Anne Militello has always been a hard LD to pin down, as she moves from theatre to theme parks to architecture to concert tours, what have you. Her name is as likely to turn up on a new Sam Shepard drama as it is in a dazzling 42nd Street light display. Her resume just got a little bit larger in January, when her show, Anne Militello: Radiate (Not Fade Away) opened at Modern Culture at the Gershwin Hotel, a gallery located near Madison Square in New York. In the exhibit, using ETC Source Four units, and custom-designed gobos and gels, the LD created a series of colorful, shimmering images--theatrical lighting transmuted into objets d'art.
"It's always been a dream of mine to have a gallery show," says Militello; however, the designer, whose career often reads as a series of quirky tales, arrived at Modern Culture in typically unorthodox fashion. "I was the subject of a photograph in the gallery a year ago," she recalls. "They did a Punk retrospective and there I was, with my old boyfriend [punk rocker] Richard Hell. It's a famous photo from that time. I spoke to the gallery owner, talked about my work, and he gave me a show."
To create the images, Militello rented a warehouse in Los Angeles, where she lives. "I've had ideas for years, and I keep a running sketchbook of work that I might like to do some time," she says, adding that she chose to make this experiment with "the tool that was my staple for so long--the leko." Another Militello moment: "I rented the warehouse from a man named Michael Leko. I swear--I didn't know this, until I went to sign the rent check." She adds, laughing, "When I heard his name, I knew I was doing the right thing."
Anyway, the space was, she says, "actually a big Quonset hut with 20'-high (6m) walls. It was a huge, beautiful warehouse with roll-up doors that opened onto the Los Angeles River and the train tracks. Yes, it was Skid Row, but it was an inspiring and wonderful place to work." Working with the ETC units, plus other gear from Rosco, GAM Products, and Angstrom, she began to experiment with gels and gobos, "trying to do something simple, then stretching as far as I could. I had a lot to express with these fixtures and I haven't had the opportunity to do so."
Each image is composed using gels that are very precisely cut to combine colors and shapes. "It was like patching a quilt," Militello says. When working, "I kept the fixtures at head height, so I could get to them and make changes." Her working process, she says, "was intuitive--I knew when I needed to grab a sliver of blue, or a circle or a rectangle." She created 40 images, then selected her favorites for the exhibit.
Indeed, the results could hardly be more personal, as the designer used her own medical imagery--including slides of her own heart and germs from a bout of pneumonia--in creating some of the light paintings. Militello is an instructor at the Mind Studio, which is jointly run in Pasadena by Art Center College of Design and California Institute of Technology. "It focuses on the workings of the brain and the creative process. Subconciously, I think, a lot of this exhibit is the result of working and thinking about the brain. I emailed them to John Almond [a scientist with the project] and he would say, 'You made a brain cell.' It was like I was visualizing my molecular anatomy."
The designer says the experience provided her a real jolt of creative energy: "Every time I tried an idea, another one would open up. It was almost infinite. The most challenging thing was when to stop. If I didn't have a deadline for a show, I'd still be in there." As always, she's juggling projects, long-term and small, including an involvement in developing the master plan for exterior lighting at the planned renovation of Lincoln Center. But sooner or later, she's likely to reach inside herself to find another galaxy her own her personal supernovas, full of color, light, and movement.