Sacred Darkness Exhibition
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(frequently asked questions)

I am encouraging people who have seen my show or seen this site to send me questions and comments. I will attempt to answer them here:

JW/10-Feb-01: Why is it so dark?

Answer: To slow you down. Me too. I tend to run through shows to first see it all, then go back and savor a few things. But I wanted to create a different kind of experience here. I like openings where you meet friends and chat and if not too crowded, even look at the work. Here I wanted to force confrontation with darkness, time to get comfortable in the near darkness and finally focusing on the work.

JD/11-Feb-01: John, This is theatre. I loved the combination of low light and sounds of machines behind these art pieces. Sounds are somehow enhanced by the darkness what do these sound effects mean to you and to these pieces?

Answer: I guess everything is enhanced by the near darkness except vision! And I seem to be a visual artist who likes hanging out in those vast areas above and below the visible part of the spectrum.

The VLF lightning sounds (more background) are unusual to most ears and for that reason I like them here. They may sound mechanical but are really very natural. Some even equate them to whale sounds.

But one of the most compelling reasons to use them is what they represent and how they get to our ears. They are the sounds of lightning and can't be heard without special radios. They exist in a lower part of the electromagnetic spectrum we normally consider audio, but again, they can't be heard by human ears. So, like so much information coming to us these days it needs translation through technology--the special radio. The sounds are moved to us via the Magnetosphere (not the Ionoshpere like most radio waves) which is shaped by the Solar wind and often travel over 50,000 miles to us. And if that's not enough reason they relate to both origination place and listening place. For example those VLF sounds we might hear near here would be generated by lightning off the coast of New Zealand. My friend Steven McGreevy travels the Canadian and Alaskan backroads recording these sounds because of this latitude's relationship to how the Magnetosphere influences Earth's magnetic poles and thereby VLF sounds.


The environment you have created is almost symmetrical.
1. Was that layout and use of the space:
(a) Simply a convenience?
(b) Something that happened as you worked with the pieces and the space?
(c) Part of your plan from the outset?
(d) Essential to your work and its underlying messages?
(e) Anything else?
2. How do think or hope the symmetry in the layout of the work affects your visitors, viewers, and auditors?


The Gallery floor plan is almost a perfect square--40 X 42 ft. And it is a very familiar plan for me. After hanging over 100 shows in this space and attempting to make each a new experience for the viewer, I realized that its symmetry was a fact I needed to deal with rather than hide. I remember only once breaking out of the symmetry and using some random angles. Raymond Barnhart immediately saw this and noted that I had gotten bored with what the architecture had dictated and my installation had gotten in the way of the art. So I guess partly I recognized and partly I had given over to the space when I drew up early designs for this show.

And I love symmetry. And I enjoy how so much we call symmetrical is almost perfect, like our own bodies. It's often those deviations from perfect symmetry that make us original and human. I find that symmetry often has a similar effect on people that grids have, or any kind of easily recognizable pattern system, which is to calm by organization--a matrix which at first comforts and then later permits the viewer to notice deviations from an assumed mathematical perfection.

The gallery plan came through drawing ideas. But my ideas are so focused by symmetry and experience in this space that I doubt I ever consider anything else. My work often begins symmetrically; a perfectly square base, center marks on the material, divisions into a grid. I sometimes consciously add materials off the grid, but I had the grid there first. I guess I love the play of grid and nature, like looking out a window with small panes breaks nature up into units.

I hope that the symmetry calms initially so that people are not too afraid of the dark to enter into this show. As their ability to see grows I hope they notice a familiar, comfortable plan and one in which they can navigate easily. And I hope that this comfort leads to spending time looking at the work.


Which is your favorite piece
When the show is over can it be seen elsewhere?
Are any pieces for sale?
can they be appreciated even without sacred darkness?
Why didn't you include any earlier work in this show?

Answer: Asking an artist which is there favorite piece is akin to asking a parent which is your favorite child! But then there are more memorable ones. Some progressed easily from idea married to material and others fought me all the way, refusing the trips I tried to lay on the material or the ideas which wouldn't mesh with form. I guess I'm like most builders who like the most recent work rather than older work which in a way, now has a life of its own and is not so close to its maker.

The work is for sale, but frankly, I'd prefer to give it to someone who falls in love with it! But then if I did that I wouldn't have the money to buy new materials and keep building, which is what I want to do and what keeps me alive.

The work is fabricated in full light, as bright as I can make it so that I can see all the imperfections as I work. So it should stand up to viewing without the self imposed "sacred darkness" of this show. But what I've found is that viewers actually look harder and see more given the light level in this show and are less distracted by the architectural space if I had chosen to use more ambient light. So I consider my lighting a means to better see my work.

I chose not to show earlier work in this show because I think the more recent work is better and I've already show much of the older work. But I also like erring on the side of showing too little rather than too much. It's the total experience, what viewers recall days after the show that I am most interested in, not the quantity of work in the show. I'm not that prolific anyway and I can't compete with many artists who produce much more than I do.


You caught something of the moments that I love. My current favorite is after my (the childs) spinning top begins it's precession. There is a wobble then a kind of falling to the law of gravity, expiring energy, and finally with grace it succumbs to the moment of rest. Then I invariably smile, just as I did with the rowing piece.

Overall I was moved by the sacred atmospheric reverence you created with the use of low light and especially the hanging transparencies above the entrance wafting gently and shuddering their song of quiet vibration.


"Wobble"...that's what I wanted to create after being on a rowing scull. They are so fragile, wobbly and I wanted to give this feeling to the moving scull-like fabrication. "Expiring energy"... I like that term and it's yet another way of pointing to the rhythm of the scull, the rhythm of life. I tried for an approximate heart rate rhythm to hopefully connect this mechanical movement with a human rhythm.

"The hanging transparencies"...might be overlooked on first visit. When it's quiet in the gallery this second entry area creates a rain-like sound. I wanted an almost funky, broken feeling here to set the viewer up for noticing simple events which might at first be thought of as mistakes, hence the yellow lights moving as if broken loose from their housings. I also wanted the viewer to notice what is above her head, as if everything to see is part of the experience.


You have some big sculptures and some small. How do you think about scale?


Good question and one I have asked myself over the years many times. For me scale is a relationship or proportion between two things, whereas size is just that, big or small. In sculpture scale most often related to 'human scale' or size relative to human size. I always admired seeing pictures of Henry Moore's maquettes, from so small they could fit in one hand, to huge, architectural landmarks. But I noticed as the size increased in the maquettes they also changed in form. I think that change is the result of his human size not changing and needing to make it work differently as it grew. I know from my own experience that making a big piece based on a small piece is a challenge. You simply must alter the work as it gets bigger.

I guess I have arrived at a comfortable working size. It used to be a bit larger, but never all that big. Part of the consideration for me is where I make things, my studio size, and another part of the equation is the kinds of materials I use and how much they cost. I'm basically a collagist using many industrial materials and need lots of them around in order to work. The way I've chosen to work larger is through installations, or working outside the studio. It's true that I built a long table outside to build the scull piece in this show, but it was only 12 feet long whereas the whole installation using it was over 20. An earlier piece was over ten feet high to fit another space. I like to make an installation for a given space. That's why I was so interested in this gallery space since I knew it well and yet wanted to really change it visually. I started making installations in graduate school by working in a studio, then bringing materials to a gallery space and working all night installing in the space. I find it nice to work both large and small.


Do you make drawings for your work?


I draw a lot and if you looked at my sketch books you would find many shapes that show up in my sculpture. But I consider drawing as a parallel activity. For me the beauty of drawing is that you can brainstorm quickly and get down lots of ideas. The problem of drawing for me is that you can get away with murder, so to speak. Drawing lets you forget all those practical problems real materials and actual tools bring to the process. And I guess I really like those practical problems, problems like can I actually buy material that size and do I have a tool that will form it like I want?

So after I draw, I put them away mostly and just work with the materials, hoping that my time drawing will not be lost, but will filter down through the actual experience with tool and material and become part of my intuition as I make decisions.


How long did it take you to build the boat?
When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?


I think of the "boat" as a rowing scull and I started by building a space big enough for it outside my studio. That was in May, 2000, and I visualized it as 12 feet long, moving one third of that length or 4 feet. I bought a nice, light weight aluminum "I" beam at Bataeff salvage for the core of the scull and then began working on it in earnest around the end of May. It didn't get fully finished until I moved it into the gallery in December.

I don't ever recall a point when I "decided to be an artist." I always liked making things, using my hands and tools and really began to find myself getting comfortable with the creative process when I took my first real art studio class. This came after several other experiences (see my bio) and after I was older. I guess it was really more that I knew I didn't want to be some other things more than I wanted to be an artist. For me art seemed to be broad enough an umbrella that I could function well under it. And I guess I also knew that I would always be making things anyway, so why not call them art!


Did you visualize the lighting first or the sculptures?
How long did you work on the space?


The sculpture came first. Some of the sculpture was done as early as 1997. The lighting began as a possible idea around the start of 2000 when I saw my first LED flashlight. After locating sources for the LED's I built the first prototype fixture much later. Then I couldn't find enough of the newer, white LED's and thought I might have to abandon the lighting. But I found 3 other sources and continued. I was more concerned about how the gallery viewer would react to the low lighting with now ambient light, than I was building the lights. Fortunately a friend who had a lot of exhibition design experience saw the prototype during the summer and thought it would work. It was nice having an outsiders view of what I was trying to accomplish.

I moved into the gallery in mid December, 2000. I started working on the space with a model of the gallery I built during the summer of 2000. I tried out many ideas with the model so I had a pretty well defined, but still rough idea as to what I was going to do with the space. And then I changed my mind again after spending time in the space.


What is the meaning of "Lithia?"
What inspired it and what does it make you feel or think?


Lithia is the name of a wonderful park in Ashland, Oregon. I've been to it many times and always am amazed at one feature of the park, the sycamore grove. Beyond what I have already said about the piece on the first webpage, I can only add that it must be an attempt of mine to make a monument to my personal experience in Lithia Park. Now that it exists in its own right, it's been seen publically and more importantly I have some distance form it, I think of it differently. I forget all the decisions involved while making it and I can see it as a whole, hopefully integrated work. I miss dreaming about how to finish it, but I like that it's done and I can move on.


How long did you work on each piece on average?


That's a good question and one many artists wish they knew so that they would know how much to charge! I often work on several pieces at once or at least I think I do because they are out in view, sometimes just cluttering up my studio. But I see them and that's part of the process for me. If you only count finished work and only the eight small works in this show and consider that I started work on them in early 1997, I guess you could count the days and divide (4 years times 365 divided by 8=182.5 days or about 6 months/piece!).


What steps did your mind take to decide on this theatrical and dramatic presentation?


I wanted the viewer to be challenged and enter into unexpected territory. I wanted a unique kind of gallery experience, one more like one has in a theatrical performance. I wanted the work to glow, rather than exist in a well lighted space where the space was competing with the work.


Would you define for me what "ether" means to you?

Answer: This is an archaic term, " the rarefied element formerly believed to fill the upper regions of space..." according to I think of it as a simple way of describing the unseen. For me the unseen has come to mean most of the electromagnetic spectrum excluding light. I am fascinated with what goes on here and can only be seen, heard or felt because of technological tools and then interpreted by humans. An example is the sounds in the gallery produced by lightning, but heard via a radio receiver.

The site,, exist as an informational resource for my February, 2001 exhibition
at the Santa Rosa Junior College Art Gallery.
Updated: 20 Feb 2001