INTROSPECTIVE MAGAZINE: The Matter of Light

With their sinewy curves and elegant arcs, the lighting sculptures of Upstate New York—based designer John Procario evoke living forms and gestures that seem almost human. Photo by Stacey Lopez

Dublin designer Niamh Berry, here pictured with her Counterpoise light, 2014, channels dynamic movement with her lights, which comprise interlocking, irregularly shaped hoops of bronze or steel and LED-backed opal-glass diffusers. Photo courtesy of Todd Merrill Studio

THE MATTER OF LIGHT

Embracing and promoting new advances in cutting-edge technology and materials, the next generation of forward-looking makers is transforming light itself into a decorative material for the 21st century.


In gifted hands, lighting can be a crossover medium of the highest order, blending sculpture and illumination in equal measure. New technologies, like miniscule LEDs, are enabling adventurous designers and artists to realize forms and concepts that would have been all but impossible a decade ago. The result is a proliferation of luminous one-off and limited-edition objects that serve as a room’s centerpiece, even as they bathe a space in light. Here, five of the most promising talents in this burgeoning new field.


JOHN PROCARIO

John Procario trained as a fine artist, but when he’s making his wildly sinuous wooden lamps he also needs to rely upon the strength of an athlete. After steaming the wood for flexibility, “I literally wrestle each piece down into a position I like, without forms,” he says. “It’s quite a process.” Based in Cold Spring, New York, Procario began pushing his woodworking skills to the extreme while studying sculpture at SUNY Purchase College. “I was making sculpture based on the idea of wood as a metaphor for the human body,” he notes, pointing out that bones and muscles, like lumber, are flexible until they reach their breaking points. “I was creating dancer-like gestures by manipulating the form within the confines of the wood’s flexibility. It was a collaboration between me and the material.”

Three years ago, he translated that concept to LED-based pieces that he calls “free-form lighting sculptures,” which are sold by Worrell Smith Gallery, in Westport, Connecticut. Lamps appear to sprout from tabletops with as much malleability as fabric ribbons, splitting open to reveal lines of light, while pendants capture a sense of movement frozen in midair. A growing part of his business are large-scale commissions completed for such blue-chip clients as Dallas-based interior designer Emily Summers and an upcoming hotel in Dallas by Steven Song Design Lab. “These pieces use the same language,” says Procario. “But more space gives me more opportunity to play with the shapes.”


NIAMH BARRY

Dublin’s Niamh Barry started her career building a wide variety of custom light fixtures to the specifications of interior designers and architects. But after a few years, “I got this deep yearning to make my own work that would be completely to my own aesthetic,” she says. Harnessing her creative impulses, she developed a series of large-scale “light sculptures” made from interlocking, irregularly shaped bronze or stainless-steel hoops lined with LEDs behind opal glass diffusers.

“The forms come to me in a very instinctive and spontaneous way,” says Barry, who is represented by New York’s Todd Merrill. “My initial rapid sketches have a quality of line to them that I love, and that’s something I try to emulate in the finished pieces.” After translating her drawings to digital files, she cuts the individual metal pieces (which can number 40 to 50 components for a single work) by water jet, and then welds them together and finishes each piece by hand. Recently, Barry has been experimenting with more jagged, rectilinear forms, which she says “feel far more masculine, dynamic and even aggressive.” Along the way, she is attracting an impressive range of high-profile clients, including Peter Marino, Kelly Hoppen and Sylvester Stallone.

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