Dennis French: Illuminants, 2015-17
Friday, June 2, 2017
Their function as indoor lighting notwithstanding, Dennis French’s Illuminants might best be described as sculptures incorporating light. A subtle seduction is at play as we take in the dynamic lines, atmospheric nuances, and impeccable craftsmanship that characterize this alluring series. The works included in the exhibition range in scale and mode of presentation. The futuristic Frustum, one of several works on pedestal, emits both blue and white light from its missile-like structure, while the tall floor-standing Beacon appears to be a cross between lighthouse and transmission tower. Flight is suspended from the ceiling, its side wings seeming to keep it aloft, and Cloudscape, a large asymmetrical work mounted to the wall, is screen-like in both the traditional and technological sense, besides being, as its title implies, a skyscape.
As a designer, French has a longstanding fascination with lighting which manifested in an earlier series of Illuminants from the late 1980s to early 1990s, constructed from fabricated bronze, corian, glass, cast concrete, steel, low-voltage incandescent lamps, and other materials. Writer Peter F. Spooner called these works “structured gestures that illuminate themselves—objects that produce, carry, and disperse their own light.” French’s desire to revisit his earlier exploration of light and formal structure was inspired in part by recent advances in cool running LED technology, particularly LED ribbons, whose relative weightlessness and even dispersion of light are reflected in the artist’s choice of lighter materials like poplar, bamboo, and painted MDF, plus the introduction of laminated shoji paper as diffusing “lens.”
Providing context for the evolution of this series, Moon Rise, a metal and glass Illuminant from 1989, will be on view in the concurrent Selections from the Permanent Collection exhibition.
Dennis French received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Arizona State University in 1977 and a Master of Fine Arts in jewelry design/metalsmithing from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1980. He joined the School of Art faculty at Illinois State University in 1983 as head of the Jewelry and Metals Design Program and taught there until 2009. French was inspired to work in furniture and home accessories after a trip to Europe in the 1990s. In 2003, he spent a spring sabbatical researching the Vienna Secession arts movement in Vienna, Austria; artist/architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, Scotland; and the Artists’ Colony at Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt, Germany. The website Design 1900 provides a compendium of his historical research.
French’s recent solo exhibitions include: Time & Light, Madden Art Center, Decatur, Illinois (2017); Biedermeier Redux, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois (2011); and With an Eye to the East, McLean County Arts Center, Bloomington, Illinois (2005). His work is represented in many private collections throughout the U.S. French lives and works in Bloomington, Illinois. Further information is available at The French Design website.