7 Questions for Anthony McCall on His New ‘Solid-Light’ Works and the Importance of Drawing in His Practice

The artist's first solo show in Los Angeles is currently on view at Sean Kelly.

Artist Anthony McCall. Photo: Darren O'Brien/Guzelian Picture.

Originally hailing from England, New York-based artist Anthony McCall (b. 1946) is best known for his “solid-light” installations, which synthesize elements of sculpture, drawing, and film.

His solid-light series began with Light Describing A Cone in 1973, wherein a projector was used to create a cone of light that visitors could move through. The work emerged from McCall’s performance work and experience in film, most notably with the avant-garde London group The Film-makers’ Co-operative. Following advancements in projection in the 1990s, McCall was able to create more complex light installations that involved multiple projectors and used more intricate shapes and forms of light.

Through August 25, 2023, Sean Kelly in Los Angeles is presenting an exhibition of McCall’s work, “New Solid Light Works and Early Drawings,” which is the artist’s first solo show in the city. The immersive exhibition features several of McCall’s signature light works, highlighting the evolution of his work with “solid light,” as well as a collection of photographs and preparatory drawings from across his career that illustrate the trajectory of his artistic practice.

We recently spoke with McCall to learn more about what goes into making a solid-light piece, and where he sees his practice taking him next.

Installation view of “Anthony McCall: New Solid Light Works and Early Drawings” (2023). Photo: Brica Wilcox. Courtesy of Sean Kelly, Los Angeles.

Your exhibition with Sean Kelly opened this month. What do you hope the viewing experience is like for visitors?

I hope that the viewing experience is absorbing enough that the viewer loses track of time.

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process making “solid-light” works? Where do you start, what is the most important tool in your studio?

Ideas for a work may start as an installation sketch, as a diagram, as a durational score, even a set of measurements. Some of these ideas develop as modifications of existing finished pieces, others appear quite unexpectedly out of the blue. Either way, the best ideas are the ones that take on a life of their own. The most important tool in the studio is pencil-and-paper: quick and to the point, or as slow and extended as is called for at the time.

Anthony McCall, Skylight (2020). Photo: Brica Wilcox. Courtesy of Sean Kelly, Los Angeles.

Included in the show is Skylight (2020), which is accompanied by a sound element by David Grubbs. What motivated this type of sensory addition? What went into the collaboration with Grubbs?

Sound has played a role in my work since the early 1970s, though over the past dozen years it has become more central. The turning point was probably in the mid-2000s when David Grubbs and I developed Leaving With Two-Minute Silence. In its final version, the important role the sound played was for it to fall silent at certain specific moments in its cycle. David and I have continued to work together. One of our most recent collaborations was Skylight, which brings together a vertically oriented conical form with the sounds of a distant thunderstorm.

Do you consider drawing as purely an extension of your solid-light work, or also an independent part of your practice?

At every stage of development, the solid-light works and my practices of drawing are mutually supportive. You can’t have one without the other. Even when a completed work is exhibited, a line-drawing will be central to the projected installation: the two-dimensional, projected white line is the origin of the three-dimensional form in space.

Anthony McCall, Four Projected Movements (1975). Courtesy of Sean Kelly, Los Angeles.

The advancement of technology, specifically the advent of digital projectors, profoundly affected the creation of the solid-light works. Have you encountered or do you foresee any newer yet technology that you might incorporate into your practice?

I suppose that I should be glancing over my shoulder from time to time at the way that large images can now be created either by using increasingly powerful lens-based projectors, or by wall-scale LED grids. But when it comes to technology in general, I remain both receptive and skeptical.

Where do you most commonly look for inspiration?

Surely one doesn’t have to look for inspiration! if inspiration is needed it will find you soon enough.

Can you tell us about what you are working on now? Are there any ideas you want to explore that you haven’t yet?

I am hovering in a couple of different directions: one incorporating sound, as discussed above, the other, complicating an installation by interrupting the beam with an angled mirror—for instance, the 2020 Split-Second Mirror (III) in the Sean Kelly show.

Installation view of “Anthony McCall: New Solid Light Works and Early Drawings” (2023). Photo: Brica WIlcox. Courtesy of Sean Kelly, Los Angeles.

Anthony McCall: New Solid Light Works and Early Drawings” is on view at Sean Kelly, Los Angeles, through August 25, 2023.


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