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Visionary Artists and
Light Painting

 

A hallucination is “an experience involving the apparent
perception of something not present”. It is sensation without stimulus, and can
involve seeing, hearing or smelling something that is not present. Hallucinations
are most well known as symptoms of illnesses and through the use of mind
altering drugs. However, many people report to have hallucinated through
sensory deprivation. Sensory deprivation is a process by which someone is
deprived of normal external stimuli such as sight and sound for an extended
period of time. When experienced over a short period of time it has been used
for therapy to reduce anxiety and as a form of meditation. However, as the mind
is put into this state of sensory deprivation for long periods of time, the
brain starts to search for stimuli and when none is found, creates its own
images, sounds and smells. This can result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations,
bizarre thoughts and depression.

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Many artists have
used hallucinations or mystical experiences for inspiration for their work.

William Blake was born on 28th November 1757. He was an English
poet, painter and printmaker. Blake claimed to experience visions throughout
his life starting from as young as age four. His visions ranged from seeing
people appear in his dreams, seeing trees formed of angels, to seeing London as
“the holy city” which inspired him to write they hymn Jerusalem where he
describes the new factories of the industrial revolutions as “dark satanic
mills”. His visions were often associated with beautiful religious themes and
imagery. One of Blake’s famous drawings is a portrait of the man who taught him
to paint. Blake reported visions of prophets and artists such as Raphael
appearing in his dreams and the portrait he drew is of this man who appeared to
him. The painting shows a man who appeared in his dreams who Blake claimed taught him to paint. Later in life Blake also
claimed that his poems were dictated to him through his visions.

 

Blake
was interested in spirituality and studied Christianity, Egyptian religion,
alchemy and science. He thought of his visions as supernatural inspiration.

Other poets who knew Blake though that he was a genius but also that he was
insane. He didn’t become very successful until after his death when artists
and poets started to recognise his work.

 

Alex
Grey, born in Columbus, Ohio on November 29th, 1953 is another
artist who uses visions as an inspiration for his work. He believes that “the
origin of all world religions and sacred art traditions is a mystic visionary
state”. He uses art to share and convey his hallucinations with others and
says, “the ability to transmit mystic states through art is why visionary art
matters”. Grey uses hallucinogenic, mind-altering drugs such as Psilocybin and
DMT to create mystical experiences. Although this practice may be frowned upon
by the majority of the population, he believes that they are “capable of
catalysing a visionary mystical experience”. He uses the term “catalysing” to
emphasise his view that the drugs he uses simply help him to see his visions,
not to create them. Grey has explained his visionary art process as “the space we visit
during dreams and altered or heightened states of consciousness.”

Dean Chamberlain is an American light painting photographer who has also
been inspired by visions and his view that light should be the subject of his
photographs. He has been called “the father of light painting in its present-day
form.”

 

“Light is the source of all life
so I have followed the light since I realized this simple truth in 1969 during
my early vision quests, wink, wink, nod, nod. I understood that God was in
one’s mind and God is light, for me. I saw visions of eternity in the light,
hence, my fascination with light.”

 

In this interview, he suggests
that he has used hallucinogenic drugs to inspire “vision quests” this is a
similar technique to Alex Grey and is reflected in his abstract, unique light paintings.

He first experimented with light painting in 1977 and from 1979 onwards he moved
away from traditional photography and exclusively made light paintings.

 

Light painting is a photography technique that uses
very long exposures and different light sources such as torches to “paint”
light onto the chosen parts of the subject. This means that every photograph is
unique and the results can be unpredictable. The technique gives the
photographer complete control over what to light and which areas will be left
dark. It also allows the photographer to create images that are made up of
light patterns which they have created.

 

The earliest light
painting experiments were done in the early 20th Century by Frank
Gilbreth and Man Ray who was a famous experimental photographer. In 1949 Gjon
Mili set up a shoot with Pablo Picasso. They created some of the most
well-known light paintings with Picasso using a pen light instead of a brush. 

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