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©Louis M. Brill 2014

Website by Dean Gustafson

Thomas Wilfred
Father of Lumia

Lumia is a many splendor light art medium that is focused in a multitude of entertainment forms from theater lighting to decorative light sculptures. Lumia, a form of textured light was discovered in the 1920s by a Danish artist, Thomas Wilfred (1889 - 1968), who is recognized as the father of the modern (20th century) light show. While there are many kinds of light art (neon, liquid light, LEDs and lasers), Lumia stands out as an illuminated art medium where its visual presence is often very compelling to its viewers, whom after watching it a while, are in an almost trance-like state. 'Wilfred described his Lumia compositions as "a visual experience of light with a wide range of intensity, color, and a broad spectrum of delicate forms which change(s) slowly with time."

As Wilfred's work with Lumia matured, he referred to it as the 8th major fine art form. Certainly it had a dramatic enough effect on various professional communities that it influenced a number of specific disciplines:
• it helped define the evolution of visual music.
• it contributed to the possibility of becoming a 'consciousness expanding' trigger .
• it prove useful as a visual stimulus tool for psychological therapies.
• it was absorbed into laser lightshows as another visual effect.
• it was used as a visual effect in several movies, including the recent Tree Of Life.
(Terry Malick - 2011)

Quite the reaction to a simple, animated illumination.

In perfecting Lumia as a visual medium. Wilfred's final technical results were represented by the Clavilux (Latin: light played by a key), a large transportable console instrument for projecting Lumia visuals that enabled Wilfred to tour through the United States and Europe (from the 1920s to the late 1930s) giving Lumia concerts to a curious public. In 1922, Kenneth MacGowan reviewed for The World newspaper, Wilfred's first public light art concert, "This is an art for itself, an art of pure color; it holds its audience in the rarest moments of silence that I have known in a playhouse." And 90 years later, Lumia presentations still have the same awe and wonder as audiences stare in rapt silence watching its cosmic visuals unwind in front of them.

Starting in 1931, he began to shift his emphasis with Lumia from concert recitals to museum and gallery exhibitions. In 1951, he was included in the Museum of Modern Art exhibition 15 Americans alongside Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. At this point in his career, Wilfred shifted to a painting based analogy for Lumia in an attempt to explain it to the broader public.

Thomas Wilfred

The New York Museum of Modern Art owns three Wilfred Lumia compositions, and many artists of the Psychedelic era were inspired to work with light after seeing the MoMA compositions. Because of his influence on this generation of artists, Wilfred's final work "Lucatta, Opus 162" was included in the "Summer of Love" exhibition, which was hosted by the Whitney Museum in the spring of 2007.

Lumia in its visual form appears as a landscape of things known and unknown. In viewing a continuously animated Lumia display, it stirs the imagination as its observers find themselves conjuring up a medley of images that is transformative of evocative shapes such as people in various costumes, of faces that morph to and from, and as other worldly landscapes of strange dimensional gateways that one can look at, but only visit through their mind's eye.

Thomas Wilfred bio reference:


The manipulation of light to create Wilfred's various Lumia effects was sheer genius. One could only wonder at what the original visions Wilfred had, to inspire him to create the machines that birthed what he called : "the 8th form of fine art."


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