“Haunt me in the dark as if to touch what you cannot feel,” these words softly glow through the dark of gallery room A100 in the University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center. The words were taken directly from a poem written by the displayed artist Nick McKnight, which he later sculpted into a beautiful display of light. Entitled “Ghost/Light,” the poem was written to examine how the loss of friends and family shapes us and what there is to be learned from such troubling moments in life. It was these words and this insightful theme that initiated the extensive process of turning his poem into a visual representation of light, through a process known as neon bending.
While McKnight originally attended school at the Maryland Institute College of Art, he transferred to the University of Rhode Island to pursue his passion. While attending school in Rhode Island, McKnight took printmaking classes, which has a very similar process to that of neon bending. His interest in the art of neon bending became greater when he began to experiment in glass casting with another local Rhode Island artist.
As McKnight describes, the process of bending glass tubes is very time consuming, and requires a great amount of skill and precision by the artist. It starts with a pattern that is printed from a program onto a piece of paper. The clear glass tube is then bent to the shape that was printed, which can often take multiple attempts. Once the design is created, the entire unit is heated up and evacuated of all air to avoid any inconsistencies with the lighting. In the case of McKnight’s work, the glass was filled with helium gas, creating its warm color.
Upon completion of the Ghost/Light project, McKnight logged 50 to 60 hours of hard work and dedication into achieving his goal. On top of the time spent creating the words, six more hours were spent setting up the work for display, which included wiring all of the electrodes on each set of words. More wiring and power was needed for this display due to the fact that helium was used, and helium requires more power to display it compared to other gasses.
McKnight is continuing to exercise his talent by working at Burke Enterprise; a sign company located in Connecticut. He maintains working on other projects in his free time. More of McKnight’s work will be on display during for entire month of January at the One Way Gallery, located on Boon Street in Narragansett. The theme for the display is sculptural text. You can view his Ghost/Light project in the Fine Arts Center, located in room A100.