Light & Shadow

The mix of light and darkness faintly reflect another world by the creation of shadows. Shadows create a suggestion of space, creating a reality where none existed in total darkness.

I’m grateful to have been invited to give an artist talk recently to a lovely and receptive audience from Catalyst Art Lab. Before Covid, I had been giving talks like this a few times a year in some form-short versions at gallery openings and longer versions with slides to college students, collectors and others artist groups. Before I present one of these talks, there are a number of hours spent updating the words and images of past work to put into context what I’m currently doing in the studio. Some of this updating entails reaching far back into the past to read my graduate thesis paper written 2002-2003. Please enjoy the following excerpt on Light and Shadow from said paper…It’s always fun to delve into the past to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Light and Shadow

Light has many forms and associated meanings which range from its inherently luminous physical properties to its intangible metaphorical and conceptual inclinations. Light “can be natural or artificial, direct or reflected, interior or exterior…transcendent and mystical.”[1] Dawn, sun breaking through clouds and moonlight all bring a sense of relief to us in some way as they symbolize a new beginning, another chance to live and love. “Light throws doors and windows open, makes wall transparent, spans unlikely distances, links matter and spirit.”[2] Light lives in us, around us, compelling us toward life and serving as a reminder of hope, peace and harmony.

“God is called Light, not so much for His spirit, or essence, as for His very energy.”[3] Light embodies many things, but most importantly, light is known to all humans in some way as the direct opposite of darkness and evil. Darkness does not exist as a physical phenomenon as light exists, but is only revealed by the contrast of the absence of light. Elements in our physical space are not noticed unless the light and the atmosphere creating that light exist to eradicate the darkness. In the physical world, contrasts and differences of values of space serve to express light and with that light comes a reflection of righteousness and Divinity. This can be true in the spiritual sense as the presence of light illuminates that which was dark within us. Aspects of our spiritual selves that were previously unnoticed are revealed by the light, thus provoking an awakening, an arousal of the spirit. This inner illumination emanates as a glow, a sourceless radiance that originates from the soul and implores outward reflection. Coming in contact with this luminousness spreads warmth and solace, filling the world with a sense of harmony. In this sense, light signifies all that is good in the universe as it peacefully pervades the physical darkness in our lives and expresses the spiritual “cosmic forces…the divine element in nature, invisible but present.”[4]

The mix of light and darkness faintly reflect another world by the creation of shadows. Shadows create a suggestion of space, creating a reality where none existed in total darkness. “Shadows hold no physicality, yet they are so critical to our seeing, we cannot see form without them.”[5] The play of light and shadow on surfaces creates shifting pockets of space which unite and harmonize forms, allowing us to visually make sense and create a semblance of order to our lives. “There are those who leave the fire and move toward the deeper reaches of the forest where they believe a source of light to exist which is more intense. A light that breathes, not at all a fixed symbol, a light that alludes yet beckons-the unity of which lies hidden in the chaos.”[6] The shadows that light casts can work to conceal and even to deceive, but the importance of the shadow lies in what it can reveal.

“The ways of darkness always come to an end before long, but the mystery of light we find to reach on and on forever.”[7] Light radiates warmth and comfort to all life on a daily basis. The reality of light is that it exists as a constant physical, living presence in our lives-as our shield from death-for without it there is no life. Its existence compels us to revel in its beauty, simplicity and life-sustaining power.


[1] Jarmusch, Stalking the Light, p. 1.
[2] Graef, Heinz, Light in Pictures, (Western Germany, Herder & Company, 1954), p. 14. Hereafter cited as Graef, Light in Pictures.
[3] Reutersward, Patrick, “What Color is Divine Light?” from Light in Art, (New York, New York, Macmillon Company, 1971), p. 123.
[4] Graef, Light in Pictures, p. 14.
[5] Irwin, Robert in Robert Irwin: The Beauty of Questions, (video production/director, Leonard Feinstein, 1997)
[6] Terrae, Imago, Paul Jenkins: Broken Prisms, (Paris, France, Galilee Editions, 1989), p. 189.
[7] Graef, Light in Pictures, p. 18.

Image: Early Spring Fresh, encaustic monoprint on rice paper, 9.5×11

Author: lorraineglessner

I'm a mixed media artist, workshop instructor and former assistant professor at tyler school of art in Philadelphia, PA.

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