Grimanesa Amorós

17th February 2023

Following the unveiling of her mammoth, 100ft artwork at Noor Riyadh, held in November of last year, arc speaks to Peruvian-American artist Grimanesa Amorós to learn more about her unique approach to light art.

Throughout her career, Peruvian-American interdisciplinary artist Grimanesa Amorós has been guided by her mantra of living in a “romance with the unknown.” It’s a philosophy that inspires her creativity and develops immersive works of art around the globe, each with a contemplation of the local cultural heritage and community. Most recently, Amorós created the enormous 100ft Amplexus (Latin for ‘embrace’) for the 2022 Noor Riyadh light art festival.

While her recent work has become characterised by the sprawling, undulating, interwoven lines of light, Amorós told arc that her love for creating began with a fascination for drawing when she was a child. “When I was 11-years-old, I loved maps,” she said. “That’s how I started, with the love and curiosity for maps, memorising and making these continental shapes, seeing such a vast world beyond my own. Drawing these distances from one point, from one continent to another, went beyond the straight lines we were taught to write on. My mother saw this fascination and, instead of drawing all over my walls, thought it an excellent idea to put me into painting classes. That is how it began, since then; I have never stopped.”

While her passion for creating began at an early age, it wasn’t until a trip to Iceland in 2001 that she unearthed the potential of light as a medium. 

“I was lucky enough to see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, and it was breathtaking; I could not stop saying ‘wow,’” she said.

“I had my camera with me, and I could have become occupied with getting the right shot and angle, but I decided to put my camera down and live the moment. I thought, ‘if only I could share this with others, wouldn’t that be amazing?’ 

“I was fascinated by that Icelandic experience and began my adventure and relationship with light. I began trying to figure out how to encapsulate the ephemeral part of light into my work, experimenting with materials to try to emulate the light that left an extensive impression on me. I love light because it is not physical; we cannot own or have it.”

From here, Amorós focused on creating immersive works of light art that would replicate “those magical moments that I lived through in Iceland,” inspiring and immersing people in her work. Despite this, she doesn’t consider herself a “light artist,” but rather “an artist that uses light as a medium”.

“At this moment in my life, I communicate my work with others through light, but I started with painting and drawing, and then I worked with handmade paper. As an artist, I have kept evolving, learning, and looking for new challenges. How can I inspire myself and push people beyond the boundaries of their initial reaction? To produce and create, I must fuel myself, which I do through travel and connecting with new places, cultures, and people. Presently, light is the medium that helps me best express myself.”

While Amorós has had a lifelong interest in art, whether through painting or light art, during her studies, she had a brief dalliance with psychology, studying full-time at university while working on her art.

“I was studying during the day, then going home and painting until midnight, so it was quite an intense life,” she recalled. But it was another mantra that inspired her to focus fully on her art. “I always talk about LPP, which stands for Love, Passion, and Perseverance. I knew that I could never give up on being an artist – it was in my DNA, who I was and am. When I was 21, I had to decide where my life would go; either I pursue a career that I didn’t love or have passion for or focus on what my heart truly sought, to be an artist. I decided to be an artist and left psychology three months before graduating. As you can imagine, my father was not so happy, but I firmly believe we must follow our hearts and ambition. So, I left psychology and, with my two bags and many dreams, moved to New York City.”

However, while she left psychology behind to focus fully on her art, Amorós believes that her studies impacted how she approaches her work: “I believe that it helped me to be objective when creating,” she explained. “It allowed me to focus on not just creating my vision but a universal one. When you see the work that I did 20 years ago, it still looks current. You can’t put a time or date to it; psychology has helped me understand longevity and humanity.”

A core facet of Amorós’ approach is how her pieces sit within their surroundings and local cultures, especially given the global reach of her work. Amorós explained how she ensures that each installation is in keeping with its locale: “When a project commences, it begins with a conversation. Then, I do research and development – curiosity has always been a part of my being. I love learning about the architecture of a site, the country’s history, and the city. I like to know about the surrounding community. I do a very deep analysis and then ask myself, ‘how I can make a piece that will be challenging, different, and that will embrace the local community.’ I then sketch many drawings that interconnect and incorporate architecture, the viewer, and the piece.”

Within this approach, she has reached a unique artistic style, where each piece is instantly recognisable as a Grimanesa Amorós installation. Again, this came as the result of research and an examination of the wider art world. She explained: “As an artist, you must be informed about what is happening and be present. For instance, the goal is to find a visual language that represents you. You might think you’re creative and innovative, but then you discover somebody else is doing something similar. You have to stay fresh and create in a way that is defined as you.

“I think the general responsibility of an artist is to be very well informed. It is important to be in tune with yourself – what is your message? How do you want the viewer to approach your work? How could you do something different for humanity?”

Across her career, Amorós has created a vast array of installations and sculptures worldwide, varying greatly in size and scale. Looking back on her portfolio, she struggled to pick a landmark, or standout piece, instead believing that each work “has its moment.” “The most noteworthy is the latest, but each has an important place, they all have different attributes that make them stand out, but with each piece, we keep on evolving.”

In this instance, her latest piece, Amplexus, is one of her largest works. Spanning more than 100ft in size, the piece was commissioned for the 2022 Noor Riyadh festival, taking over the city’s Cultural Palace in the Diplomatic Quarter. As with previous works, Amorós sought to place the sculpture firmly within its environs, considering the local cultures and reflecting the city onto itself.

Amplexus was located in The Cultural Palace, the heart of Riyadh’s global relationship; it’s in the Diplomatic Quarter, where all the embassies are located. I was trying to embody a global identity with the piece while communicating directly with Riyadh’s contemporary and historical architecture. The lighting sequence, however, was inspired by the surrounding desert, where dust storms and dunes can be seen. This directly inspired the undulation and colour changes within the light sequence.”

An integral part of any art installation is to trigger an emotional response in the viewer. Still, while Amorós also sees this as important, she prefers to create a more lasting resonance for her audience. She explained: “When I create a piece of artwork, I focus on making the viewer think. My goal is to have you take your time, as we all know time is precious, to be inquisitive and approach the piece, whether you are walking past it or seeing it in the distance; the aim is to engross and encourage you to come closer. I want to attract your attention and take your mind to creative places. This is very important to me because every viewer is different. Whether you’re a journalist, you’re in the art world, or you’re an individual drawn to the colours or the way the light is moving, there is something for everyone. As an artist, this is one of the driving forces of my work. This is why there is a statement with each piece. An artwork should provide both an emotional and logical response. The reason for its existence and what the artist wants to do with it will cause an emotional response. The logical part is pushing you to think, what is the medium? How was this created? The art piece should push you to question. Because as individuals, we are both emotional and logical.”

Along with upcoming installations in New York, Europe, and Riyadh, Amorós is keen to continue another aspect of her career, teaching and working with local communities. “I do a lot of community work and talks at universities and schools because everything starts when you’re young. I want to inspire the younger generations to see and think differently.”

As for the world of light art as a whole, there are a couple of avenues down which she would like to see the medium travel. “Moving forward, I would like to focus on immersive experiences beyond visual, possibly tactile, and audio. I’m interested in the collaborative process of working with others. It’s another way of learning and growing as a human being. Collaboration is working together without losing the essence of yourself, finding the balance between two entities.” 

With this in mind, Amorós’ overarching ethos of “romance with the unknown” will continue to guide her and drive her forward. “Every time I go to a different site, everything is new. There is a new culture to learn from, new ideas, so the discovery within this keeps me aware and drives me to keep on evolving with my work; it’s a magic that also parallels with light,” she said.

“You must know what you want as an artist, like anything else. I know my goal: to make people think, inspire them to be more creative and be better humans, and then keep on evolving, never stopping. It’s like the light and water flow; it keeps going.”