Washington County artist James Minden is boldly going where few artists have gone HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Artist James Minden displays Convex/Concave, one of his unique 3-D light drawings being featured at the Washington County Museum.

Minden has created an art form he calls “light drawings,” a process he got involved in almost by chance several years ago. In effect, Minden creates a three-dimensional effect from scratches he makes on a flat surface. How he does so is the mystery of his work.

Minden said at first he was simply trying to find ways to make two-dimensional paintings have three-dimensional qualities. He used a variety of scratches on paintings and observed the way light reflected off them. It sounds simple, but the result turned out to be highly HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - James Minden, who lives in Washington County, will display 16 of his 3-D drawings at the Washington County Museum through April 6.

“I am always trying to make people engage, make people use vision and make them ask, ‘What am I looking at?’” he said.

His interest in the unusual medium came about serendipitously.

“I was making scraping patterns at an art gallery, and somebody came into the gallery and asked if I was a scientist because I was painting diffraction patterns,” he explained.

That experience led Minden to begin researching what light diffraction was and how it could trick the viewer’s eyes.

“I was trying to find way to enhance flat images on a flat wall,” he said. “I started by playing with it. It was pure play; just mental exploration of visual aspects, and I failed numerous times. And then I did something right and all of a sudden it was images floating in space. I got real excited because I’d never seen this before.”

“It’s such a low-tech process, but it looks so high-tech,” said Barbara Mason, art curator for the Washington County Museum. “When the light hits it, it has a holographic effect. Everybody who sees it is absolutely blown away.”

“These are really hand-made holograms,” Minden said. “This is the creation of three dimensions in a two-dimensional art form.”

Minden uses simple geometric shapes, circles primarily, and he said they work best with one light source right over the piece. The scratches act like a mirror, reflecting every light source in a room.

For that reason, Minden said most of his artwork will be placed under one white light. “I use white because it’s simple,” he explained. “But through the run of the show, I’ve been thinking of this as a little bit of a lab for doing different things with lighting. For those who visit more than once, they will definitely see something different. I will be using color and multiple lights on one piece.”

Over the past several years, Minden has found new ways to refine and enhance the visual effect of his work. He now uses compass needles to produce a rounded shape to his scratchings.

The bizarre visual impact this effect creates can be dramatic. For example, in one of his drawings, one set of circles seems to be coming out of the frame while the other one looks as if it is receding from the viewer.

“It has to do with the direction of the scratches,” he said. “When the light goes off the bottom half of the scratches, the projection tends to be off the picture plane. If the scratches go the other way, it recedes into the picture plane.”

David Leonnig, director of community relations and development at the museum, said he was very impressed with the artwork.

“It always moves, and it never loses depth,” Leonnig noted.

Minden, who lives near the eastern edge of Washington County, said he thought it was appropriate his display is going up during the run of the museum’s new technology exhibit, “Technology Innovations in Washington County.”

“People interested in high tech, who are often not fascinated by art, are fascinated by this art,” Minden said. “This reaches a different audience.”

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