suitcase of top grain cowhide containing an infinite reflected grid of dashed and solid lines. This work emphasizes a limited physical space containing an unlimited virtual space, addressing Howlett's fascination with illusions in which "the space inside the sculpture looks to be larger than the outside 3-dimensional measurements."
As you encounter these works, you are made self-aware by the changes produced and perceived relative to your body and viewing angles. The effects of this dichroic art can register as merely optical to some, spiritual to others. Howlett is fascinated by the metaphysical nature of the materials, but a casual onlooker can enjoy this work for its sheer visual intrigue and its fastidious craft.