Lighting up at the art gallery

World-famous light artist Bentley Meeker is coming to the art gallery opening in Penticton

Bentley Meeker, New York-based lighting designer and artist has worked with lighting on events as high-profile as White House state dinners, Chelsea Clinton’s wedding and the famed festival in the Nevada desert, Burning Man.

Read more: Gallery exploring the art of cannabis

Meeker is coming to Penticton March 24 for the official opening of Grassland at the Penticton Art Gallery where his light-based art is on display.

Meeker was reached out to by Penticton Art Gallery curator Paul Crawford.

Born in the U.S., Meeker grew up in Guelph, Ont. for a time and confesses he’s held a love for Canada since.

“To get a call from a Canadian gallery to do a show so potentially controversial as this, to me, it didn’t matter whether it was Ottawa or Penticton,” Meeker said.

Watch: Grassland lights up the gallery

The installation at the Penticton Art Gallery, unofficially dubbed the “green room” at the opening celebration on March 17, was an effort to give the feeling of being high without being high, Meeker said. The abruptly pot leaf-laden room encompasses anyone who goes in with a green glow.

“You walk into this room, there’s an abrupt change of colour and everything is a little bit fuzzy, a little not fuzzy, it’s a little hazy, a little not hazy,” Meeker said.

Meeker wouldn’t necessarily call himself a pro-pot advocate, but he is a big believer in people’s right to do what they want to do.

“It’s like a religious belief or a creative freedom. If you want to get high, get high. You don’t see people doing these mad drugs and hurting or killing people,” Meeker said. “It’s not a menace to society.”

Meeker got his start in lighting when he dropped out of school and has been working in many variations since he was 14 years old.

Years ago he made the transition of lighting technician to artist.

Photos: Grassland opening at the Penticton Art Gallery

“I’m just really fascinated by light, it’s such an incredible thing to be playing with,” Meeker said.

He was provoked by a friend who told him every time you achieve a certain level of proficiency in a craft you start to look for a more spiritual context.

“I needed to take it out of the commercial lane and really start exploring it in a truly creative fashion,” Meeker said. “In a commercial context you have a lot of things you have to manage that aren’t necessarily creative contributions to the work.”

True creative expression can find its way through when taking away those commercial elements of his work, he said. Over time this led to Meeker aiming his spotlight toward conceptual art pieces.

Taking intermittent steps here and there, Meeker said he started taking his lighting seriously as an art when he lit the temple at Burning Man.

Lighting the temple in incandescent light, it was juxtaposed to everything else at the festival lit in LED lights. Through the experiment he was able to discover some interesting things about festival goers and their interaction with light.

“Between all of the LED and the incandescent light, it really gave us an opportunity to see how people react to full spectrum and monospectrum light,” Meeker said. “It was fascinating to watch all these people go to the temple. The Burning Man organization confirmed that more people went to that temple than any other temple previously in the history of the event.”

For Meeker, it proved his theory that people have a visceral attraction to spectrum and there is a spiritual context around that. He knew it was something he wanted to continue exploring.

“Then it was just, you know what, about face, let’s go do this,” Meeker said.

Grassland kicks off

With RCMP notifying Penticton dispensaries they will face arrest if they don’t cease operations, the timing of the Grassland opening has become even more appropriate.

“I couldn’t have asked for better timing because it makes the questions I was really hoping we would approach or broach over the next two months for this exhibition, it makes them even more pertinent more relevant I think as a public gallery and as artists,” Crawford said.

Patrick “Redbeard” Vrolyk, who’s glassware was on display for the opening party, is hosting three live shows at the gallery with some featuring live glass blowing starting with the first on March 25.

“It has been amazing. A lot of people showing up. It really reflects the interest in cannabis and the interest in cannabis art and the support that we have across the community. It’s really awesome. It’s really encouraging,” Vrolyk said.

He said it was rewarding to have his work displayed in a professional, public setting.

Workshops take place every Saturday at 1 p.m. during the exhibition. Documentaries and pop culture classics will be screened in the “lounge” at the gallery on Sundays as well. A schedule of events is available online at www.pentictonartgallery.com.

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