Light is a sensate thing—it is felt as much as seen. We learn that the achromatic colours—white, grey and black—represent the relationships between surface, depth and shape. Hues model an object—the contours equate to a conceptual truth that a material thing exists in the same three-dimensional world that our bodies occupy.
Our modern understanding of colour is largely owed to Isaac Newton, who discovered the spectral nature of light via his experiments with prisms (in 1617 he used the word ‘spectrum’ from the Latin, meaning “appearance” or “apparition”). Until Newton’s work in optics became accepted, most scientists believed that white was the fundamental colour of light; and that the other colours were formed only by adding something to light. Newton’s experiments revealed that white light was in fact formed by the combination of colours in the familiar rainbow spectrum classed as visible light.
The achromatic colours—white, grey and black—are perceived when an equal amount of each colour (wavelengths and frequency and of light) are incident on a surface which either reflects, scatters or absorbs. White is perceived when all visible light is reflected back from a surface, and black can be defined as “the visual impression experienced in directions from which no visible light reaches the eye.”1 That is, when pigments absorb all visible light.
In Black and Light, Bill Culbert examines the schism between seeing and the trustworthiness of our sense perceptions. The metaphysical issues that concern how we understand the nature of reality underpin the artist’s work to date. In this exhibition, Culbert uses the three-dimensional form of fluorescent lights and flat, matt-black lines to highlight the often unquestioned relationship between black and light—where they are viewed as endpoints to each other, extreme opposites, rather than being part of the same visible realm.
2-stroke (black and light) throws the wall off balance. The suspended light relates to the black line in terms of a series of artistic choices—what is the effect of changes in length, material, angle, depth? Or, how do you draw with materials in space, as much as negotiate sculptural objects? In Culbert’s art, black is not only the possibility of shadow. In adherence to the wall, the nature of black becomes suspect; flat, emanating, or void?
A large polygon constructed of fluorescent light and industrial casings, in Right-angle (black and light), straddles the corner of the gallery. The work overall appears to hover in the gallery space, and privileges the intersection of the wall, the corner, as the connection between two possible axes. At odds with this perception is the way in which the light casings appears to cling to the wall. Culbert severs the easy mirroring of the light-shape from the black lines we might read as a shadow. It is an entity that activates the gallery space on its own terms. The angles at which these components may correspond must be imagined, and this conception of an angle is as much part of the work as the physical object itself.
Bill Culbert has been exhibiting his sculptures and photographs in the , Europe, , and for over forty years. A major exhibition of his work was held by City Gallery Wellington in 1997. Culbert was included in Toi Toi Toi: 3 Generations of New Zealand Art at the Art Museum Fredericianum in Kassel in 1999 and in the 1990 Biennale of Sydney (curated by Renee Block). In 2002 he exhibited in the Second Asia-Pacific Triennial with a joint work with Ralph Hotere (with whom Culbert has done a number of collaborative works). Culbert has completed numerous major public commissions, recent examples include a large neon work for the PriceWaterhouseCoopers Tower in Auckland, and Skyline for the Millenium Dome in London. Since 1957, Culbert has divided his time between London and . Black and Light is the artist’s second solo exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery.