Light and Space

Larry Bell’s incredible light structures explore the endless possibilities of perception
By Aïsha Diomandé | Art | 6 July 2022

Contained within Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition space in London, Larry Bell’s New Work is the artist’s immersive utopia, showcasing the beauty of his ethereal yet spatially imposing glass sculptures. Internationally lauded for his unique contributions to the Californian Light and Space movement in the 1960s and beyond, Bell’s optical experiments with glass result in crystalline structures that capture the state of limbo, existing between the concrete and ephemeral.

Titled Deconstructed Cube and Open Box, the sculptures in this exhibition communicate a purity of thought, essential in form and function. Positioned harmoniously, they coexist within the space while engaging in a tranquil dialogue. The highly sensory nature of the two Deconstructed Cube works on display are physically all-encompassing with their glowing, intersecting hues creating maze-like shapes. Meanwhile, the smaller, glimmering selection of the Open Box works are elevated on transparent pedestals, which can be gazed into at every turn.   

This meticulous sensibility hints at Bell’s in-depth practice, where science and imagination meet; to construct such sculptures, The Tank has always been central to the production process since 1969. Derived from cutting-edge technology intended for aeronautics and optics, the machine coats the glass panes, varying how absorbent, transmissive, or reflective they appear. Despite such mechanised origins, the glass panels come to life once assembled, as they playfully respond to the shifting dynamics of natural lighting.

Delving deeper into his language of vision, we spoke to Larry Bell about approaching his latest exhibition, his wider creative practice over time, and exploring the endless possibilities of perception.

The Blue Gate, 2021, Larry Bell
 © Larry Bell

Aïsha Diomandé: You were recently in London for the opening of your new show, how was it to see these works together in that particular space?
Larry Bell: It was an exciting first view of the room; it had great light and plenty of space.

AD: Going right back, can you speak to us a bit about what initially inspired you to use glass as a medium?
LB: I was introduced to the material through employment in a picture framing shop when I was eighteen. I learned how to cut glass and how to handle it, and a basic understanding of the limitations of thin sheets. The material I worked with was either 1/16 or 1/8 inch thick. Everything was experimental in learning how to cut the glass; there were rules to the use of a glass cutter and the surface of the glass while you cut. Also there were obvious issues to do with the cleanliness of the environment you worked in. I realised at that time this material did three things at once; it reflected, absorbed, and transmitted light all at the same time.

AD: How do you approach the challenges of working with The Tank, particularly when production does not go according to plan?
LB: It always goes as planned. If a technical issue arises that precludes working then we fix that. I have been working with this particular tool for 54 years; made for me in 1968. It just works!

“I like symmetry and I like surprise, all my work is structured on right angles.”

TRIOLITH B, 2021, Larry Bell
 © Larry Bell

“…the magic comes from the interface of light and the surface on whatever it is I am working on.”

AD: In what ways has experimenting with perception affected the way you engage with the world as an artist?
LB: It’s always been that I try to make things I have not seen before.

AD: Because your works are changed by their surroundings and light, can you tell us about the process of setting up an exhibition such as this and how you like the pieces to be organised?
LB: I like symmetry and I like surprise, all my work is structured on right angles.

AD: Glass is everywhere in our world, and yet due to its properties we look straight through it most of the time. How does the relationship we have with the material in urban planning and architecture influence your own craft?
LB: Enormous potential, infinite visual factors and endless relationships.

AD: How has testing the possibilities of what glass can offer influenced your overall methodology when it comes to other mediums?
LB: I have worked in two dimensions with painting works on paper works and works with mylar, but the magic comes from the interface of light and the surface on whatever it is I am working on.

Larry Bell: New Work runs at Hauser & Wirth Gallery until 30th July, more info here


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