I came across Bruce Munro’s work last week. His newest installation at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania caught my eye. I visited Longwood as I’ve mentioned before and I wanted to see what he did. I was knocked out! The images were mesmerizing. I tweeted him to tell him so and he tweeted back! I asked him for an interview and he agreed. His publicist Jenny facilitated the interview as Bruce was getting on a plane to England. It is rare for someone who is celebrated for his work as Bruce is to be so generous with his time. We are all lucky he was gracious enough to answer back.
As a kid were you interested in art? Were you encouraged to pursue it by parents, siblings, friends?
I loved it from a very early age. I can remember painting a picture of the sea and hoping that moving the paint around the paper in a similar way to water crashing on the rocks it would look like the sea. It did not but I recognised I had captured an essence of the sea. My parents really encouraged my art. They were very open minded and loved to see their kids happy and inspired.
When did the aspect of light and illumination as art come to you? What were your first attempts at “lighting as art” like?
Experimenting with Light formally started in Sydney when I was 24. My first conscious pieces were started at art school where I created irregular 2D window hangings from white layered paper. These were in part inspired by a Disney film The Castaways that I had seen as a child. A sequence in the film involved traveling through a glacier on an iceberg. I remember the beauty and colours of the ice.
How did art school shape your work? Did you have any teachers that helped you or inspired you. What other professional influences did you have.
My first art teacher (at eight) was a lady who wore no nickers . That inspired me! My next art teacher (sixteen) taught me to love drawing and keep skech books (that inspired me). At art school I learnt that I could not live happily without art (that inspired me) at twenty four in Sydney an advertising man called me a butterfly. That angered me but led to me focusing on light. (that inspired me).
How did you come to splitting your company into commercial lighting installations , lighting sculptures and lighting art?
I wanted to make art from the beginning but I realised I must wait until I found the truth of what I wanted to do. Meanwhile I set out to learn about light , and raise a family. At forty just after my father died I felt I had enough experience to give it a go. I also discovered that I wanted to express those fleeting precious moments of clarity where one becomes almost invisible from the ego.
What process or processes did you use to promote yourself? As an artist, commercial lighting firm and as a light sculptor?
Initially it was simply word of mouth. I have been lucky and had many lovely clients. Eventually I decided to look into PR because I live and work in the countryside. Fortune has favoured me again. I found a company who is as passionate as me in what they do. Claude Communications have been brilliant!
Do you create your own fixtures exclusively or do you mix them in with available components?
The sculptural components we make them from scratch . But I purchase off the shelf and specialist luminaries .
When you get a project what is your approach or process in coming up with the optimum design and usage?
It varies. Installations are often site specific so one is responding to the environment . I keep sketch books and have lists and doodles of things I must create so many of these are introduced into projects when I feel they are appropriate.
Can you tell me about Longwood and how that came about? Also some of the challenges in lighting such a spectacular area?
Longwood came about because they originally saw my work at The Eden Project, which was very well publicised by Claude Communications. Longwood invited me to see the gardens and I was gob-smacked by it on my first visit. It was a challenge but did not feel like that. I felt like I had won a Willy Wonka bar!
Do you test your design and fixtures before you install them or do you install then test?
When I was younger I was much more Cavalier… But these days we test thoroughly . But there are still a few surprises . Thank goodness “real life” is always different to theory.
What is your favorite installation or piece of art you’ve created?
They all remind me of special moments of my life so in that respect I do not have a favourite . I love the whole process from inspiration , idea, execution,and installation. By the end I am ready to move on. I often think I could have done things better . I see this more as a way to be rather than producing finite things.
Do you work in any other mediums to create art?
I love painting but am pretty bad at it. I am light based but I have many projects in other media that I want to bring to fruition ….if any of your readers are interested give me call!
Do you have any hobbies or interests away from lighting?
My family and friends. Not much time for anything else.
Advice to young emerging artists?