painted wall with shadow

Surfaces of Light

I know this room so well, but every day it looks different.

At times, it can look quite magical.

Light, can transform an everyday room into something visually spectacular.

There is that rare moment when a beam of light hits the surface of a wall.

When light bounces onto and across the surface of the walls it illuminates and highlights texture. A painted wall, a carpet, a cupboard door suddenly come alive.

In that moment, that wall has a presence in this space..

Light adds shade, depth and shape to enrich our everyday world.

It makes us look anew at the world around us.

The sudden appearance of the sun’s rays, spots and beams is always a visual surprise. It makes unusual patterns and shapes and brings out the intrinsic materiality of every surface; the subtle texture of the paintbrush, the strokes of the hand that treated that surface.

Light moves silently across the room.

It seeks out the walls, the furniture and floor.

It transforms a bare-painted wall to present the subtlety of texture: its warmth and cold, its shine, gloss and patina. There is the the silkiness of sheen, a depth of grain and grit to see, to feel and absorb.

There is the fresh, crisp, clean surfaces that shows a mastery of craft in form and space (John Pawson ) But, also the bumpy, aged, rough surfaces that are a feature of older buildings ( David Chipperfield.) Light helps us see more clearly the quality of texture; its value and impact on space.

I maintain my home and expect it outlive me. But it was not built with expensive or luxury materials that were designed to last.

And yet, the walls and surfaces exist as a neutral backdrop that comes alive in sunlight. These surfaces add a breathing space, and a place for the play of light.

Reach out and touch it.

Children make sense of their world through its materiality. They explore its qualities, resistance, grain and sound by scratching it, tasting it, rubbing, stroking and playing with it.

As adults we rely on sight rather than touch but we can still draw on our memory of childhood experiences. We carry with us our own an interpretation, curiosity and knowledge of materiality.

The eye is the organ of distance and separation, whereas touch is the sense of nearness, intimacy and affection. The eye surveys, controls and investigates, whereas touch approaches and caresses.

Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of The Skin

But In the adult world propriety rules how we behave in a space. We don’t want to mark the walls. Or scratch the floor, or leave a greasy stain.

Somehow, Interiors have become less about what they ‘feel like’ and more about what they ‘look like’.

It is only when we are painting, cleaning, making or re-making surfaces that we re-connect intimately with the materiality of that space.

When we make changes to a space we consider its possibilities and potential. What more can we do to this room – what more can it do for us?

And where there is a window, light is a part of that space.

In 2016 for the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, the artist, Robert Irwin created Dawn To Dusk. This is ‘interiors’ as sculpture, as art.

As viewers move through the space they connect to the changing light of the desert. From blinding sun through to the rich, warm evening hues, this environment is about the simplicity of interior space – and light, expressed in the simple sculptural qualities of architectural interiors. In this setting, we have to stop, look and notice.

In large gallery spaces artists, such as Olafur Eliasson, play with sculptural forms and the light. Conrad Shawcross’s Slow Arc Inside A Cube explores light and pattern within the confines of a room.

James Turrell is an artist who creates light installations. His art features the purity of shapes on surfaces, best viewed within an internal space.

These are awe-inspiring experiences that can only be truly experienced first-hand. To fully capture the impact and immensity of scale you have to be there.

There is the delight of a moment when light hits the shiny surface of a watch, or a glass, and bounces around the room. A playful distraction… a creative pause.. or a moment of joy?

All these images were taken by me in my home and so they mean something special to me.

At the time they made me stop and look. Now, captured as photographs they are images that still bring me joy. Images of beauty that may spark an idea and a new way of looking.

How lucky we are to have a spectacular and ever-changing, seasonal light show in our homes so that everyday we can look at our homes in a new way.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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