Carol Salmanson speaks on the possibilities of working with light

Carol Salmanson is a Brooklyn-based artist working with light and reflective materials.  She recently took a break from her busy schedule to speak with Wavelength about her practice. 

 WL:  What are the particular properties of light that interest you?

Salmanson-Gesture Drawing 22
Gesture Drawing 22, LEDs, wire, plexi, mirrored mylar, diffusion film, 14″ x 9 1/2″ x 7/8″, 2015

Light both beams into you and surrounds you. These qualities allow me to build whole worlds around the viewer with color and shape, ones that touch their memory and experience. In addition to being a visual artist, I have a background in renovations and in dance, which are both concerned with the way space touches the viewer’s emotions. Light allows me to create a special kind of place for the viewer to enter.

I also use the special properties of LEDs in the same way a painter would. LEDs come in a different colors, shapes, sizes, and transparencies, to fit their specific intended industrial purpose. I have been collecting LEDs and now have more than 150 different kinds, and I can combine them in an infinite number of ways, especially once I add contemporary reflective and transparent materials to the mix.

The way I work with my various materials permits me to make art that forms two-dimensional work reminiscent of painting, and the light radiates outward to suggest metaphorical spaces.

WL:  You have an extensive body of work using light.    Was there ever a time when you worked in another medium? 

I painted for many years, and as my work progressed I added reflected pigments that suggested a space extending inward and outward. This allowed the objects painted on top to move and stay still at the same time, which was my intention. It was a natural progression from there to working with light the way I do, because light does nothing if not stay still and move simultaneously. The influence of my past work is clear, and the evolution was a natural one – although it sure didn’t seem like it as it was happening.

WL:  How does the medium influence the structure of your art?

It was a bit of a struggle to make work that wasn’t about fabrication. I’ve made some beautiful work within the limitations of the materials I used, such as prisms, slender fluorescents, and stainless steel, and I continue to do so. But it got to the point where the fabrication process eclipsed my artistic experience, and I became extremely frustrated. In desperation I started creating the Gesture Drawings, which are much more fun to make.

Incorporating the hand into my work is deeply meaningful for me. The work is no longer a hard, industrially derived piece of art, but a way to use all of my components to form the piece. And they really are drawings – I start with a gestural pencil drawing and drill holes by hand for the wiring, and I can shape the final result.

The Gesture Drawings emphasize that at its heart industrial materials always have a purpose, that technology is the tool and not the goal.

WL:  Are there any new light technologies you’re considering implicating into your work?

My most recent infatuation is for the new “neon” light strips, which are LED tape encased snugly in thick molded diffused silicone. Unlike neon, and unlike LED tape strips, you can bend it any way you want, even tying the stuff in knots. I’ve tried getting samples in the hopes of using them for a project I have coming up, but they are too new to be easily available. Last week I received the fourth sample from the fourth supplier in China (there are none yet in the US that carry all the kinds), and I decided, not for the first time, that the use of “cutting edge” technology was starting to displace my making art. The samples are now in a box on the shelf.


Carol Salmanson is currently featured in “The Particle and the Wave” at Index Art Center of Newark, New Jersey.  They are located at 237 Washington Street.  

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