Among those leading artists creating light sculptures and installations today such as Dan Flavin, James Turrell and Keith Sonnier, the name Johanna Grawunder is on everyone's lips: the Milan- and- San Francisco-based artist, architect and interior designer who takes light in an entirely new direction.
Like her contemporaries Flavin and Sonnier, Grawunder deftly plays with a Day Glow palette but then blurs the boundaries of sculpture, design, installation art and architecture.
"Light is my medium of choice when it comes to drawing and creating shapes and volume," says Grawunder to sum up her distinctive aesthetic. Her 2013 Pink Void, a minimalist aluminum sculpture in red, cleverly conceals LEDs that give off a surreal glow that exemplifies how she takes illumination into another realm.
With a range of residential and commercial projects from Silicon Valley to Europe and Hong Kong, along with a yacht that plies the Mediterranean, this artist of light ventures into sophisticated tones as varied as pungent orange and a blush of pink. For a Milanese industrial loft, she drenched the ceilings in gradations of moody blue light while yellows literally light up a room.
For a 16th arrondissement Parisian flat featuring period cornices, Grawunder demonstrates her flair for injecting light in design by creating a rectangular acrylic box for a coffee table that glows in chartreuse.
"The coffee table is rather akin to small architecture and really approximates a low-slung building," explains Grawunder, who turns to Florentine artisans for fine-tuning her work. For the flat's dining room, she designed two tables with tops lit in burnt orange that accent the understated taupe rooms.
Talk about mega museums snapping up Grawunder's distinctive oeuvre: the Chicago Art Institute, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts have recently added her sculptural designs to their cutting edge collections.
Says Bobbye Tigerman, LACMA decorative arts and design curator: "Johanna thinks about lighting as far more than just illumination. For her, lighting can be furniture, sculpture and an integral part of a space."
Then Paris collector François Blanc points out, "In terms of design, you could view Johanna's work in comparison to Italian modernists or even the Bauhaus, but, for me, her use of pure lines and simple forms represents a contemporary utopian vision."
"There's a sense of awe when it comes to her site-specific work," says Frank Merritt of the San Francisco firm Jensen Architects for whom Grawunder, created a luminous architectonic arrangement of rectangular boxes suspended from the ceiling and lit with orange LEDs for a Pacific Heights residence.
So where did Grawunder hone her considerable skills and talents? After garnering a degree in architecture from California Polytechnic State University, she headed to the studio of the Italian maestro Ettore Sottsass whose radical Memphis Group was characterized by its Pop sensibility when it came to a punchy palette wed to chunky shapes for his now iconic design and architecture.
"In the 1980s and 1990s, Ettore gave me a sense like no other of how startling colors from sharp green to bright blue can sharpen design," says Grawunder who has clad building exteriors in tones as disparate as terracotta and purple.
When it comes to ramping up scale, the art crowd has long appreciated the vast Singapore Freeport building whose front façade is lit up with stunning, 14 towering panels illuminated in a surreal green that encase foliage.
"When the building is approached at night, there's almost an unearthly glow," Grawunder proudly says of her work.
For those seeking out Grawunder's idiosyncratic design closer to home, there's the commission within the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan's Columbus Circle. For the museum's restaurant Robert, Grawunder lent her magic to a series of chandeliers made up of rectangular Lucite panels illuminated by magenta LEDs — an effect that continues to dazzle museum diners.