Linus Pauling’s many passions inspire artwork in new center

This light painting by artist Stephen Knapp is one of four being installed in the new Linus Pauling Institute building on the Oregon State University campus. Date: Aug 26, 2011 (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Outside the site of the new Linus Pauling Science Center, the blare of machinery is as overwhelming as the rising dust and 90-degree heat, while workers in hard hats and bright orange vests scramble past stacks of boards. Inside, the building is dark and cool, with clean white walls and freshly laid floors, but the sight of scaffolding reminds visitors that work is most definitely in progress.

And so do a few spots of color that are now appearing on the walls of the brand new center, including pieces by commissioned artists who spent several days in late August installing their work. They include Chris Dean of Detroit, Stephen Knapp of Boston and Krysten Cunningham of Los Angeles.

The artists were selected by a committee with ties to the Linus Pauling Science Center, to ensure that the artwork going into the new building was a good fit for the project. The work takes both literal inspiration from Pauling’s work in chemistry and nutrition, and more symbolic inspiration based on both his genius and creativity and his passion for peace.

The work was purchased through the Oregon’s “Percent for Art” program, facilitated by the Oregon Arts Commission. The program requires that at least 1 percent of the direct construction funds of a new or remodeled state building with construction budget of $100,000 or more be set aside for the acquisition of art for the building.

A 3-D splash

Afternoon light was just hitting one of the two large pieces artist Chris Dean had installed on the west side of the building. Filled with imagery both organic and geometric, with vivid reds, bright magentas and cool blues, the extraordinary pieces, have a three-dimensional quality that makes them appear to pop from the wall. They are some of the largest fine-art lenticular paintings that have been done, Dean said.

Chris Dean was commissioned to create two lenticular paintings for the Linus Pauling Institute building on the Oregon State University campus. Date: Aug 26, 2011 (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Lenticular paintings use a stereoscopic process, similar to the slides in a View Master, which creates an optical overlay that feeds distinct information into the right and left eye, creating a 3-D like image. The effect is made by mounting a lenticular lens, often made of acrylic or similar material, over a polyester film. Different images are layered on top of each other, creating a feeling of depth and dimension.

“This opens a window into a space quite apart from the surrounding environment,” Dean said. “There is a sense that objects both recede into the wall and project out from it in a way that lets you look around and behind individual elements.”

Dean was inspired by Linus Pauling’s interest in molecular structures, using formations within the paintings to reflect that.

“Using imagery to portray the unseen complexity of the invisible atomic world in a living and organic way was a key concern,” he said. In one piece, a lantern-like paper ball floats, based on one of Pauling’s molecular models. But the paper ball is also the unfolded version of a Japanese origami swan, a peace symbol that pays tribute to Pauling’s peace activism.

Rainbow bright

Just up the stairs, a spectrum of light grabs the eye and draws it upward. Standing in its polychromatic glow, Stephen Knapp examined the effect of the colors against the blank wall. Knapp, an artist from Boston, created four different “light paintings”, each with a different number of light sources, from five low watt lights to one where the sun is the only light source.

Artist Stephen Knapp created and installed four light paintings in the new Linus Pauling Institute building on the Oregon State University campus. Date: Aug 26, 2011 (photo: Theresa Hogue)

Knapp’s medium is filtered, prism-like glass he cuts and shapes himself.  The carefully placed pieces reflect different complementary colors depending on the direction of the light source. During bright days, the colors are diffuse, ephemeral. But when clouds obscure the sun, the light paintings blaze out in vivid patterns across the wall.

“Being open to possibilities is in the spirit of Linus Pauling,” Knapp said, which inspired his own work for the center.

A self-taught artist, Knapp prides himself on being “green” in his approach. He only uses 75-watt light bulbs to light his pieces, and works with the designers in the buildings where his installations are held to reduce the number of overhead and surrounding lights near his pieces.

Knapp wants his light paintings to inspire those who wander past.

“If this serves as just a brief respite from the lab, the computer, a microscope and all the other tools of science than it will have done its job,” he said.

Fabulous fiber

Krysten Cunningham’s organic, texture-heavy sculptures have been displayed in galleries around the world. The L.A.-based artist draws inspiration from science, industry and myth, making three-dimensional pieces from fiber and wood and metal armatures. Her inspiration ranges from Non-Euclidean geometry to the work of the Huichol Indians.

A sculpture by Cunningham (contributed photo)

One of her pieces will be on display in the Linus Pauling Science Center, drawing on Pauling’s love of form and structure, ever-present in his work.

“I am interested in linking technological objects such as antennas, radio towers and satellites to the language of tactile, ad-hoc, and handmade craft,” she said.

Citrus inspiration

In addition to the commissioned work, local artist Bill Shumway, owner of Pegasus Frame Studio and Gallery in Corvallis, will be donating work to the building, directly inspired by a nutrient that was near and dear to Pauling, Vitamin C. The title of the installation is “Resonance,” a concept Shumway says is at the heart of Linus Pauling’s research.

“For this installation, I’ve painted a set of five panels, featuring images which might be viewed through a telescope or a microscope,” Shumway said. “I used photo microscopic images of Vitamin C as a point of departure.”

This five-paneled series by Bill Shumway is part of the art collection at the new Linus Pauling Science Center. (contributed photo)

The Linus Pauling Science Center will hold its grand opening on Oct. 14 from 1 to 6 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

~ Theresa Hogue

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