Artist Creates "Magical Objects" with Fiber Optics

by Patricia Malarcher

The New York Tiimes


Clyde Lynds is an artist who combines the talents of a sculptor, a painter, an engineer and a magician. He casts monumental sculptures in stone; like slow silent fireworks, patterns drawn with points of light seem to move across their surfaces. Although the lights move as subtly as the hands of a clock, their mesmerizing quality compels the viewer to experience the work in time as well as space.

Mr: Lynds's studio, on a quiet, unpretentious street in this Bergen County borough, is filled with vertical forms reminiscent of steles at prehistoric sites. But their use of fiber optics technology, which transmits light much as wires conduct electricity, clearly places them on the cusp of the 21st century.

The artist recently completed a pair of columns that appeared to converse via signals of light in two distinct languages. On one, a fragment of a word glowed brightly, then faded as another segment of a text was illuminated elsewhere. On the second, in the same ephemeral way, bits of a visual code appeared and disappeared.

As the light patterns shifted, they changed in color from eerie blues and violets to warm tones of yellow. The patterns sometimes occurred as lines, sometimes as a rash of sparks. The sequence of changes recurred on a. cycle that took two days to run its course.

"The writing on the first is Latin: 'Omnia mutantur nos et mutamur in illus,''' Mr. Lynds said to a visitor. Appropriately, the quotation from Lothair I, a ninth-century Holy Roman Emperor, means "All things are changed and we change with them."

"The second piece is purely numbers, expressed in the binary language of computers on a mathematical grid," the artist said. A carved logo at the top of the first synthesizes the symbols of various religions; an abstract design is similarly placed on the other. Conceived as a single work, "Axiom and Apogee" represent opposite poles of Western culture.

"I'm calling on ghosts, resurrecting bones of other cultures to explore ideas of permanence and change, dissolution and reforming, as in nature - the cycles of life," Mr. Lynds said. Like a number of artists today, he acknowledges an interest in “spirituality,” but speaks the word cautiously.

Now installed about 30 feet apart in the lobby of a new office building across from the State House in Trenton, the paired columns break new ground for both the city and the artist. They constitute the first project to be completed under the city's recent ordinance requiring that a part of the construction cost of new buildings (those with 50,000 or more square feet of space) be spent on art.

Also, this is the first time Mr.Lynds has used a decipherable language in his work. Allhough readable text is not unusual in art now, he said it was a multipurpose building, rather than an art trend, that inspired him to use it.

"Commissions often expand possibilities by forcing you into areas of your work you wouldn't think of ordinarily," he said.

Since establishing his present style six years ago, Mr. Lynds has exhibited widely in the United States and as far away as Australia. His work has been purchased by such institutions as the National Museum of American Art in Washington and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. The New Jersey State Council on the Arts has awarded him two artist's fellowships, but until recently his major public commissions have been out-of-state projects.

A reviewer called Mr. Lynds's "Alabama Moon," a series of architectural arches, "the most ambitious site-oriented public sculpture in Birmingham.'" Now mounted on his studio wall, a 17-foot-wide full-size drawing shows an equally ambitious piece under construction in New Jersey, for a soldiers' home being built by the state in Vineland. Entitled "American Sunrise," the horizontal rectangle will serve as the lintel over Ihe entrance to Ihe building.

lts iconography represents a panoramic synthesis of Americana: there are fragmentary glimpses of stars and stripes, Works Progress Administration art, Native American petroglyphs, an eagle, Miss Liberty and "the sunrise symbol you see over many homes for older people," he said.

On a table in the center of the artist’s workspace, a wooden mold, one of three sections of “American Sunrise,” was being fitted with clusters of optical fibers glued to metal strips. Jennifer Lynds, 26, Mr. Lynds’s

daughter, who is one of his young assistants, had meticulously separated each strand, about as thick as a horsehair, from the 64 that come in a cable. Rather like a nervous system, the strands - ultimately this piece will use 27 miles of them - were systematically arranged, end by end, according to the diagram.

Eventually, black slag, a sort of cement, would be poured in the mold; when it dried, the design and relief on the surface would be carved with chisels, grinders and sandblasting tools.

If the optical fibers are the "nerves" of Mr. Lynds's works, their "brains" are hidden in the bases, where the passage of light is controlled by an elegantly logical mechanism. The loose interior tips of the strands, brought together through holes in a clear acrylic plate, face two thin concentric disks with bands of translucent colors.

A light bulb on the other side of the disk shines through them. As the circles rotate at different speeds, the light passes through them and hits the ends of the fibers, sending colors to the surface. Four such programs, with changing cycles measured not In days but in weeks, will be needed for the soldiers' home.

Like most other artists of his generation, Mr. Lynds studied painting in his youth. It was not the depiction of objects - "That seemed an artificial way of dealing with reality," he said - but light itself that always fascinated him.

"I grew up in North Bergen, on the Palisades, looking across at the lights in New York," he said. "At night the Meadowlands in back of us were full of lights, too."


When he began to paint, he said, he was attracted to art with luminosity, like Walter Murch's still-life paintings in which "everything was fused with a murky light."

Over the years, Mr. Lynds tried out various directions that included experiments with collage and found materials - for instance, a 1969 piece called "Leonardo's Flight" juxtaposed the wing of a blue jay with typewriter keys. Eventually, he said, "the tug of light" led him to his present format.

This allows his affinity to light to intersect with his interest in ancient monuments, religious symbolism and ritual. In addition, it supports his conviction that "change is as natural as breathing" as well as the notion that new materials can expand the world of art.

"Magic and ritual are what gives art its substance," he said. "To get this magic, we can't keep repeating the same things with painting and welded steel; we need to keep exploring materials." To take a substance as solid and immutable as stone and dematerialize it with Iight "is to create a magical object," he said.

When the steles were introduced at the O. K. Harris Gallery in New York in 1986, the show sold out the first day.

One thing that sets Mr. Lynds's work apart from much art rooted in technology is his insistence that "the ideas put forth be of sufficient sensitivity to overcome the awareness of materials."

"I like an art that is richly associative, beyond the motivations that originally inform it," he said.

Looking toward his next body of work, he is still assimilating the "welter of influences" from a month last year in Egypt, he said. "There was a  sense of history and layers of culture that I never saw anywhere else, the massiveness of construction, fragments of paint 3,000 years old that make you faint with realization,", he said. "It took a year to own the experience enough to resolve ways of using it."

Meanwhlle, Mr. Lynds is among six sculptors represented in a show thruugh Dec. 13 at 2 Gateway Center, across from Pennsylvania Station in Newark. The exhibition, organized by the Prudential Art Program, is open to the public from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Friday.

What does he hope viewers will discover in his work?

"I hope the work opens up questions about objects and materials," he said, "a sense of life reaffirming itself."