Vicki DaSilva interview continued.
DaSilva: I love art but I had no art education in the home. I think my parents’ idea of a museum was Las Vegas, to be honest. So I wasn’t exposed to it at all. I remember always loving art, but it wasn’t until I got to middle school and my new best friend was an artist and had been going to classes at an independent art school for a long time, since she was probably nine or ten years old, and she was really good at painting. And I thought, wow, it’s like she’s a magician, like superpowers. I couldn’t even imagine how you would learn to do this when you are a kid; you almost have this idea that you’re born with this type of gift to draw.
We all kind of know now that you learn to draw the same way you learn to play sports or you learn to play the piano or an instrument. So I started to get into it in middle school and then the same in high school but I never had any plans to even go to college. And my high school art teacher said to me, “So where are you going to college?” It was about April at that point of my senior year and I said, “I’m not going to college.”
My parents really didn’t encourage it and talk to me. I didn’t visit anything. So I didn’t know much about it, I was kind of clueless. And so he said, “Do you want to go? Because I think you could do really well in art school.” And I said, “Oh really?” And he said, “Yeah, I would absolutely make a phone call for you. You have enough work here from the past few years that we can put a portfolio together.” And he made a phone call, he got me an interview at a State University about twenty minutes from Allentown, and I ended up going to art school there and then I just threw myself into it full force.
Carey: And what does that mean? You were doing photography, painting, or different mediums?
DaSilva: I enrolled as a fine arts student and when I took my first photography class, I started studying the history of photography and I was also fortunate to study with a professor named James Carroll. And he would bring major artists from New York City as visiting artists and they would have residencies for two or three days, as students or even members of the public, and you were invited to sign up for one hour blocks and talk to these people.
So this became an incredible thing, because if you look up the New Arts Program you’ll see the list of artists are significant. So I started to become aware of a lot of the major artists of the eighties, seventies and even sixties. We met every one from Lawrence Weiner, Richard Serra, and Joan Jonas, who I ended up doing my internship with. All of this was so incredibly huge and life changing for me because I grew up in a typical suburban neighborhood. This was all so mind blowing and I was so interested in it and I was determined to try and find something that I could do as an artist that would be as original as possible.
And so upon researching the history of photography, I started to become aware of images that were used in scientific studies from like the late 1800s that had used light as a way to study physiology. Etienne-Jules Marey was probably the first one to do a light photograph although his intention was to study the physiology of a human being by affixing incandescent lamps to the human body. To me it looked like art because it was very abstract and I said, Wow, that’s very cool that you could make a light painting. The history of light painting photography highlights these scientific studies because of the study of motion pictures and all that was happening, and so there was these artists along the way, most famously Man Ray, who had done his—what he called “space writing” with a pen light.
And then Gjon Mili, who had done a lot of light painting photography with a Life magazine photographer, and he had gone because someone asked him if he would draw with his lamp for his series for Life magazine back in—I think it was 1949. It was a very famous series, I’m sure you’ve seen it. So that’s a wow—everybody’s kind of seen that.
So I thought, wow that’s really cool and I want to try that. So I started goofing around with that, it was black and white and in kind of a more performative – type thing. So I was also learning about performance art. So would I set up these kind of stages either inside or outside and fooled around with a lamp and also make props and things like that and one thing led to another. The graffiti movement started going full speed ahead. One of my roommates was best friends with Keith Haring. He had grown up with Keith. Keith was visiting him all the time, Keith didn’t go to school in Kutztown but he grow up in Kutztown.
So there was these all different forces that were, that were flying about the street. The graffiti scene, the minimalism scene, the performance art scene and I was very fortunate to be involved in a little bit of everything whether as an spectator or as an intern or whatever. And so I thought, you know, it’ll be really cool to try and term what I was doing as light graffiti and so I started doing more and more of that until about 1986 when I started thinking about using larger lamps, fluorescent tube lamps so that I could do more installation based type work and cover larger areas and think of it more as sculpture.
In my mind, in the 80’s I thought, I was always worried that somebody was going to do what I was doing. You know as an artist you’re going to steal my idea, blah, blah blah, especially when you’re young. “Oh, I don’t have enough work so I got to keep this all in the down low, in secret.” But at the same time I thought everybody was going to be doing light graffiti, that didn’t happen until the digital revolution. And now everybody is doing light graffiti. Luckily, I got the url back in the beginning (http://lightgraffiti.com/) but I mean it’s extremely global and popular and there’s lots and lots and lots of light graffiti and light paintings photographers out there.
Now, using it as an art form is another calling, being able to think of our history and how you’re going to fit into that and if those are you’re kind of goals it becomes more than an ad campaign. So I try to think of it in those terms and push it in those terms as best I can as an artist. Sure, I like to make abstract images that are beautiful and allow me to be out in a landscape especially working with my husband who I’ve been collaborating with since I met him in 1996 in Paris. He’s an electrician, we work together.