Bruce Munro has always seen the light.
Every moment for the acclaimed British artist is an “In the beginning, when…” His medium is light through fiber optics, LEDs, digital projection and other illuminating components, often with basic objects such as disposable water bottles and CDs. His art is illumination and radiance, offering revelation and affirming the joy of living.
Munro’s Desert Radiance is being presented through early May 2016 in four Valley locations: the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) through April 24, the Scottsdale Waterfront on the Arizona Canal through March, the Lisa Sette Gallery in midtown Phoenix through January 2 and, in the largest series of displays, the Desert Botanical Garden (The Garden) at Papago Buttes, Phoenix, through May 8.
The Gleam Of The Garden
Bruce Munro: Sonoran Light at Desert Botanical Garden will include eight installations. Some are new works reflecting Munro’s interpretation of the flora and fauna in the Sonoran Desert while others are site-specific iterations of artworks he has exhibited elsewhere.
His works have been shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, England, where he first exhibited in 2012 and was subsequently offered a residency in 2013 through 2015; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City; Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England, and Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In addition to the four Valley locations showcasing Munro’s artwork, he also is currently exhibiting at the Islamic Arts Festival, Sharja Art Museum in the Emirates and Waddesdon Manor for the final year of his residency.
The Garden approached Munro about two years ago and invited him to visit the world-famous native-flora sanctuary. “After visiting gardens that were hosting a Munro exhibition, we believed that his installations would be extraordinary in our desert setting,” recalls Elaine McGinn, director of Planning and Exhibits. “His enthusiasm for working with us led to additional conversations about possibilities for what he could do with his art nestled among the cactus,” she adds, “and his proposal for our show was very exciting.”
For Chindi, in Navajo, “dust devil,” three prismatic spirals are suspended in the Sybil B. Harrington Succulent Gallery, and Saguaro celebrates the signature multi-armed cactus of the Sonoran Desert. Also displayed is Eden Blooms, inspired by exotic flora Munro saw in conservatories; Beacon, a dome structure that uses plastic bottles to diffuse light; and Fireflies, low sprays of fine points of light. For Temperate Zone, he was inspired by cooling pots created by the indigenous communities in Arizona centuries ago.
Based on his interest in synesthesia, in this case seeing sound in color, Munro will also construct 58 Water-Towers among the Garden’s saguaros. Based on Lyall Wilson’s fantasy novel, Gifts of Unknown Things, the installation uses plastic bottles filled with water to create columns.
In the largest of the works, Field of Light, 30,000-plus spheres delineate the landmark Buttes. This unique iteration is the first Munro has presented without stems. Instead, the thousands of spheres are on the ground amongst the cactus and succulents. This Garden installation required five weeks and about two months preparation before that. McGinn says, “There were 20 staff working on the installation: five from the Bruce Munro studio and the rest Desert Botanical Garden staff. We also worked with volunteers on different installations as we progressed toward opening.”
The inspiration for this spectacular setting came about 23 years ago when Munro was traveling the outback of Australia with Serena, his future wife. They stopped for the night at Uluru/Ayers Rock, the landmark island mountain sacred to the native people. “I remember the color of the soil, the red rock and the tangible sense of electricity in the air, the light changing,” he recalls. “In a kind of time lapse, I also remembered as a kid watching those school films about rainstorms and deserts. There was a sense of dormant life under the ground, like just before the rains, and, when it did, there was an explosion of life and we wanted to dance in the rain.” >>
My Life Like A River
Born in London, 1959, Munro has recorded ideas and images in sketchbooks for 30-plus years, documenting his responses to music, literature and science as well as specific landscapes including seas, forests, rivers and deserts.
His mature work is both experiential and recollective, recalling his countryman, the Romantic poet William Wordsworth. “Poetry,” he wrote in Lyrical Ballads, that great artistic manifesto of 1798, “is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” Substitute “My light-inspired work” for “Poetry” and that’s the artistry, the passion, the achievement of Bruce Munro.
He completed a Fine Arts degree in England in 1982. “I loved painting but I was terrible at it,” he says with a chuckle. His passion for light-based artistry began when working in design and lighting in Sydney and was inspired by Australia’s natural light and landscape. Returning to England in 1992, he settled in Wiltshire, raising four children. He did not pursue art for a while, but after his father’s death in 1999, he returned to it in order to deal with his grief and to reaffirm his passion.
For him, the effects of Sonoran Desert light are similar to those in Australia: “The desert inspires me,” he says. “My work, after all, celebrates the ephemeral nature of light and the magic we get from the exposure to it. I get impressions and snapshots and make little notes, almost like haiku, so the works are a conglomeration of experience. We all do that.”
Quartet Of Light
The Valley’s four-venue celebration is the first time Munro will offer multiple installations within a short drive of one another, providing Valleyites a unique experience perhaps never again repeated. This will also be the first show that he has produced in the western United States and the first he’s done in the desert.
SMoCA’s Bruce Munro: Ferryman’s Crossing describes one man’s spiritual journey, guided by an enlightened ferryman. Munro transcribed a passage from Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha into glowing dots and dashes of Morse-code. Rows of reflective compact discs are lit by pulsating spotlights, suggesting sunlight reflecting from a riverine surface. Reminiscent of CDSea (Wiltshire, England, 2010), the work is a metaphor for finding positive inspiration in life.
Bruce Munro at Lisa Sette Gallery is the first gallery showing of his pieces, including Ferryman’s Crossing II, a digital-light variation of Munro’s artwork at SMoCA. The show also includes Clouds, an homage to the famous Wordsworth poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” and Restless Fakir, an incandescent representation of a bed of nails.
And, on the Arizona Canal between the Soleri and Marshall Way bridges, Blooms comprises seven circular arrays, resembling blossoming water lily flowers, which are illuminated with LED lighting after dark.
“A constant theme of my work is to describe the contradictory ‘forever and always’ feeling of truth that we sometimes receive from ephemeral experience,” Munro says. “This can happen through music, sitting by the sea, being with the family. We all see with peripheral vision, but my art is about seeing deeper, remembering, expressing and sharing these moments of joy.”