Jenny Brown February 11, 2012
Unfulfilled designer Marc Pascal saw the light - then turned it into art.
It's the irresistible pun on Marc Pascal's profession but it happens to be true. One of Melbourne's most innovative lighting designers really did have a light-bulb moment that steered him down the creative pathway that has made his name locally and internationally as a maker of most interesting light fittings.
He'd trained early as a painter and realised that he was scraping more paint off the canvases than he was putting on them.
He undertook furniture making to discover that while he loved working in three dimensions, his chairs came out with differing dimensions and he had no real feel for ergonomics. Then he tried industrial design at RMIT ''and suddenly, I was a fish in water''.
But it was during his 10-year period ''of being lost in no-man's land'' that he had his literal light-bulb epiphany. ''I was lying in bed in my little room in a little house looking up at a bare bulb dangling from the ceiling.'' He decided to embellish it.
''I was thinking of [the Spanish painter] Joan Miro. I wrapped a bit of wire around the cord and put some coloured plastic on it. Then I added a feather and I had a sculptural light. Like a piece of minimalist art.''
The fantastically colourful and kinetic light fittings that Pascal now makes, sells through designer lighting shops and exhibits at furniture and design fairs in Tokyo, Milan, Bangkok, Singapore and Seoul look great in minimalist houses because they are anything but minimalist.
By day they stand or hang as explosions of coloured and form-cut polycarbonate plastic. Like mobiles, they waver gently in passing breezes because the plastic shapes are propped on the ends of delicate rods of stainless steel.
By night, the round or oval discs, or the organic abstractions of flowers and butterflies, dance and refract illuminated colours throughout otherwise vanilla-bland interiors.
Marc Pascal's light fittings are star turn installations that he hopes have a mostly ''sensual'' impact - ''sensuality informs all my work'' - and ''that are beautiful objects in themselves''. He is inspired by nature's forms and modelled one of his first pieces on the shape of a palm frond stem.
He's now exploring making a branching, bracket-type light based vaguely on the shape of a weedy sea-dragon. He plans to put LED lights into the ends of the branchlets; LED lights that can be white, ''as a practical, real light'', or that can change through various spectrums.
''Colours that will fade from one into another in different sequences … like seaweed. Like a vegetal growth …''
In his colourfully chaotic Thornbury studio, a sawtooth-roofed former factory space that he shares with seven other creatives with practices as diverse as electronics and jewellery, 52-year-old Pascal has been tweaking the prototype of this intriguing new design.
It can take up to a year to get the product ready for the market but he meanwhile enjoys ''the playfulness, the cheekiness and the challenge of changing a boring piece of plastic into something that has movement, light, colour and shape. Something unique. They have to evolve until they feel dynamic.''
Since he started in earnest as a lighting artist 15 years ago Pascal's most popular designs have been the most colourful pieces.
That probably stands to reason because even as a young painter he says he would find himself standing in art supply shops, ''salivating at all the colours''.
''I love colour.'' He sometimes dreams in colour. He loves working in collaboration with clients to ''create communities of colour'' that are based on their palettes of preference. He loves pink.
''I love certain blues and greens. I do like yellow, but … I like earth colours. I like all colours because they are all in it together … and anyway, colour just makes you feel so good.''
Having said that, however, for himself Pascal prefers the lower-key lights he makes in opaque white polycarbonate. ''Every now and then we do one in white, or in a muted colour range, and they look so sophisticated because they are so muted.''
His imagination was pushed recently by Perth clients who requested an extra embellishment to one of his most popular designs. In a room they'd papered with rich, red flock wallpaper he was asked to coat the petals of his already elaborate ''Orchid'' installation with gold leaf.
It turned out to be another light-bulb moment; ''The orchids were so delicate but they became so very opulent.''