The unique light art created by Bentley Meeker of New York City and coming to the Penticton Art Gallery. (Photo courtesy Arnold Brower - Western News)

From celebrity weddings to Burning Man: artist brings exhibition to South Okanagan

Bentley Meeker, international light artist, has been commissioned by Robert De Niro and Billy Joel

“Light like you’ve never seen it before.”

That’s how renowned New York City artist Bentley Meeker describes his new show, Immaculate Refraction, coming to the Penticton Art Gallery on March 30.

Including his 2017 participation in the group exhibit Grasslands in Penticton, his other credits span the gamut from the Whitney Museum of American Art to the National Arts Club. He was also commissioned by Michelle Obama to create a light sculpture for a state dinner at the White House.

READ ALSO: Everyone ‘BeeLong’s at new Penticton art gallery

His ethereal awakening or calling, as he described it, to the art of light was born from the company he started, which has done light designs for everything from private parties for actors including Robert De Niro to celebrity weddings for the likes of Billy Joel.

“The fascination with light came probably about 10 years in. One day I stopped looking at the lights and started looking at the light,” said Meeker in a telephone interview from his Harlem studio. “Some deeply personal stuff happened that really that focused me on the light itself. Rather than using lights to make money, it started becoming a fascinating spiritual quest and then the evolution of that became creating art.”

READ ALSO: Penticton Art Gallery explores life on the margins of society

Meeker’s first exposure to the world of light came at the age of 14, after getting kicked out of public school in Ontario and then a boarding school in New Hampshire.

“I went to live with my father in New York and my father was like ‘you’ve got to go to school’ and no school would accept me with my record so he said ‘you’ve got to get a job,’” he recalled. “Was I a bad kid? Now that I’ve got a 19-year-old son of my own, I don’t think I was a bad kid. I just think we know a lot more now then we did back then.”

That first job was as a photographer’s assistant for his dad’s neighbour, who lived in the apartment across the hall.

READ ALSO: Penticton gallery exploring the art of cannabis

“The photographer’s studio was on the 41st floor of a skyscraper in New York City and the elevators only went up to the 39th floor. They were loving me, I was 14 years old and I was ready to haul anything up two flights of stairs,” said Meeker.

Some years later he again found himself on the street and one day wandered into the theatre at Hunter College on Manhattan’s upper east side, where he began working with lights again.

“That turned into a freelance career that lasted five years and put me into one of the most famous nightclubs of all time, the Palladium here in New York,” said Meeker.

From there he didn’t look back, leading up to the personal events that turned his life in the direction of light art.

“I was really only able to act on it in a meaningful way in the 2010s,” he said. “In the commercial setting, there’s always an objective. You’re creating a message, you’re creating a spectacle for a movie premiere or an exciting environment for a wedding but things aren’t always as linear in life.

“In order to encompass what light can be, that was the purest form of expression.”

READ ALSO: Penticton Art Gallery

On his first visit to Penticton, Meeker fell in love with the people, the space and what the little art gallery had to offer.

“When I saw the work there I went ‘wow this is not a major metropolitan centre’ but Paul (curator Paul Crawford) is doing quality work up there. That was a big part of the reason I wanted to come back and do this show.

“I thought Paul’s curatorial taste was phenomenal and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.

“I see a lot of art, and a lot of art shows in New York, and that is quality beyond quality up there (Penticton). Enough to get me to fly everything across the country when I could really just send it up to Brooklyn or downtown New York.”

The Penticton show runs from March 30 to May 12. There will be an opening day reception from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Meeker will be giving an artist’s talk at 2 p.m.


 

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