Artist David Hockney is well known for his trademark use of vivid color in painted canvases and photo collages. Recently he received an added visual assist for an artwork illuminated with automated luminaires.

To create David Hockney's Snails Space: Painting as Performance 1995/1996, which was on display at the National Gallery of American Art in Washington, DC, last fall, the artist painted boldly colored geometric forms including cones, tubes, and swirls which appeared to change and move when lit by six Vari*Lite(R) VL5(TM) automated wash luminaires. Under Hockney's direction, the luminaires were programmed to slowly move across the installation to change the color and mood. A typical program segment lit Snails Space entirely in a monochromatic blue or red, followed by a slow transformation into a kaleidoscope of different colors. According to one Washington art critic, the change of color seemed to represent the "surreal sunrise and sunset as seen from Mulholland Drive," while the "jigsaw-puzzle landscape evoked the Hollywood Hills of Hockney's California home."

The automated lighting sequence was developed at Hockney's studio during the latter stages of the project design last summer. "Hockney would paint and play with colors from VL5s at the same time he was painting the forms," according to Vari*Lite programmer Patrick Schulze. The result of their collaboration was a nine-minute loop of varying color and intensity that made the pigments recede or pop out. "The work almost started to breathe as certain shapes would evolve and others would disappear. As we were programming the sequence, it started to take on a musical quality with swells and diminishes, as though somewhere in your mind there was music playing as you look at the piece."

In the Washington installation, "one thing that helped the viewer feel the musicality was the way one's focus was drawn to the piece itself," Schulze says. "It was set in a room where a false proscenium had been built. The surrounding walls and floors were black. It was as though you were looking at a stage, thus the subtitle Painting as Performance."

Working with Hockney to combine painting and illumination was a wonderful experience, Schulze says. "He shared with me a great knowledge of color theory, and how light plays off pigment. David is a kind and gentle man who made me feel included in the creative process."