I remember always being fascinated with light and how we see. I used to study the encyclopedia entry for the eye, vaguely understanding how the cornea and the lens focus light onto the retina which send signals to the optic nerve in the brain. I was born nearsighted, so I guess I became curious about that thing I was deficient in.
But then I became a photographer--in part due to my awareness that I don’t see the same way others do. I tend to notice light, shadows and reflections, before I even see the objects in a room or landscape. I sometimes feel a change of atmosphere coming on – like a tap on the shoulder before an introduction.
I think many artists see the same. They are constantly composing in their minds, and if the play of light on a surface beguiles them, they may notice little else. One of my favorite painters, Edward Hopper, was able to paint light as the solitary subject in works such as Sun in an Empty Room (1963). One of his last paintings, it demonstrates Hopper’s ability to read the metaphysical qualities of natural light.
Artificial light can also set a mood and affect our emotions. For example, there’s something special about the glowing light from a chandelier. It’s never dull or unremarkable. PERCH artist Nancy Willis has been painting chandeliers for decades – entranced by their delicate presence in French chateaus or confidently swinging over the perfect dinner party.
In her paintings and prints she explores the beams refracted by the crystals and echoed on the ceiling. Looking up, or through the fixture your eyes start to relax as though intoxicated. You can imagine yourself at a dinner party, glancing across the table at friends in rapt conversation or hearing the clink of cutlery. Willis states, "I am interested in the stories we come to the table with, take or hold beneath the surface".
Nancy Willis, Pauillac, monotype, 20 x 16"
Like the Impressionists before her, Willis is exploring how light affects color and how color is perceived psychologically. Her chandelier images capture the perception of an experience; experience as perceived by the mind, not just the eye.
So as much as we study light and vision, there’s something we cannot account for – the attributes of light seen by the heart and felt in the chest. See more chandeliers in our shop, or visit Nancy’s page at nancywillis.com.