February 15, 2014

Keith Sonnier: Light Lines

Lobbed Shape, 2013; neon, acrylic, enamel paint, electrical wire, and transformer, 
8' 5 3/4" x 8'5" x 14 3/4 "

It is fun to think of the same material––glass––being used for beautiful small objects, such as the Venetian glass by Carlo Scarpa which I just wrote about, and for large contemporary sculpture in the form of neon tubes. In his show at Pace Gallery, Elysian Plain + Early Works, Keith Sonnier provides as much delight as Scarpa, of a different sort. These works are open hearted and embracing, their fluid, intensely colored lines flowing in fascinating rhythms.

There are the lines of colored light, and connecting them, the thin black lines of electrical wire. The wire, the lifelines to the neon, add another kind of drawing: thin inky lines alongside the thicker tubular ones; they enliven each other. Some of the works also had painted shapes, hard to see in the photos with all that's going on in the surface reflections.

A very different kind of line, a zigzag, becomes a bar of color. The four bars play off against a central square of acrylic, with the black wires lazily connected them.

Three different curves line up at the left, separated by horizontal aluminum lines, their shapes emphasized by lines of color.
I'm sorry not to have information on all the works, but the gallery website only shows three of the pieces in the show. I think you can see though, that they are all large.

The top shape of this piece is a mirror, so has a different spacial effect than the clear acrylic: it becomes deep because of the reflection of a distant wall or ceiling. I like the sense of opening or lifting, as the blue line rises, angled, above the straight pink and yellow lines; the black lines like tender tentacles flowing.

Neon Wrapping Incandescent, 1969

I find this piece very funny: incandescent bulbs, nipples or breasts, glow brightly; they are decorated with line and squiggle.

B-O-Ba V, 1970; neon, glass, electrical wire, and transformer, 83" x 16'7" x 11"

The simplicity of this early piece is very appealing. Just two circles of glass connected by a blue diagonal: vertical, diagonal, diagonal, our eye moves across the expanse. The extra bits of color are reflections, as these works change with their environment.

Torso Trunk, 2013; neon, acrylic, aluminum, electrical wire, and transformer, 9'6" x 88" x 4 " 

Seeing the title of this piece made me realize that perhaps I wasn't so far off to be seeing a figurative quality in many of Sonnier's compositions, and not just in the "breasts" above. For instance, the second image looks a lot like a portrait to me; I hope I'm not being ridiculous in saying so.

Then there was this little "creature", a study for a sculpture. It is bulbous and funny and alive, looking ready to bounce away.

And here, another "portrait": a mask, hiding, revealing. This show made me happy: the color, the curving lights, the reflective surfaces, all combined in joy. After all, the title of the show is Elysian Plain, and Elysium is a paradise.


  1. I have never lost the child-like delight in neon signs. This light show appeals to me too. That last picture looks like a jelly fish to me.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed this show, Lisa. Of course it was more wonderful in person, with the enveloping nature of the sculpture.

  2. Your descriptions of the light works are poetic. I love that.