Bill Culbert: Making Light Work, by Ian Wedde (Auckland University Press, hardback, illustrated, 272 pp., $99.99.
Have lightbulb, will travel. Sculptor Bill Culbert embodies the expatriate artist condition. He left New Zealand in 1957 at the age of 21 to attend the Royal College of Art in London and has lived overseas ever since. However, after he first returned to these islands from Europe in 1978 to take up a short term artist-in-residency at the University of Canterbury, he has been to-ing and fro-ing between northern and southern hemispheres on a regular basis. And, as Ian Wedde tells us in Bill Culbert: Making Light Work, Culbert ‘travels light’ — often, apart from a carry-on bag, his sole piece of luggage is a hard-shell Samsonite suitcase ‘containing fluorescent tubes . . . or hard-to-find fixtures and bulbs.’ It’s a hold-all for odds and ends that might be useful for helping set up an artwork or an installation that involves lighting.
But there’s lighting and there’s lighting. Bill Culbert is a lighting specialist of another order. He uses light in all its manifestations — ‘light-marks in space, light-in-light, light in darkness, night light, daylight’ as a kind of substance, something to sculpt with, something to paint with. As Ian Wedde observes, light enables Culbert to ‘brush’ objects and atmospheres into a state of aesthetic clarity. The way this artist salvages ordinary light playing over ordinary things, and brings it to our attention; and his devotion to light’s radiance, its immanence, seems almost priestly, like that of some old-time Platonist philosopher who sought to show the world is really crystal, a sphere through which light shines.
DAVID EGGLETON is the editor of Landfall and Landfall Review Online.