Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hello David En-Lightens Northern Liberties - By The Spirit Newspaper

Published on June 25, 2008
Written by Jack Dugan

Last Saturday, the rooftops of Northern Liberties welcomed a new skyward landmark to a city known for its community art. Hello David, the chromatic lens sculpture crafted by world renowned artist Ray King, was installed on the south-facing wall of his 12,000 sq. foot studio on the 800 block of N. 3rd Street. The piece is dedicated to 18th century Philadelphia astronomer, David Rittenhouse who not only discovered the defracting property of white light, but furthermore made significant breakthroughs in the practice of light defraction altogether.
One can find King’s spectacular light manipulators all over the world with pieces in Italy, Taiwan, and all across the American mainland. While utilizing the sophisticated knowledge of a scientist, he describes himself as just an artist who uses light as his medium. As a resident of Philadelphia since the mid 70’s excluding a stint in England in 1975 where he studied with master stained glass artist Patrick Reyntiens, King has been working with glass for over thirty years. “I was working on something back in 1980 when I realized that my true medium was light, not glass,” he told the Spirit.

Standing with King on the 3rd floor balcony of his studio, I ask him how he gets the different glass facets of his sculpture to reflect completely different colors. “This piece works with defraction not reflection,” he replies. Having slept through that particular lesson in physics class, I try to get him to broaden my scientific horizons by explaining in detail the difference between defraction and reflection. “Well, what we have here is white light, specifically sunlight, and there are tiny etchings inside of the glass that split the light into its natural chromatic colors.”

After a very thorough demonstration with a piece of defracting glass that he happened to have lying around, I almost understood the concept. These particular glass facets take normal white light, and, through microscopic vibrations caused by the tiny etchings within the glass, project the individual color components that comprise white light. Consisting of over 100 triangular facets of safety glass held together by steel cable with each piece retaining its own individual craftsmanship, the separate panes of glass in Hello David combine to project a carefully constructed display with dazzling visual elements that react with the physical fluctuations of the surrounding environment.

Looking almost like a gigantic mid-air kaleidoscope, Hello David is a chromatic lens sculpture comprised of a concave collection of individual glass lenses that all project unique and distinct colors depending on various factors including the angle at which it is viewed, along with the specific location of the sun in the sky. The dipped center of the design faces due south, making it visible from skyscrapers in center city, as well as from the Ben Franklin Bridge.
King has erected his chromatic sculptures in Europe, Asia, and all over America from Florida to Alaska, enlightening the landscape and educating its population along the way. This piece in particular, however, has more of a personal resonance with King, who calls the piece, “My own little observation toy.”
Not only is it on his private property and financed completely out-of-pocket, but even more it marks the culmination of six years repairing the damage caused to his building by an illegal demolition that took place by unlicensed developers across the street. The demolition caused so much damage to his property that he had to totally rebuild the wall of his apartment building, and for five years was unable to acquire the necessary permits that were required for the installation of Hello David. Today, however, the sculpture stands proudly above the rooftops as the only sculpture in the city of its kind, for all Philadelphians to see.
“This is for everyone in Philadelphia,” he reminds me while I stand motionless on the balcony, transfixed with the installation process. In a city brimming with community art, mainly murals and paintings, King has solidified himself into a very special category that shares the company of some of the most well known and respected Philadelphia artists of our history, while at the same time establishing a completely new visual element that is likely to educate and inspire all of us who are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of his work.

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