Mary Corse. Searching for Truth

Clip from Andy Eason’s White Light video of Mary Corse in her studio, 1969. Copyright Mary Corse. Courtesy of the artist and Kayne Griffin Corcoran.

Mary Corse stripped painting bare. In pursuit of moving beyond representation toward a true—or non-subjective—reality, she stopped using color in her work and sanded surfaces to eliminate the traces of her gesture. When all else was removed, Corse was left with two elements: light and space. Using white light tubes with argon gas, she illuminated sheets of Plexiglas to create glowing, wireless planes of light.1 The artist took a physics class to learn how to build Tesla coils, which emitted a high frequency energy that passed through air—rather than through a wire—to light the gas tubes from a distance. This made it possible for her Plexiglas paintings to appear autonomous: “the object can be completely free from the external world, from any world but its own.”2 In her studies, Corse was introduced to quantum physics, which challenged her ideas of objectivity and eventually altered the way she looked at the world. The artist stopped searching for a pure, objective reality, instead understanding reality as only approachable through individual perception. After that, a formal subjectivity, evidenced by visible brushstrokes, returned to her work.3

  1. Robin Clark, Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface (Berkeley: University of California Press; and San Diego: Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 2011), 55. ↩︎

  2. Mary Corse, in Andy Eason’s White Light, filmed in 1969, video, 9:11 minutes, available at ↩︎

  3. Mary Corse, in “Mary Corse Oral History,” interview with Rani Singh, Getty Research Institute, filmed in 2011 at Corse’s studio in Topanga Canyon, California, video, 1:02:12 hours, available at ↩︎