Unlike most artists, Rupert Newman rarely has a blank canvas to work with. Using projected light to illuminate, colour and transform architecture, he tailors his designs to meld with the longstanding canvases already rendered by architects many years ago. His vibrant light shows are rapidly gaining recognition as some of the most innovative art installations of today – as eye-catching as they are ephemeral.
Your light shows are so surreal; it is often hard to even slightly conceive how they might have been created. Talk us through a little bit of the process.
When I am called up for a party – it’s usually for a party – I ask the client to send me a picture of the proposed building for projection. If it’s a complex building I’ll have to go and see it, but most of the time I get a good judgement of the facade just by looking at the picture. I am then able to start imagining what I can create.
Without giving too much away, the rest of the setup process involves importing the picture into Photoshop, and creating different layers for different coordinates of the building. I then animate these layers, changing the colours and bringing movement to the shapes. When I project onto the house, I’m effectively projecting a photograph of the house back onto itself, just with an amalgam of optical illusions which are all lined up to fit perfectly into the boundaries of the structure. The technique is called projection mapping.
We’ve seen huge range in your projected designs - from kaleidoscopic patterns to psychedelic animals. How do these come about? Are they designed completely digitally?
My background is in printed textiles, so I always develop designs in my sketchbooks first. Sometimes they’re gouache paintings, or sketches with pencil. Sometimes they’re etchings or mono prints. I’ll scan in the pages from my sketchbook and adapt them on Photoshop, enhancing the colour levels and sharpening the image. I’ll often invert the colours, because when projected they’ll jump out more, coming out from the black rather than from the white. I then animate the designs. I like to keep a fast pace with the animations, and tend to show a different page of my sketchbook every 3 seconds so my audience are hyper stimulated by the design work. It’s constantly changing, and it never really lets the eye or the mind rest.
So you’ve almost got a strobe-light effect?
My animations never flash like a strobe, rather they morph into one another. I have to keep the pace up because nowadays with the prevalence of social media, people are used to platforms like Instagram, where you look at a picture for a split second and then move on to the next. I think attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter. My design work allows me address this and use it to my advantage.
Once you’ve finalised all your designs and finished the set up process, can you just flick a switch and leave the projections to their own devices, or are you quite hands-one for the duration of the show?
It depends: Sometimes the show lasts 6 minutes, and is accompanied by two tracks of the clients choosing. In this case, everything is completely pre programmed and taylor made. Subtly, I am able to bring photo’s and video’s into the mix, and perfectly choreograph it to the music. When I work with a DJ / musician I am always with the computer, adapting the designs as set show progresses. There is a lot of improvisation involved.
So there’s a lot of thinking on your feet?
Yes. I use another programme that allows me to layer clips and effects as and when I want. Music is completely layered. You have the bass, drums, vocals. I like to deliver my visuals in the same way, using three to four layers.
Would you go as far as to call yourself a light DJ?
Yes, a light DJ – or perhaps even a ‘VJ’... a Visual Jockey…
You certainly command a visually intense stage presence. Even your ‘screening areas’ are rather formidable to begin with. Though you mostly project onto building façades, you’ve lit up other objects like up the Boeing 747 and the Olympic ski jump. Have there been any others like this?
I illuminated an amazing organ in The Guildhall, Cambridge. It was wonderful to work with as when lit, the round gold organ pipes imitated the sound, that appeared to resonate from them.
When and how did you decide that you wanted to work with light?
During my studies at the Royal College of Art (2010). My tutor asked me to imagine the future of interior design. I closed my eyes and imagined walking into a living room where all the walls were interacting with their environment – with the sounds and temperature. I was intrigued by this so started developing the idea. At first I produced a series of printed textile wall hangings, exploring colours and surface. I then started projecting my designs, and mapping them onto the wallhangings. I reprogrammed a Nintendo Wii that allowed a certain level of interactivity. If you pushed one button, for example, a water visual would appear, with sound effects. If you pushed another button, a huge kaleidoscope would appear which the viewer would be able to control the speed of by rotating the remote.
I always wanted my work to be therapeutic, to relax people in a way. I knew that I was doing something right when a lady was pushing her baby around at the final exhibition. The baby was screaming its head off, but as soon as they arrived at my lights, the baby immediately stopped crying. That was a happy moment for me.
Are there any artists that you could see yourself collaborating with?
I really look up to the French artist Patrice Warrener. He illuminated Westminster Abbey for Lumiere London and his work is phenomenal. I’m always inspired by him. He uses different techniques to me, but I could imagine us working dynamically together. I also want to develop and integrate pyrotechnics and LED’s into my shows.
Your work is very experiential and very much about being in the moment. Are you ever discouraged by the fact that your work has little in terms of tangible legacy, or are you glad of its ephemeral nature?
I’m happy it’s there one minute, and gone the next, that’s the magic of it. I do end up taking about 500 photographs of each show, but it’s all about being there in the moment. I’ve had some extraordinary reactions from people, they are always ones of amazement and awe.
If there was anywhere in the world that you could do a show, where would it be?
I’ve always had my eye on the Taj Mahal, though I’m not sure how plausible that would be! There are a few Mormon temples in America that would be fun to work with. They’re all very white and geometrically designed – platforms that I feel would enhance and be enhanced by my patterns.
Rupert Newman; rupertnewman.com