LampShopOnline meets Marty Langthorne

Marty Langthorne has become one of the most prominent lighting designers in the UK through his incredible work in the theatre and in art installation. This year, he was even featured in The Guardian giving advice for aspiring lighting designers. In the most recent of our series of interviews with prominent members of the lighting industry, we spoke with Marty about the secrets of his success.

LampShopOnline: How do you start creating your shows?

Marty: I always start with trying to get inside the ideas of the show, to understand them as best I can. I’ll go to as many rehearsals as possible and start a dialogue with those involved in the show. This helps focus my thoughts on the central ideas of the piece. It’s also important to get to know the artist I’m working with, get inside their head and to try and see where their ideas have come from. This can take time, especially with someone I’m working with for the first time. Research is important to understand background and context. With these things in place it gives me a more solid ground on which to form my own ideas on how to light a show. Process does differ from project to project. On some shows you have to plan everything in great detail beforehand due to time restraints in the theatre. But some projects are more flexible and allow you to respond to the work in situ. I do enjoy the more organic processes where you can reposition lamps, change colours and alter intensities as the piece develops. It gives your process more alignment with the overall process of the show.

One of the fun parts of my process is seeing as much other artwork as I can. This can help when I’m struggling to solve a problem. It doesn’t have to be related to the piece as going to see another show or exhibition can unlock my creative senses and offer possibilities.

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Far From Home by Marty Langthorne Photographer Lucy Cash

LampShopOnline: Do you have any advice to impart to any young people wanting to become a lighting designer?

Marty: The best way to gain the skills you need for performance lighting design is by doing it. So much of the knowledge comes from handling the equipment and being around people in a working situation. You could describe it as learning by osmosis. There are some good books out there that can give you the theory but really it’s on the job where you gain the most valuable experience. Start off by volunteering backstage, try and get whatever work you can. The more varied roles you do the more you learn about how backstage works. Understanding what everybody does will help you in the future as there are lots of different people to negotiate with in realising your design. How you communicate and earn peoples respect is an important skill to nurture. You need a very solid understanding of the technical side of lighting in order to make your creative choices. Working as a technician will give you a good technical grounding. Once you’ve been a technician it’s easier to transition into design, that’s the way most people do it.

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Camera Lucida at The Pit, Barbican. Photographer: Richard Davenport

LampShopOnline: What collaborations are you particularly proud of?

Marty: The collaborations I most enjoy are when there is a natural rapport between the artist and me. It’s the artists I’ve worked with the longest where these intuitive relationships occur. Sheila Ghelani is someone I’ve worked with for a long time and we’ve made several shows together. We’re quite in tune with each other and can know what the other is thinking. Often I’ll suggest something but know deep down if Sheila likes it or not. I think her attention to detail and love of all things theatrical really suits my taste. I’ve worked a lot with Dickie Beau whose precision in lip-synching and choreography is something I can really respond to with lighting. We made a piece at the Barbican Theatre last year, Camera Lucida, which was a very enjoyable collaboration between the creative team, I especially enjoyed working with the Set & Costume designer Simon Vincenzi who has a very interesting approach and challenged me to think sideways. Andrew Poppy and Julia Bardsley are also long time collaborators and together we’ve worked on shows that sit between the genres of music, theatre and fine arts.

LampShopOnline: Tell us about the inspirations for your work?

Marty: I’m inspired a lot by painting and the process of creating an image on canvas. It feels very similar to how you construct an image on the stage with lighting. Composition and tonal variation are just as relevant in performance as they are in painting techniques. How light is represented in painting is a fascination of mine, studying this has led me to new ideas in the representation of the body and landscape in a performance context.

The painter who communicates so much through his representation of light is JMW Turner. I find a huge amount of inspiration from his work. Other impressionists offering a source of inspiration through their representation of light play are Seurat, Renoir & Monet.

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Rat Rose Bird by Sheila Ghelani. Photographer: Adam Levy

LampShopOnline: You use fluorescent tubes of different colours in both of these installations and how Albers states that different colours can evoke different emotions, how did you create and find these specific combinations of colour for Warehouse Sky and Far From Home?

Marty: In both of these works I used photographs taken of natural landscapes as a starting point. The colour combinations that exist in nature and the harmonies of these combinations are a fascination of mine. I use colour filters wrapped around Fluorescent tubes to recreate these colour combinations, so they’re man made materials used to recreate something that exists in nature. There’s something about the vibrations these colours create when together. Joseph Albers describes these vibrations in his seminal book ‘Interaction of Colour’. Also in Goethe’s ‘Theory of Colour’ he looks at the science and poetry of colour. Goethe tries to make sense of how colour in created by nature in a poetic way.

My choice of colour comes down to a feeling, they have to have some kind of vibration for me.

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Blackouts: Twilight of the Idols by Dickie Beau. Photographer: Adam Levy

LampShopOnline: What effect did these installations have on those who came to see them?

Marty: People have described the experience of these works as being meditative and immersive, having something of a spiritual quality. Coming from theatre the audience’s position when viewing the work is an important consideration, so in some works I’ve provided chairs in a specific position to encourage contemplation when looking into the work. The works are left open for people to impose their own feeling or memories into the colours they’re experiencing.

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Warehouse Sky by Marty Langthorne Photographer: Kate Blakemore

LampShopOnline: Which other artists who use light creatively do you admire?

Marty: Olafur Eliasson and his atmospheric installations provide a huge sense of wonder for me. I saw a small piece he had in ‘Light Show’ at the Hayward Gallery two years ago. In a pitch black room a series of small fountains were lit only by the occasional flash of a strobe. The fountains became choreographic. You saw them as a series of stills, like an animation. In the same show Carlos Cruz Diez’s installation ‘Chromosaturation’ was three white rooms each lit in green, red or blue. As you walked between each room, the new colour would appear differently depending on which room you had come from. Cruz Diez was playing with the adjustment the eye makes in seeing different colours. Spencer Finch is an American artist who looks at natural colour combinations. He often affects the natural light in a space with the use of colour filters. Dan Flavin and Richard Irwin were the pioneers of fluorescent art in the 60s and 70s so I have a great deal of respect for them. Seeing their work has encouraged me to investigate my own.

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Camera Lucida at The Pit, Barbican. Photographer: Richard Davenport

Marty is currently on the Lumen Residency in Atina, Italy:

In November he is leading a 2 day workshop in lighting for artists:

Upcoming shows

The Adventures of Curious Ganz – Little Angel Theatre:

Re-member Me by Dickie Beau – Melbourne International Arts Festival:

Fat Blokes by Scottee – Southbank Centre:

Please note: the information in this article is provided as a guide only. We strongly recommend speaking to an electrician before attempting any electrical work yourself. Any links included in this article are for information purposes only and Lamp Shop Online does not endorse the websites linked to.

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Published 2015/12/14

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