“Light is everything; everything that is seen anyway,” said Michael McEwen, designer and principal of McEwen Lighting Studio in Berkeley. McEwen mounts a month-long show of his work at the Parks Exhibition Center on the Idyllwild Arts Academy campus that opened Friday, Oct. 21.
And, in some way, even given his extraordinarily different career track, it has always been about light. He confesses to having, as a teenager, shot out streetlights to preserve the sanctity of moonlight. “I didn’t like artificial light coming though my bedroom window when I would have preferred moonlight,” remembered McEwen.
And it was not just any light, but the magic of primal fire, shifting, ebbing and flowing in a captivating intensity. “There is nothing quite like the intensity of a light filament,” said McEwen. “It is like fire with its reflection and refraction. We have always been drawn to the fire and the hearth. Light allows us to function in an environment.”
Now to McEwen’s career track, which, like refracted filament light, shifted and changed as he grew.
As a boy, he liked to take things apart and put them back together. “There were phases,” he remembered. “There was a guitar garage band phase. Then in my early 20s, a girlfriend who studied flamenco and ballet suggested I take dance classes.”
He did, and even though older than most who begin ballet, McEwen studied and had an eight-year career in ballet until an injury interrupted it at age 29. Then he went to the University of California, Davis, to study textiles.
He worked in creating art in two dimensions for five years until a photographic trip to a junk yard changed his career path and life. “I’ve always been a mechanic, interested in the refuse of society,” he said.
In taking photographs to transfer to silk screen, he became fascinated with refuse and castoffs of our industrial society. “There were 50 acres of scrap metal with 20-foot-high mountains of sewing machines, barbecues, aircraft lights and railroad parts — everything imaginable. I started putting lights together as an excuse to hang out in salvage yards. But for me, light was critical from the beginning.”
McEwen’s designs are featured during his exhibition. The gallery hours for his show are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.
“I design for the warmth and romance of the light, wrapped around and seen through the mechanical structure,” he said. “I like to create layers of transparency. I design and fabricate illuminated sculpture with veils of distortion. Transparent glass draws your eye into the structure and then distorts and refracts the light. I live for the mini nirvanas that come when an effect I’ve been chasing down is realized.”
There is no charge for admission to McEwen’s exhibition.
For more about McEwen visit www.mcewenlighting.com/.