Lighting designer Stephen White uses organic materials
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

lighting designers
lighting designers
Works from lighting designer Stephen White

A self-taught artist, Stephen White of Luminessence gets a charge out of using organic materials to create one-of-a-kind designs.

White: My journey began in 1964. After receiving an architectural degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology [in Pittsburgh], I went into the Air Force. During that time, I began making light sculptures, though I called them lanterns [then]. I was stationed in Alaska, and I was visiting Anchorage one day when I went into a gallery. After a brief conversation [about my work, the gallery owner] asked, “Do you want to have a show?” I said, “Why not?” And I created 18 pieces and had them shipped on an empty supply plane. It was 1966—my first one-man show.

Eventually, I moved to Hawaii, began an architectural apprenticeship and continued to do the lanterns. At a certain point, lanterns became more interesting than architecture, so I slipped off of the architectural track and became an artist. My main muse is nature. Paper and wood are organic materials, and I create organic shapes. They look like flowers, seed pods, clouds, ocean waves and things like that.

Essentially, I follow the materials, and they tell me what to do. Finding a new kind of wood helps me discover new designs. In the beginning, I took ordinary pine or fir two-by-fours and cut them. Then, I discovered woven-wood shades. For probably 30 or more years, I tapped into a supply of lauan. Unfortunately, today’s quality of wood is nowhere near what it used to be, so I have only a little lauan left. So, I’ve gone to using basket reed for entire pieces, and it has given me wonderful new looks. I’m also using poplar and cutting it into strips. It’s very supple and very strong.

[When I use paper], I put it on in papier-mâché fashion—many, many layers. There may be a dozen layers added using small pieces. The eventual skin looks like one skin, but it’s made up of many, many pieces.

From the beginning, my idea was not to duplicate the work. I have found many new and different ways to put the same simple materials together and come up with an amazingly broad range of original looks. If somebody asks me to do something from my portfolio, I will do something similar to it. I will go down the same “avenue,” but I won’t duplicate it. As an artist, that’s where I get my juice—in being able to create new, unusual designs.

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