Painting Landscapes with Light: An Interview with Barry Underwood

fern for francesca lighted forest imageFascinating uses of light never cease to capture our attention. Whether light is being used in a cool, new way via budding technology, or simply using its inherent ambient qualities to enhance surroundings in an unexpected way, the possibilities of light are endless. That’s probably why we were so drawn to the work of Barry Underwood. The color and light of his landscape installations are breathtaking. Just one look at these eerie installations and you are immediately entranced by a captivating, dream-like world. Seeing our passion for color and light resonating in his installation, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to speak with Barry on his work. Graciously, he agreed to speak with us and provide further insight into his beautiful creations.

GPI Design: Barry, what inspires you first?

Barry Underwood: Ideas in art inspire me, and working with ideas imbedded in painting, installation, drawing, photography, and cinema. I am also inspired or rather influenced by science and nature and its energy.

GPI Design: Is it a particular landscape that inspires the lighting, or do you get an idea for the lighting itself to which you need to find the perfect landscape that captures your vision?

Barry: The process begins with drawing. I either have an idea first then look for a landscape, or I make artwork in response to a particular landscape. I then sketch out the idea. This gives me time to work through some of the media and logistical issues that may arise during the install. Composing or framing the shot is next. Then the installation process takes place.

GPI Design: On your website, you say that “Light and color alter the perception of space, while defamiliarizing common objects.” Why do you think your work integrates so well on landscape and the outdoors? Do you think the same elusive and mystifying effect would translate onto interior environments?

Barry: In the photographs of the installations I am most interested in the ways in which the colored light does not integrate with the landscape. The sculptural light I introduce is very foreign in color palate to the subtle coloration of land, plant, sky and water. The concept is not exclusive to the landscape. I am currently working on a commissioned series of installations within interiors.

GPI Design: Most of your images use vivid colored light that evokes a sense of dreamlike imagination. Why do you think color is so central in creating this dream-like effect? Do you think white light could achieve a similar effect?

Barry: Color is intrinsically tied to our perception and psyche. It has a psychological effect on our bodies. Light (color) is the world in which we move around / through.

GPI Design: How do your techniques enforce the impression of the light as an externally applied, alien-like intervention rather than a revelation of inherent qualities?

Barry: I am not thinking about aliens or Hollywood ideas of aliens. I am thinking about ideas of abstraction, particularly contemporary abstract painting, and the abstract ideas carried out in 60s and 70s land art. Making a mark in the landscape rather than on a canvas. Light is merely a means to record color photographically.

Thank you to Barry Underwood for taking the time to elaborate on his work. Be sure to check out the rest of Barry’s portfolio.  If you’re a fellow Clevelander, you can visit his exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland coming up on October 8, 2012.

Image credits: Barry Underwood