Steven Gray - Kaleidoscopes
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While conducting experiments which ultimately led to the discovery of polarized light, Scottish physicist Sir David Brewster documented seeing reflections that he found to be appealing. After completing his experiments, and winning the Copley Medal, Brewster began to explore the patterns he had seen. These explorations led to the patent on the kaleidoscope in 1817. Kaleidoscope was derived from Greek words meaning beautiful + forms + to see.
After obtaining his patent for the magical little object, Brewster spent two years researching the optical possibilities of mirror-systems and the resulting images. He published his findings in the Treatise on the Kaleidoscope in 1819. In it he details the mathematical formulations for every possible known mirror alignment he could conceive. Two- and three-mirror configurations predominate the Treatise. Generally, all the math is based on the geometry of a circle. Alignments from zero to ninety-degrees were explored.
From that first publication in 1819 until 1985 no kaleidoscope had been made that varied from the mathematics as outlined in the Treatise. This is important to consider because very few people actually took the time to read his book. So when the kaleidoscope renaissance began, everything was new. Everything Brewster concluded was being rediscovered by the contemporary kaleidoscope artisans.
Steven Gray studied fine art with an emphasis on photography. If you had told him while he was in school that he would become a wood worker, he would have scoffed at the idea. However, he was introduced to woodworking in an unexpected moment, and has been hooked ever since.
Early on, Gray focused on the techniques needed to create sensuous furniture. His keen eye for detail, Gray created wonderful, sophisticated tables and cabinets. A visual feast for the eyes, their smooth surface invited you to caress the surface and experience the wonderful tactile experience of the wood. A committed artist, this would drive Gray crazy. He did not want the oil from people’s hands affecting the wood. Finally, his friend suggested to him to make something designed specifically for people to touch. Hopefully, he would overcome his anxiety about people touching the work. What to make became the next problem. Another friend suggested a kaleidoscope. You have to pick it up to experience it. It seemed like a good fit. Who knew that a little compulsive behavior would lead to such extraordinary outcome...
The early work was optically simple. Two or three mirror systems housed in wonderful wooden tubes. The Carousel was one of the first limited editions Gray designed. A three-mirror equilateral system is capped with a fish-eye lens. The lens inverts and minimizes the objects being viewed. Angled toward the carousel table, beautiful patterns glide from one into the next. Simply set the carousel into motion with one gentle push, and it continues to spin until it eventually winds down. Notice that little touching is actually involved, and if used properly, you are only touching the bottom of the carousel base where no one would see anyway...
It was in 1985 that Steven Gray went outside the box. That year, Gray discovered the first non-traditional kaleidoscopic illusion, The Parasol. A non-traditional image is an illusion created through a mirror system that Brewster did not write about in his Treatise. From 1985 through 1993 Gray created 12 limited edition kaleidoscopes each with its own unique optical imagery. He is responsible for transforming the kaleidoscope into a pure form of complex optical imagery. Gray’s early works were primarily concerned with the exterior aesthetic appearance. He designed pieces that shouted "Hey, pick me up and look in me!" Through the years, he turned a sensuous, tactile experience into an absorbing visual thrill; a symphony of pattern, light and color all taking place within a three-dimensional form that itself is an illusion. His are the single most important contributions in the history of kaleidoscopes since Brewster. Gray opened the door for other artists to create unique optical imagery that continues to astound us all.
During those early years, Gray designed and produced a small number of limited edition "production pieces". These early works laid the foundation for his inventiveness. In these pieces, Gray focused on the traditional mirror systems of either two or three mirrors of equal width and length. By perfecting his skill and craftsmanship here, he was more free to experiment with mirrors later.
Essentially, when you peek into a kaleidoscope, you peer into one end of a mirror system through the length of the system and see what is on the other end reflected through the mirrors. Depending on the angle between the mirrors, the objects are reflected proportionately. In Espy from Within and Geoconcentrical Dreams, Gray shifts the viewer from the end of the mirror system to along the side of the system. By capping each side of the mirror system with an object chamber, literally a new perspective on the illusion is found.
In both limited edition kaleidoscopes, Gray has filled the object chamber with vibrant colored glass, dichroic glass, beads and flameworked pieces. Each one inspires awe at the mystery and the beauty of each piece. Both editions are made from American Black Walnut.
All images and information copyright © Scherer Gallery 2009