At the heart of Mary Corse's practice lies an interest in the subjective experiences of light and colour. As an artist positioned on the periphery of the American Light and Space Movement, Mary Corse is known for her lightboxes and monochromatic paintings made with a unique mixture of acrylic paint and reflective glass beads.Read More
Originating in Southern California in the 1960s, the Light and Space Movement referred to a group of loosely associated artists who shared a penchant for exploring perceptual phenomena and pioneering the then-unconventional use of plastic, glass, resin and neon fluorescent lights in art. Partially influenced by the brilliant California landscape and its bright sun, ocean and surf culture, artists such as James Turrell, Robert Irwin and John McCracken developed a visual aesthetic that focused on perfectly polished surfaces and minimalist abstract forms. As one of the few women artists associated with the movement, Corse's contribution was not recognised until recently. While sharing with her contemporaries an understanding of perception as a subjective experience, she developed a distinctive practice that differs substantially from others of the movement in her deliberate inclusion of evidence of the artist's hand.
Throughout her career, Corse has experimented with embedding luminescence in her paintings, with a particular focus on white light. Beginning in 1966, Corse worked on a series of lightboxes that consist of Plexiglas lit by fluorescent and, later, argon-filled tubes. For another series titled 'Electric Light' (1968), she studied quantum physics and wireless cording to create light paintings suspended from the ceiling. It was also during this year that Corse discovered the possibility of mixing acrylic paint with the microspheres—glass reflector beads used to mark road dividers on the highway—that would become a hallmark of her work.
Having focused on all-white paintings in the 1960s, Corse began to introduce black in the following decade. Black Light Painting (1975), for instance, depicts a composition of white and black quadrangles. By painting the black sections in acrylic paint mixed with minuscule acrylic squares and microspheres, Corse transformed the colour black—commonly thought of as the absence of light—into a luminous shade.
Corse's evolving experimentation with light is grounded in her belief in the range of possibilities available to a single colour depending on light and perspective. From one angle, her acrylic paintings may appear to have an uninterrupted surface of monochromatic grids; from another angle, however, the varied texture of the brushstrokes and microspheres become visible, altering the impression of the same work. This optical illusion was extended with Corse's use of the 'inner band'—a composition of alternating columns of white and shades of grey—from 1996 onwards, in which vertical stripes appear and disappear as the viewer changes position.
Corse graduated with a BFA from the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts), Los Angeles, in 1963 and received her MFA from the same school in 1968. Her recent solo and group exhibitions in selected institutions include Lisson Gallery, London (2018); Seattle Art Museum (2015); University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor (2014); J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2011); Gropius Bau, Berlin (2011); and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (2011). In 2018 the Whitney Museum of American Art organised A Survey in Light, Corse's first solo museum survey. The artist lives and works in Los Angeles.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2018