Helen Pashgian is a pioneer of the Light and Space movement, which originated in the 1960s in Southern California. Inspired by West Coast landscape and culture, the Light and Space artists used unorthodox materials such as polyester resin, cast acrylic, neon and fluorescent light, to capture and transform the ambient and perceptual experience surrounding light, colour and volume. Some artists associated with the movement include Mary Corse, Robert Irwin and James Turrell.Read More
Deeply attached to California all her life, Pashgian was born in Pasadena in 1934 and received her BA majoring in art history in 1956 from Pomona College in Claremont, California. She stayed on the East Coast to attend Columbia University from 1956 to 1957 to pursue graduate studies in art history and literature, and received an MA in Fine Arts, majoring in art history, from Boston University in 1958. Eventually, though, the artist moved back to the West Coast in 1963 because she longed for the light. As she told The Los Angeles Times in an 2014 interview: 'When I first moved to Boston... the sun didn't come out for a month. I didn't realise how depressed I'd gotten by the dark. I finally realised I needed to come home.'
Having reconnected with the coasts of her childhood in Southern California, Pashgian was intrigued by the reflection and refraction of light through water. This led her to experiment with aerospace materials such as polyester resin that capture transparency and perception of light—one example is her earlier work Untitled (1968–1969), a small piece made by cast resin with an acrylic insert. In 1971, during her venture into larger-scaled works, she created a five-feet diameter disk in polyester resin, which was subsequently stolen from a group show held that summer in the California Institute of Technology's Baxter Art Gallery. Pashgian wanted to remake it ever since, and in 2014 she used epoxy for its refabrication. The finished artwork, Untitled (Lens) (2014), emanates a hazy green hue, more saturated at the centre, and becomes more translucent as it diffuses to the edge of the disk.
Pashgian's first solo exhibition at a major institution, Helen Pashgian: Light Invisible, was held spring 2014 at the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA). The critically acclaimed show featured Untitled (2012–2013): the artist's first large-scale sculptural installation comprising of 12 softly radiating acrylic columns, where viewers would experience change in the character of light when navigating through the dark gallery space.
Pashgian received the Distinguished Women in the Arts award from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) in 2013. Her works could be found in notable public collections such as Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara; and Portland Art Museum, Portland.
Biography by Chelsea Ma | Ocula | 2019