Wall poster.JPG

Lumia, the light of magic and mystery has emerged at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) with an exhibition titled LUMIA: Thomas Wilfred and The Art of Light (October 6th – January 7, 2018) which was originally organized by the Yale University Art Gallery. It was first exhibited at Yale University and then moved to Washington D. C. for presentation at SAAM. The show presents Lumia as an art form with a representational collection of fifteen Lumia compositions designed and built by Wilfred between the 1920s – 1960s. Overall the exhibition is comprised of several self-contained Clavilux Jr. cabinets, one table top unit that projects a Lumia composition on the ceiling, and several large self-contained rear projected art gallery wall displays.

Wilfred’s light sculptures were an effort to transcend his Lumia imagery into a spiritual experience with Lumia acting as a meditative trigger to viewer appreciation.

DSC01167                                                photo by Tim Thompson

The Lumia art works presented at the museum were each distinguished as a unique animated light composition, each an original play of light and color with its own chromatic narrative. Wilfred’s description of Lumia was, “a drama of moving form and color unfolding in a dark space.”

a Wilfred table-top ceiling composition, bound for someone’s living room.

IMG_1918TIM.JPG  photo by Tim Thompson

The Lumia collection is presented through several museum galleries, all appropriately dimmed, and each with seating to allow extended viewing of any of the Lumia displays. Each Lumia presentation is timed to last from hours to days, allowing viewers to contemplate each artwork without it repeating itself during their viewing. Varying Lumia images displayed a full range of visual expressions from amorphous to abstract. In most cases the colors were muted as pastels, with occasional bursts of rich vibrant color shifts.

Lumia has always been hard to pin down as a light art form as Wilfred tried to find its place within fine art, culture and home decor.

– As Wilfred refined his Lumia process, he positioned it as the 8th fine art, the art   world didn’t buy into that idea, but Wilfred persevered and continued to create varying expressive Lumia displays.

–  Since the 1920s when Wilfred first reveled Lumia, to the world it continued to   beguile viewers with visually captivating vistas of slowly transforming and evolving light forms. Kenneth MacGowan, in a 1922 review for the New York City Globe noted that “Lumia is an art for itself and holds its audience in the rarest moments of silence that I have ever known in a playhouse.” Not surprisingly the same audience awe holds true even today.

– Many Lumia viewers liken Lumia presentations to a form of psychic relaxation, more like ‘mood lighting.’ Of the viewers who noted this, many also said they’d love to incorporate a Lumia display within their home.

– With Lumia’s undulating compositions it encourages some viewers that Lumia should be combined with an appropriate musical narrative in syncopation to the Lumia motion, visual music as it were. Surprisingly Wilfred did not support that idea. “Lumia is best appreciated in silence. Its beauty,” he wrote, “is best enjoyed through the eyes alone.”

– Wilfred’s efforts with Lumia as a visual experience was to transcend a conventional viewing of his various Lumia displays into a spiritual experience with Lumia acting as a meditative trigger to viewer appreciation. Many viewers have likened it to a universal “religious experience.”

Wilfred’s description of Lumia was, “a drama of moving form and color unfolding in a dark space.” In composition, the Lumias illustrated a full range of visual expressions from amorphous to abstract.

DSC01170.JPG    DSC01232.JPG                                                          photos by Louis M. Brill

Yale curator, Keely Orgeman has produced a more than excellent effort in piecing together a full representation of Wilfred’s professional career in regard to his Lumia creations, and as well creating the show catalog about Wilfred’s explorations with light as an art form. This show is an excellent revival of Wilfred’s exploration of the art of Lumia. For those able to make the trip to Washington D. C. and SAAM, they will be more than pleased by the exhibition and presence of Lumia’s magical movements.

For Further Information

Lumia Exhibit press release:

Lumia Exhibit catalog:

Lumia in action





Lumia motion is a visual poetry combining music & Lumia

into a singular entertainment of animated delight

that becomes “music to the eyes.”:

for your consideration

click here

Lumia: Louis M. Brill // music: Douglas McKechnie







The solar eclipse of 2017 was a sharp reminder of how much cosmology influences our lives, and within these dynamic forces, how much the natural illumination of light is so much apart of our everyday life, but also of great fascination with all the varying forms it takes. Our sun’s light is very transformative, depending on the surrounding atmospheric or cosmic influences that affects its illumination.

We see that light in many splendid forms as it washes over us every day. There is the golden glow of dawn, the chromatic bursts of rainbows after a thunderstorm, the rare flash of green light during sunset, the swirling luminous clouds of light curtains we call the aurora borealis and the occasional solar eclipses that inevitably emerges when the moon passes by and blocks the sun’s light; creating an unforgettable moment of subtracted light known as Totality. Knowing the upcoming solar eclipse would be viewable in Oregon, I decided to see it first hand.


With the good fortune of traveling north to a zone of Totality, I witnessed what had to be one of nature’s grand lightshows. Right on schedule the eclipse started at a little after 9:00 AM PST. At a stately pace the moon’s silhouette continued to expand across the sun’s glowing orb and ever so slowly the sun’s face was covered. Gradually as this choreographed movement floated across the sun, the ambient light of early morning began to dim and our surrounding area took on the tint of a late afternoon sky. As the light dimmed it got noticeably cooler. The moon’s silhouette was now at 90%, 95% 98%. As the silhouette inched forwards in those last few seconds my fellow viewers started counting down, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6….and suddenly TOTALITY.


Oh My God, it was literally the difference between night and day. It was as if someone turned off a light switch (which in a way was what happened). Suddenly the entire surrounding sky was in dusk as if the sun was setting with all the nearby low hanging clouds lit up with a golden glow. But no, the sun wasn’t setting, it was sitting up in the sky in all its magnificence perfectly showing off its edge-lit corona as portrayed by the moon coverage across its illuminated disk.


Beautiful and gorgeous hardly begins to describe the sun’s new look as it was crowned with a corona of solar flares that completely encircled it. The eclipse was clocked at two minutes and was some the wildest two minutes I ever encountered. Surrounded by an unnatural dusk with this glowing orb floating above everyone – it was a truly unworldly experience. Suddenly at the tick of the 120th second – Totality ended.


But wait – there’s more; as the moon drifted away from its complete coverage of the sun, a huge flare of solar light erupted from a corner of the sun, this being the “Wedding or Diamond Ring” effect. This is a by-product of a lunar illuminating phenomena known as Baily’s Beads lighting the moon’s surface profile. As the moon passes by the sun during a solar eclipse, its rugged mountainous (lunar limb) topography allows beads of sunlight to shine through in some places, and not in others. The diamond ring effect is seen when only one bead is left; a shining diamond set in a bright ring around its lunar silhouette. And at that moment, the moon drifted away from the center of the sun and Totality was over. The dusk ended, the day began to warm up and people started packing up. Although it was over, that moment of the solar-lunar convergence is still replayed in my mind, and gave me a new respect for seeing ‘awesome’ in all its splendor. As for my personal viewing of the solar eclipse of 2017, it a cherished memory for now and forever







Lumia and The Art of Visualizing Music

 Lumia and the Art of Visualizing Music  

Silence of the Lumia – To Be or Not To Be

WILFRED LUMIA :2.png                                                      Wilfred (Opus 161)

What does blue sound like? This is not trick question, but a contemplative introduction to an aspect of Lumia that exists in the realm of synesthesia, a psychological phenomena where two independent senses overlap to create unique converging sensory effects such as tasting color, hearing taste, smelling light or listening to music as a multi-colored experience. It is the last phenomena that is of interest as many Lumia artists have created animated Lumia compositions by incorporating music and ambient sound compositions presenting an evocative art form known as visual music. Within rock & roll performances visual music is already an item with its mostly frenetic-paced strobing lightshows. This discussion is more about the Lumia / music format defined by its stately, slow movements which is as much of an influence as is the music that cloaks the Lumia.

Lumia and Visualizing Music 

 Lumia is a form of light art that looks like textured smoke. It was invented in the 1920s by Danish artist Thomas Wilfred who developed the Clavilux, a light projector that presented Lumia performances in public recitals throughout the United States and Europe. Igor Stravinsky’s Fire Bird for the New York Philharmonic (in 1919) was Wilfred’s most widely known performance of this type. Wilfred’s continued Lumia compositions were also created for use in architecture and theater as scenic and visual accompaniment to storytelling.


Lumia projections are very special if presented in a very slow undulating movement as the light forms unfold, shape shifting from one sensuous image to another. Seeing a Lumia is like seeing a Rorschach Test, famous for its ink blot splats that are interpreted by whatever you perceive the picture as. With Lumia, its “splats” are reflected light and once seen, its interpretations become a personal narrative of the viewers imagination.

Often to extend the visual presence of Lumia a musical track accompanies a Lumia animation which is no different that adding a musical score to a film. When music is played with a Lumia composition, it adds a narrative, emotional and dynamic presence to the abstract moving light as the mind attempts to synchronize the sound and visuals being presented.

     1TRANSCENDANCE.png                                                        photo by Louis M. Brill

Transcending Three-Dimensional Drama 

Within the context of this Lumia – Musical convergence as watched by its audience there is a transition where it appears the music is driving the Lumia imagery. Here the audience’s experience becomes transcendent of both the music and the visuals as they are blended into a singular experiential moment. It is as Wilfred noted, “the Lumia presentation becomes a three-dimensional drama unfolding in infinite space.” The drama of course is internalized by the viewer’s imagination as they hear the music, giving shape and purpose to what they see in their mind’s eye as a final contemplative narration. More interesting is when the music controls the color creating a more reactive Lumia presentation as a true example of visualizing music.


1877 – Bainbridge Bishop creates his first color organ  with lighting instruments attached to a pipe organ. In performance, the organ would project light onto a screen in accompaniment to the music.

The inclusion of music with color as an aesthetic collaboration has always been a consideration where color theorist, artists and philosophers have forever argued over this converging relationship. Color and music have always been thought of as a singular experience, from Aristotle who suggested a connection between sound and color to Newton’s considerations when he postulated that, “C being the lowest note in the octave should correspond with the lowest color in the spectrum. Modern times has given us computer programming where software and custom coding can control lighting effects accompanying a musical concert. Finally there is ‘gut instinct’ of the personal taste of the light show artist’s intuitive interpretations of the music with whatever color schemes feel ‘right’ to accompany the music.

Silence of the Lumia   

It should also be noted that while I am a firm believer in Lumia with a musical accompaniment, Wilfred’s view of that relationship was opposing as he stated, “Silence is one of Lumia’s most valuable characteristics and I am convinced that its most important compositions will always be played in silence.” It is here that I disagree with Wilfred’s preference in silent Lumia and lean towards its presentation as more of an audio-visual experience. In building a library of Lumia compositions there is definitely room for the occasional silent Lumia presentation, but as a child of the 1960s growing up with rock & roll, psycedelia and new age music, the combination of both Lumia and music makes for an entertainment that is more compelling and impactful than either experience (to me) played separately.

Defining a Lumia show is sometimes challenging in trying to box its presentation into a singular style or format. As a light form in motion, it tends to defy any single label. Some see it as a form of animated modernistic painting, others see it as a kinetic art sculpture and when sound-tracked, a form of visual music.

As Lumia shows multiply and mature as an art from, so are its merits in developing a specific grammatical lighting language. Here the imagery is punctuated by its shifting form and varied illumination levels, constantly morphing its shape as its colors fade and brighten from the music’s softness and crescendo. This is not a case of strobing disco lights, but an aesthetic opportunity of merging light and music in a synchronized form where it becomes an entertainment in its own right.

Why is this important? Public lightshows are returning to a new generation of audiences as a popular entertainment with a vast pallet of presentation forms including mixed media, projection mapping, lasers, and wet cells or liquid lights, all formulating variations of visual music, each with its own preferred music and sense of presence. Within this visual lightshow spectrum is Lumia – sometimes known as the meditative light of mystery. Showcasing its presence as a visual medium is much about its presentation format and finding its “voice” that does justice to its evocative nature. As Lumia becomes more visually prominent as an art form, silent or sound driven, its free flowing forms become a ballet of motion that becomes “music to the eyes.”


without sound:                                                                                                                                       (Wilfred’s Opus 140 – 1948)

with sound:


comments on this essay are welcome:

Louis M. Brill is a light artist and has been “dabbling” with Lumia as an art medium for the last several decades.

His Lumia work may be viewed as follows:

To review his blog:



Light is a very important part of our life – it’s the first thing we see when we wake up – it’s the last thing we see before we close our eyes to sleep. It illuminates our rooms and keeps the darkness at bay. It keeps us healthy as a vitamin D supplement. It’s part of our food security as a major component of photosynthesis that helps plants develop and grow. It’s part of our history, our culture and our entertainment.

PLANETARIUM.pngplanetarium show : the birth of a star through Lumia

As an interpretive form of decorative lighting Lumia has its own entertainment design niche within the lighting world. Lumia’s emergence began when it’s discoverer, Thomas Wilfred displayed Lumia recitals during the 1920s in town halls and in auditoriums – just about anywhere throughout the United States and Europe where he was able to present a Lumia performance.

Lumia’s abstract visualizations have been used in planetariums shows to mimic certain natural phenomena such as the aurora borealis. In other instances Lumia’s unique look has been directed by Hollywood studios usually as a visual effect in certain science fiction films where some ethereal force becomes a plot point that Lumia can visually represent.

Beyond Hollywood, the museum and art gallery world beckon, where Lumia art shows have been presented at New York’s MOMA, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam, The Worchester Art Museum in Massachusetts and Washington’s Corcoran Gallery of Art.

GEORGE STADNIK.png                                                                      George Stadnik

Today we have new Lumia artists, new digital processes and new audiences with a world of differences in what they define and appreciate as Lumia art. For Lumia artists it’s an uphill fight of getting contemporary galleries to acknowledge Lumia as a recognized art medium to be shown and as an artwork that gallery visitors would want to own as a collectible.

Lumia has always been about the spectacle of sculptured light, it awed viewers when it was first discovered in the 1920s and today when presented in public still has the same fascination with audiences as it did ninety years ago.



Reflected Light As A Visual Poem

A Lumia is an image of reflected light that resembles textured smoke and creates random, ethereal looking images, sometimes abstract and sometimes anthropomorphic with a blatant resemblance to its real world counterpart. A good caption or title can fire the imagination of the Lumia viewer connecting the viewer to the image.

Souls Ascending HeavenSOULS.png                                                 photo by Louis M. Brill

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and a good Lumia picture just might take that many words to describe. However there is yet another path to explain what you see in Lumia gazing. In creating my Lumia photography it is a convergence of photographing the image, and inserting a caption to give the viewer a frame of reference as to what the image represents. The caption is tricky as it is a summary to hint at the Lumia picture’s visual connatation. Such as it is, I see my Lumia images as a stylized Haiku expressed as visual poetry.

Haiku, is a form of Japanese poetry using sensory language to present a feeling or describe a place or a thing. In doing so, the haiku uses the fewest amount of words to capture a moment and create a picture in the reader’s mind.

I see Lumia as a form of a visual Haiku where the opposite is true and we have the picture and want the fewest words to describe it. Once titled and presented, the Lumia’s conatation after a bit of contemplation comes into focus. In other instances, people have their own interpretation, and title be damned.

Human / Horse ConvergenceFACES.jpg                                                                            photo by Louis M. Brill

Naming a Lumia image is a precarious balance between what you see and what you want it to be.

and for the record:

my Lumia Haiku:


The light magnificent fires the imagination with awe.

Watch it!


Although much of my work currently is about Lumia, I’ve always had a fascination with light as an artistic medium. Lumia is the result of light being reflected off of a shinning surface or refracted through glass. The end result is the same: a casting of light transformed by its passage against a reflective materials.

Why am I drawn to Lumia? Its resultant images are very sharp and evocative and easily impress the mind (mine at least) with their grand sweep of illuminated vistas. The Lumia scenes constantly change as any new movement against its reflective surface will conjure up a new image.

LUMIA SIDEWALK_DG copy.jpg                                                                                                                              photo by Dean Gustafson

For all my efforts in creating Lumia art sculptures, so does it happen naturally with a competitor to whom I defer to: Mother Nature. Often during a walk I find many natural examples of Lumia all generated by the sun. In a world filled with glass and shiny metal, a lot of sunny days go by where some form of Lumia reflection catches my eye. In passing I refer to them as ‘Sidewalk Lumia’ and find them just as fascinating as my specially prepared projected images.

1WATER LUMIA-:2 copy.jpg                                                                                                                                                               photo by Louis M. Brill

Light is a big part of Mother Nature’s repertoire, there are rainbows, dawn and dusk colored skies, sundogs, the aurora borealis and the Brocken Spectre (gotcha:, and now Lumia, be it reflected off of glass, water or ice, it’s another way of seeing the splendor of Lumia light in a natural setting. The best part: come a sunny day, you never know when a Lumia might appear, and when it does: instant art