• The Arts Society Penang
  • The Arts Society Penang

Let there be Light: The Art and Science of Light in Painting

Sunrise, Blue Rigi - Turner
Thursday 30 May 2019 at Green Mansion

4.6 Billion years ago, a star was born and our sun started to shine. Soon after this the Earth and our other planets were formed and light began its eight minute flight to Earth. This lecture looks at how science and art have moved forward together in the quest to understand light.

The representation of light has been a fundamental pursuit of Western art, in both its physical manifestation and as a symbol of the Divine. Painted light is used as a metaphor for a range of feelings, from El Greco’s light of spiritual ecstasy to the dangerous darkness of Caravaggio, from Turner’s sublime sunlight to Samuel Palmer’s melancholy moonlight.

Artists respond to different weather conditions such as Whistler’s greys in his foggy London “Nocturnes” and Alexandra Drysdale’s bright blues of Australia.

The “spotlight” theatricality of much old art contrasts with the bright white light of Impressionism.

Five thousand years ago, Stonehenge was built to worship the sun, but today the sun is worshipped in art galleries with artists like Olafur Eliasson and James Turrell making huge site-specific installations. Renaissance altarpieces have been replaced with coloured fluorescent tubes by Dan Flavin and video projections by Bill Viola.

So, let me enlighten you as to how artists represent temporal and spiritual light through the Ages.


ALEXANDRA DRYSDALE is an art historian and a professional artist specialising in painting, sculpture and performance. Her lectures combine art historical knowledge with personal expertise in aesthetics and artistic techniques. Art from all periods, including examples of her own work, is examined from an artist's point of view. This entails a perceptive analysis of a painting's structure, its meaning, and its relationship to the history of art. She puts a particular emphasis on studying the symbolic language of the imagination. BA (Hons) Fine Art from Chelsea School of Art and an MFA from Cambridge School of Art.

To find out more about Alexandra visit her webpage