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Artist Stephen Knapp paints with light

His work is increasingly in demand, changing what people think public space is and can be.

for 051417knapp --- "First Symphony" --- Artist Stephen Knapp paints with light. The Princeton artist shapes and manipulates colored glass to form his signature artwork: starbursts of color that refract light day and night. ( CREDIT: Stephen Knapp )
Stephen Knapp

Stephen Knapp paints with light. The Princeton, Massachusetts, artist shapes and manipulates glass to form his signature work: multihued starbursts that refract light day and night. Yet Knapp’s medium, and his passion, isn’t so much the beautiful and fragile glass that he uses as the light that moves through it. He calls what he does “lightpainting.”

“There’s nothing else like it in the world,” Knapp, 69, says. “It’s not stained glass at all. My work is all about the light passing through it.”

His work is increasingly in demand, changing what people think public space is and can be. Recent commissions include artwork on the exterior of Tampa City Hall in Florida, an installation visible through the glass facade at Ball State University School of Music in Muncie, Indiana, and, closer to home, a large piece installed at the entrance to Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Gordon Library. Knapp says the ever-changing movement of color through the institute’s work, The Definition of Possible, will serve as a reminder to students, faculty, and visitors about the “importance of viewing the world from different perspectives.”

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Knapp, a Worcester native, works out of a studio surrounded by pasture about 40 miles west of Boston. The work can be painstaking, involving several assistants and long days working with halogen lights, dichroic (multicolored) glass, and custom-fabricated brackets, to produce an overall effect that Wired magazine UK recently described as “ethereal.”

“It’s like a portal,” Knapp says. “Light itself is spiritual.”

Megan Woolhouse is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.