From an early age, Damian Puggelli could sense that art was his calling. The Studio 1123 artist enjoys the opportunities art provides him to take part in the conversation of visual culture, whether exhibiting in galleries, pop-up shows, and public spaces, or engaging with the art community on social media.
For Puggelli, art making is a large arena to play in, whether that’s expressing himself through drawing, oil painting, watercolor, printmaking, goldsmithing, woodcraft, sculpture, photography, or digital art. These mediums have opened the door for Puggelli to collaborate with talented people around the world.
Some of his latest projects involve creative collaborations with people outside of the traditional art world. Puggelli built props for an interactive puzzle exhibit at the new Planet Word Museum in Washington D.C. with game creators at Lone Shark Games, for example. He also worked with a coder to bring “The Otherside,” an interactive light art piece, to life with random dimming sequences.
Read our interview with Puggelli to learn about the inspiration behind “The Otherside” and how the piece came to fruition with Optic Arts LEDs. Puggelli also shares his favorite artistic techniques, as well as lighting tips and tricks for artists across mediums.
Creating an Interactive Light Piece
Tell us about “The Otherside” and the inspiration behind it.
“The Otherside” is a triptych of six-foot-high white panels. Soft glowing light slowly pulses in unison from narrow slots running the length of each panel. An occasional glimmer of very bright light flickers across all three panels. This shout for attention is the only time the panels operate independently of each other.
When a viewer approaches, a motion sensor is triggered that awakens the piece from dormancy. A short blast of blinding white light is followed by a 30-to-90 second dimming sequence. The pulsation of light is timed to feel like breathing, giving the piece a lifelike quality. Each dimming sequence is completely random in duration and intensity to create a unique light cycle that is never repeated.The panels return to rest mode after the cycle is complete.
I designed the panels to hide the light source. An even wash of light bounces off the inner panel, which extends out of sight behind the slot in the face. This creates the illusion of a large continuous glowing plane that can be glimpsed through the narrow openings.
I want to give a shout out to Russell O’Heney for his collaboration and writing the code that created the random dimming sequence for this piece.
Why did you choose to create an interactive light piece?
Full spectrum white light stimulates a physiological response that can generate a positive change in mental state. I wanted to harness this therapeutic ability in an aesthetically engaging way that is more inviting than a clinical light box.
“The Otherside” recognizes and acknowledges each visitor and invites them to peer into a glowing realm where they bathe in a gently pulsing pure white light. Hopefully, this encourages them to enjoy a relaxed, meditative experience that is uplifting and energizing.
Why did you choose Optic Arts full spectrum LEDs for the piece?
Optic Arts provides the best full spectrum LED strip lighting available. I needed strip lighting that can produce as close to natural daylight as possible for this piece to actually work. Also, the light quality is really gorgeous.
What was one of your most profound memories of the exhibit?
Opening night was the first chance to see if “The Otherside” made sense to anyone other than myself. The piece looks minimalistic at first glance, so it was fun watching visitors walk past and then jump as they triggered the first blast of light. Many visitors stayed to bask in multiple light cycles. One couple even brought chairs over to enjoy the experience in comfort. The live feedback was very rewarding.
Conversations About Art & Light
What is your philosophy about light and art?
Everything comes back to light for me. Light is the source of all color — it influences mood and builds drama.
How would you describe your artistic style?
If I could describe my artistic style in one word, it would be enthusiasm. I want to max out the level of energy that a single frame can hold.
The first step in my process involves research and observation (still life studies, drawing models, plein air painting, and photography).
The next step begins with asking a question that doesn’t have an answer yet. I need to break my subject open, collect the shards, and then reassemble them into a vessel that will carry the meaning and feeling that I want to convey.
The delight of discovery as I push the limits of the medium brings a playfulness to my work. Throughout my exploration process, I refer to color studies, sketches, and technical experiments that are tacked up all over my studio. These touchstones help keep me on track as I create.
There’s no easy formula to follow or a given metric for success. It’s a world where countless hours of painting can end up in the dumpster or a single brushstroke could make a masterpiece. My style is the result of a battle between the analytical brain and an impulsive spirit.
What are some of your favorite artistic techniques?
That’s a tough question because my techniques vary by medium and I work in a lot of different mediums. One focus, no matter which medium, is using mark making to express my personal visual language.
Mark making is central to my work. The speed of each mark, its shape, and intensity give important clues for the viewer’s eye to read. Marks build rhythm, carve out space, imply distance, and give structure to forms.
In block printing, everything is inverse and every cut becomes a white mark. I find putting a black wash on my block helps me see the impact of the marks while drawing with the blade.
I also explore mark making through sumi painting, a very juicy medium which can be incredibly challenging as every stroke is an irreversible decision. In contrast, drawing with big sticks of vine charcoal produces fast, broad strokes and delicate gradations of tone. It is easily erasable, allowing for drastic revisions. This is a great way to get ideas on paper very quickly.
What types of subjects do you gravitate towards and why?
I’m attracted to forms that convey energy. The current series of block prints and paintings that I’m working feature flowers built up with a dizzying onslaught of rhythmic marks. They seem to have an internal glow and emerge from energized backgrounds.
Floral art is often thought of as pretty and banal, but flowers really do have amazing forms and patterns. I seek out flowers offering a mix of strange, sensual, and terrifying or comedic shapes with intriguing subtexts because of their endangered status, symbolic associations, and medicinal or toxic properties. These back stories lurk below the surface of this series of work.
How do you determine the best lighting solutions for your work?
I often work at night, so having the right lighting in my workspace is critical. Poor quality lighting casts an undesirable color tint which will negatively impact creative choices. I learned this the hard way one night, painting a figure under incandescent lights. The next day’s natural morning light revealed that the golden skin tones I thought I had painted were actually a sickly, pale gray. The yellow of the incandescent bulbs had shifted my entire color palette.
My first studio was in a small garage surrounded by large trees casting a green filtered light. Back then, my only options for “full spectrum” lighting were fluorescent or halogen. I can’t stand fluorescent lighting; it puts my nerves on edge. I installed color corrected halogens that delivered decent light in my work area, even though the purple film used to cut the yellow cast of the halogens was not ideal.
The advancements in LED technology have brought the best solution. I use a mix of 4000k and 5000k high CRI LED floods which give a beautiful and even wash of clean white light whenever I need it.
Advice for Artists
What advice would you give to artists starting out in the field?
Try out your ideas. Get them out of your head and into the world. Draw something every day. Be kind to yourself. Embrace your failures — they are just the result of taking the risks needed for growth.
Look at art — all kinds of art. Figure out what you respond to and why, what you dislike and why. Talk with other artists and collaborate with people. Creative energy is contagious.
What should artists keep in mind when illuminating their work?
An even wash of clean white light is ideal. Check for glare and hot spots. For paintings, this is best achieved with light on either side, aimed across to the far side of the work.
What should artists keep in mind if they want to create pieces with light?
Research to find the best light for your intended purpose. Be safe with the wiring, electrical components, and heat generated by the lights.
Connect with Damian Puggelli and Studio 1123
Instagram: @puggelli / @studio1123shop
Work Address: 3828 4th Ave. S. Suite #7, Seattle, WA 98134