Artist Clint Baclawski helps us see photographs in a different way
Clint Baclawski was out with his camera during a snowstorm last February, shooting the snow flying. Just as the storm ended, sunset bathed the fresh white in pink and gold. That’s the scene legions of snow shovelers photographed with their phones and posted to social media. Baclawski wanted something less picturesque.
Even so, his photograph “Squall” glows, thanks to Baclawski’s innovative installation. He slices photographs into sections and wraps each section around a tube filled with LED lights. He mounts the whole image, tube by tube, on reflective Plexiglas. His large-scale images shine like illuminated billboards cut into strips, and because those strips are cylindrical, the image changes as you walk past.
“Everybody wants to look at a light source,” says Baclawski. His solo show, “Clint Baclawski: Luminus” opens Friday at Adelson Galleries Boston and runs through Aug. 14. This is his first solo show in a commercial gallery. He’s a local artist on the rise — and for good reason. His work grows ever more ambitious, complicated, and sexy.
Last year, he filled a gallery at California Polytechnic State University with “Lush.” His expansive photo of a soccer field — all green grass and goal posts — was shot low to the ground. The shining image wrapped around the darkened square space in horizontal lighted tubes set on black Plexiglas, casting shimmering reflections on the linoleum floor.
“The way he makes photos is very sculptural,” says the university’s gallery specialist, Garet Zook, who organized the show. “He takes them off the wall, letting people see photographs in a whole new way.”
In “Luminus” the reference to billboards is intentional.
“It’s an image devoid of advertising, but displayed like a billboard, with the same aspect ratio,” says Baclawski. He majored in advertising photography as an undergrad at Rochester Institute of Technology, and learned how to lure a viewer.
Here’s another magnet: Several of his works have mirrored backdrops. One piece depicts the replica of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. Baclawski illuminates that image against mirrored gold.
“You have glamour and glitz,” he says, “but all you have is this humble Thoreau cabin.”
The mirrors prompt viewers to see themselves in the light of that dichotomy. Plus, they make the works more visually surprising.
“Mirroring is fun,” says Baclawski. “When you look at a piece up close, you don’t know what’s image and what’s mirror. It’s like it’s its own life form.”
In addition to photographs, “Luminus” features a freestanding two-way mirror, which may frame viewer and artwork in a world of reflection as others watch.
Baclawski, 35, has used light boxes to display his photos for years. As a graduate student at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, he set photos of public spaces in handcrafted light boxes. You wouldn’t have known it, but the photos were flipped — they were mirror images of his original prints.
“I’m an identical twin, so I’ve been playing with flipping and mirroring for a long time,” says the artist.
He grew up in the artsy town of Williamsport, Pa. His twin brother, Cory, didn’t become an artist — he’s a stay-at-home dad who teaches mountain biking and snowboarding. Baclawski is a dad, as well — he and his wife, Tasha, have a young son, Cohen.
The intersection of making art and parenting, he says, has its challenges. He crafts pieces fastidiously, inserting the LED-filled tubes into their photographic sleeves in a dust-free environment.
“I don’t like people touching my art,” Baclawski says. “But I now have a 2-year-old.”
Consequently, his art has gotten sturdier. The photos used to slide around the bulbs; he now anchors them in place.
But accidents spark innovation. Once, building a light box, Baclawski was busy wiring the light, when a photograph fell off his worktable and landed on the fluorescent bulbs intended for the box.
“I immediately wrapped it around the bulb,” he remembers. He hasn’t looked back.
The artist’s first installation after that, “Chromogenic” was mounted in the Hallway Gallery, in Jamaica Plain. It was a summer scene in radiant slivers; and in the narrow gallery space a viewer could get lost in the details, which had the quality of Impressionist brush strokes. Then he took it to MassArt. That’s when the whole image came into view.
“It was breathtaking to step back and see it from a distance,” says Baclawski.
The show at Adelson Galleries Boston is not an installation; it features 10 discrete pieces, some more than 7 feet tall. Thoreau’s modest cabin, jazzed up with gold reflection, is one of several photos of empty or deserted structures — as anti-advertising as you can get.
Then there’s “Squall,” a brisk, gritty blast of winter. It calls back to his first light-bulb- wrapped installation.
“ ‘Chromogenic’ was summer lush in a winter time frame,” Baclawski says. “This is a winter scene in a summer time.”
Or maybe it’s another kind of mirror.
CLINT BACLAWSKI: Luminus
At Adelson Galleries Boston, 520 Harrison Ave., June 3-Aug. 14. 617-832-0633, www.adelsongalleriesboston.com