Peter Freeman

Portrait of Peter FreemanFlag of Art by Peter FreemanElements by Peter Freeman
Reflexive by Peter Freeman
Glamrocks by Peter Freeman

Cornish-based artist Peter Freeman uses a variety of light sources and interactive technologies to transform buildings and public spaces into dramatic beacons of coloured light. And as well as being considerable technical achievements, his installations have a poetic sensibility to them as they are designed to produce an emotional response in the viewers. Freeman says, 'I take light sources which are fairly ubiquitous in the built environment like LEDs and try and use them to create a more sensual experience that has greater depth and heightened sense of colour.'


Your first degree was in fine art sculpture. Why did you decide to change direction and start working with light?

When I was making sculptures I started using light as a medium. Ultimately all visual art is about reflected light but I decided to make the objects more powerful by making them generate light as well as reflect it. I made constructions of light-emitting found objects like fluorescent lights I bought in junk shops or the army surplus store, and put them together to make abstract sculptures. It was the 70s and I was inspired by artists such as Keith Sonnier who used unconventional materials to make sculptures.

When did you decide to start working with neon?

After I finished my degree I went travelling and saw neon everywhere I went. I remember seeing a man in Turkey making mercury switches and I decided to learn about making neon lights - I think that's when I first became serious about my practice and I went and studied neon glass blowing for two years. And then I was really inspired by my visit to Las Vegas where I saw a city made out of light. Previously I had made objects out of light, but after that I realised that you could use light to illuminate whole buildings and completely transform them.

What attracts you to neon?

I love its range and depth of colours - you still can't beat them - and a lot of my work is about colour. I use it to create some type of emotional response from the viewer in an on-going exploration into how people respond to coloured light. I also love the fact that you can draw with neon. It's much more limited working with fixed unit light sources and what is beautiful about neon is that you can draw with light in a very graphic way. Starting with straight lengths of tube that are then bent to any shape and then filled with rare gasses to make different colours - it's possible to do anything you want with them. If you can draw something on paper you can make it in neon.

Are you interested in making functional lights?

Not if you mean by the word 'functional' technical lights. In fact I think lighting is too often dominated by technical considerations. But my lights are functional in the sense that they convey a certain kind of mood or emotion or atmosphere. I believe that humans require lighting to create an emotional landscape - think of the sensation of entering a cathedral - or to enrich an environment in the same way an elaborate rug enriches a room.

Which part of your working process do you enjoy the most?

I see myself as a maker of things. I can do so much on the computer but actually I work best when physically handling materials. For example, I like having a series of LEDs in my workshop and playing around with them as it helps generate ideas. My approach is very hands-on. I put all my installations together myself - I build them and put them all in position so I am absolutely in control of all of the work.

Your practice at first sight seems to be very design-orientated but the actual craft of making seems to be the aspect you are most interested in. How do you position yourself professionally?

Over the last few years my work has involved making big light sculptures and installations for public art commissions. These are an interesting mix of art, craft, design and architecture. But I'm surprised how comfortable I am in the craft domain - handling materials is a very craft thing and I was very craft-orientated when I worked in the neon workshop. I have recently completed an interactive light installation for the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham so have been thinking about the crafts quite a lot and it seems like a return to somewhere where I feel quite at home. It's made me realise that in sensibility my work is much closer to a crafts practice than other art and design activities, as my work is about creating poetry from materials. In the end, understanding the physicality of the way things are made is critical to how I work.

Your installations involve large-scale, dramatic lighting schemes, do you ever worry about green issues such as unnecessary energy consumption?

Yes of course, I think it's deeply worrying. My recent installations are made with LEDs which use much less energy than conventional lighting - in fact the Crafts Study Centre installation only uses about 300 watts of power - but the charge of waste of energy is one I can't duck. I do think the debate about reducing energy consumption is really important and I think about it a lot although I don't have any answers. But I don't think the answer is to switch everything off, humans need lighting, so the question is how do we use it sensibly and create a balance.