GUN GORDILLO is the magician of neon. She has been creating works from this luminous material – which fascinates with its colourful yet immaterial nature – for nearly 50 years. Having seen the light, so to speak, on a trip to Cairo in 1974, she was enthralled by the electric aura of the city’s ubiquitous neon advertisements.
Gordillo has been making reliefs combining neon, metal and painted wood ever since, in a spirit that derives from geometric abstraction but does not exclude recourse to natural elements like wax, feathers or bamboo. In the 1980s, when her career was taking off between Denmark, her native Sweden and France (where she has been represented by Galerie Denise René since 1985), Gordillo’s approach to neon evolved towards a spare, minimalistic plastic vocabulary, both in her reliefs and in installations. These works, obtained in the context of major private and public commissions, were set both in nature and in relationship to architecture, and involved a poetic reflection on space and the environment.
The works assembled for Gun Gordillo’s solo show at 2112, her first with the Copenhagen gallery, offer a delightful overview of her talent and her ability to renew neon’s expressive potential. In reliefs like Nouyi, where light is fully integrated into the support, the forms painted with broad gestures on the surface create circular, halo-like rhythms, transforming the work into a luminescent, vibrating space. The neon light, gently filtered by the translucent surface masking it, is modulated in tones that reflect Gordillo’s attention to white – treated in warm, cold or bluish tones. These different radiating sources evoke, in turn, a hazy moon, a distant sun, moving shadows, shimmering surfaces or ethereal, gaseous elements that constitute sources of the artist’s inspiration
In reliefs like Circulos Bleu, the bare neon enlivens the work’s surface with slanting or swirling outlines that resemble the script of some unknown language. In recent works such as Luce e Ombra, Gordillo traces the neon’s outlines in pencil on a white surface; the sinuous, biomorphic outlines evoke nature and have an organic feel. Gordillo also likes to exploit neon in its simplest form, suspended mid-air to restore its expressive freedom. Works like Absence Présence, show how skilfully she exploits neon, handling it like malleable matter falling under its own weight.
Her neons, which seem drawn in empty space, have a subtle impact and never strive for effect. In fact, rather than showing her works spectacularly in the dark, Gordillo prefers them to be seen in daylight or half-light, so they can exploit variations in natural light and alter with each passing hour to create a pensive, cosmic or electric ambiance. She often has recourse to offbeat presentation – hanging her light sculptures from wall-bars or high up in corners, as if to take visitors by surprise.
Lately, Gordillo has enjoyed experimenting with new scenarios, combining neons with small, circular mirrors (in BLUE) and accompanying their curved outlines with smoothly articulated steel or copper wire. Gordillo’s skilled understanding of materials is no constraint, but accompanied by tremendous inventive freedom that means her plastic vocabulary is ceaselessly renewed.
Her works become a force field activated by the contrasting use of luminous and opaque materials, hard or soft surfaces, and straight lines or curves. Electric light encounters metal and mirror, while colour is suspended as if by levitation. Space is no longer implied, but revealed and captured: depending on the angle of view, the plays of luminous reflection offer viewers a multifaceted vision in which their own space and that of art blend into one another.
In her sensitive and phenomenological approach to light, Gun Gordillo creates a dialogue between constructed and immaterial space. Her works are no mere objects of contemplation but visual events, where the viewer is caught up in neon’s hypnotic embrace and drawn into a ‘total experience.’
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