Kieth Lemley’s first New York City solo exhibit “Arboreal” unites material, light, and architecture to create a scene contrasting natural and synthetic. One inspiration Lemley often seeks is the fundamental geometry that makes up the universe we live in. With his large angular neon installations, Lemley achieves the unity of space through light and line. According to Lemley, six years ago a large Chestnut Oak tree fell near his studio in Appalachia. He began to carve the wood uncovering close to two centuries of history; from there he shaped sculptures that come from the knots and imperfections of the tree. To compliment this natural beauty, neon extends from the shape of the carved wood to become an exaggerated narrative of the trees growth had it not fallen. The sturdy wood and the delicate neon play off each other incredibly to produce a captivating gallery experience.
We sat down with Lemley and he gave some insight on “Arboreal” and his love for neon:
Q: What is the inspiration behind your exhibit?
A number of years ago a large old oak tree fell on a ridge at my studio and since then I’ve been thinking of how to use it as raw material in my work. I’ve also been thinking about discovery and recent theories that may connect disparate notions of how the universe works through an underlying problem of geometry. With that in the back of my mind, I spent time really getting to know the particular architecture of Mixed Greens [Gallery] and everything began to come together in my mind for a light based installation.
Q: How does geometry play a role in your work?
I am interested in curiosity and discovery, and how the architecture of our minds and bodily systems connects to the architecture of the universe and the vast amount of information that is beyond our perception. Really, the systems or structures that are in place where there seemingly are none, and the paradox of discovery – that the more we know, the more we know we don’t know. I use geometry in a way that connects viewers, my work, and the site, in a fleeting momentary experience.
Q: Why neon?
All neon is made by hand, and I found it fascinating that I could form a glass vessel, and then process it into a working light source. Making neon is like drawing in space. Nearly anything that can be drawn as a continuous line can be made in neon. Inside the glass tube is a nearly a perfect vacuum with only a very small amount of rare gas. When electrified the gas becomes plasma, and if you look closely it appears as a fuzzy illuminated stream. With a few torches and some lab equipment, I can make glass microenvironments that emulate the plasma in a star.
Q: What makes neon an important medium for your work?
Light is both something and nothing. The neon tube becomes a sort of frozen moment; it gives a physical, tangible existence to something as intangible as light. Then, it emits that light into a space, expanding to fill whatever volume surrounds it.
Q: What does neon mean to you?
Neon allows me to manipulate light itself and create a phenomenological experience in a given space.
Keith Lemley’s “Arboreal” is on display from February 19, 2015 to March 21, 2015 at Mixed Greens Gallery in Manhattan, New York.
Writing and photography by JoeRo