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Pioneering Light Artist Paolo Scirpa's Infinite Neon Loops Continue To Enchant

The 79 year old Italian artist describes his life long fascination with the illuminated.

Well. Expansion and translation,1979. Detail. Wood, steel, intermittent neon light, mirrors, 40x50x50 cm. Fabbriche Chiaramontane, Agrigento.

Paolo Scirpa is concerned with light. The ideal light. Light that may in fact only exist in theory. And much like the concept of infinity, light in its purist form is quite literally impossible to imagine. However heavy this realization may be, it hasn't stopped the 79 year old Italian artist from creating suggested representations of such for more decades than most of us have been alive.


From adolescence through his formal academic years and beyond, Scirpa has always been interested in the intersection of light and color, creating work that spanned Expressionist, Nouveau Réalisme, and Pop Art movements. However as the 1980's approached ideas evolved and times changed, pushing Scirpa's artistic area of interest to make the leap from two to three dimensions—a transition that lead to his Ludoscopes, an area in which he still works today.

Ludoscope-cross. Madonna Divin Pianto Church. Altar. Cernusco S.N. (Milan), 2007.

Expansion, 1978. Wood+intermittent neon light+mirrors, 50x50x12 cm + base. Private collection, Milan.

Multispatial cube. Expansion+translation, 1983. Detail. Wood, steel, neon light, mirrors, 40x40x40 cm. Museum Ritter, Waldenbuch.

Employing the geometry of three fundamental shapes (the equilateral triangle, square, and circle) as a platform to jump from, Scirpa uses neon and mirrors to approach objective space and the theoretical realm of infinity. While modest in material, even the most basic of said sculptures creates a complex simulated space that holds a power to inspire imagination and invoke a sense of curiosity that's as relevant today as ever before.

We recently caught up with the pioneering artist to learn more about his approach to art, Ludoscopes and opinions on fellow contemporary artists.

Connected approaches, 1987. Wood, neon light,mirror, each unit 40x120x120 cm. 


The Creators Project: What is your fascination with light?
Paolo Scirpa: Infinity in simulated space is an idea that has fueled my thoughts and my interior dimension for a long time. The multiplication of light sources by mirrors—which unfortunately can only reflect the original shapes a limited number of times before the physical light is lost in an inevitably dark background—is simply the limited depiction (limited because it is human) of an infinity that you can only simulate and suggest. I am particularly interested in the concept of light as an ideal. I have attempted to convey the idea of infinity using the technology of heated gas and mirrors.

Connected approaches, 1987. Wood, neon light, mirror, each unit 40x120x120 cm. Installation, 2011. Was there a single point of inspiration that led to the transition from two to three-dimensional work?
I was inspired by the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture by Boccioni, who had theorized the use of electric light in works of art; and by Fontana and his Spatialism.

I also found affinities with experimental Optical Art, focusing on fundamental sculptural values and on questions of perception. My work moves towards a dimension in which color is no longer painted, and volumes are no longer sculpted: a dimension in which the primary values of light and space play the leading role, at once immaterial and spectacular.

Ludoscope. Well-expansion, 1979. Detail. Wood,neon light, mirror, 67x84x84cm. Museo del Novecento collection, Milan, 2012. Your Ludoscopes physically represent the idea of infinity. Why was attempting to depict "infinity" so alluring? Was it the philosophical realization that it is in fact impossible to imagine?
Yes, my deep virtual spaces have their own fascination and attraction. In an age in which mass media occupy all space with pastimes that are often banal, I felt the need to create something that could evoke curiosity, inducing the observer to reflect on what they are seeing. My intention is to present the transcendental problem of "light," of which real light is nothing but a reflection.


Ludoscopes. Curved connected expansion, 1985. Wood, neon light, mirror, 70x70x25 cm and 42x70x70 cm. San Fedele Gallery, Milan, 1996.

The neon light demands attention, holding a certain pull that's very difficult to pull yourself away from. Do you aim to achieve this visual and mental magnetism with all your work?
Without doubt, in my Ludoscopes, the light and the mirrors pull you in, generating a moment of fixation, almost hypnosis, in pursuit of an image. Observation can be brief, but the sense of infinity creates a profound impression on the mind. My works communicate a sense of happiness: observers like coming up close to them or walking on top of them. I have always been struck by children, who, with their spontaneity, are particularly attracted and spend a long time watching the pieces with playful curiosity.

Why neon?
I chose neon as the medium and the message, initially using it in the fundamental colors, also attributing a color to every form, according to Kandinsky's mystic-perceptional ideas.

Well. Expansion and cylindrical translation, 1981. Wood, steel, intermittent neon light, mirrors, 40x70.5x70.5 cm.

Having worked with a wide range of materials across many mediums, do you come up with the idea first and then decide on the appropriate materials to execute the idea, or does the medium inspire the idea?
Usually I choose a medium that expresses the idea, but sometimes the medium that I am using leads to the discovery of new possibilities, and so a new medium provokes new ideas.


Well-curved expansion and translation, 1985-2008. Wood, neon light, mirrors, 44x107x107 cm.

Do you consider your work interactive?
Without doubt, my work induces observers to play an active role when faced with unusual situations, and to reflect on what they are seeing, from artistic, social, ethical and aesthetic points of view. With my geometrical neon structures, I think that I have opened a path leading to the perception of visions, virtual perspectives to infinity, that break through architectural barriers, walls and floor, creating scenes that on one hand my be unsettling, but that on the other suggest a sense of happiness and joy.

Do you pay attention to the work of your contemporaries? If so, is there anyone in particular you feel is doing great things at the moment?
Of course. I am interested in all forms of research, right up to the most unexpected forms of experimentation, even when they are extraneous to my own views. I filter every idea using critical awareness, and with the greatest respect for all that fascinates me. Recently I have found Anish Kapoor particularly innovative for the monumental, sculptural dimension of his work, and the mirror effects that interact with the observer, overturning the image.

Convergence-divergence, 1982. Detail. Wood, steel, neon light, mirrors, 50x70x70 cm. Valmore Studio d’Arte, Vicenza.

What do you think of the work of fellow master manipulator of light and architecture James Turrell?
James Turrell is without doubt one of the most important artists whose objective is to use new and advanced technological systems to create an active, imaginative and spectacular relationship with architectural and urban settings, in a remarkable environmental vision, reflecting the close connection between art and science.


Will you ever stop creating?
Even though I do not work physically on my pieces every day, from an intellectual point of view I am always in search of the emotional states that induce creativity and new cultural reflections.

Expansion, 1974. Wood, neon light, mirrors, 43x43x43 cm base.

Expansion, 1977. Wood+neon light+mirrors, 30x30x30 cm base.

Multispatial cube, 1987-2007. Wood, neon light, mirrors, 40x40x40 cm base.

Multispatial cube, 1987.2007. Wood, neon light, mirrors, 40x40x40 cm base.

Multispatial cube. Expansion and translation, 1989. Detail. Wood, steel, neon light, mirrors, 40x40x40 cm+base. VAF Stiftung MART, Trento and Rovereto.

Paolo Scirpa