Walking through a rainbow


With everyone sharing their rainbows of hope at the moment, it got us thinking. We have all sorts of rainbows at Gallery Oldham.

Some are in paintings whilst others are light installations where you almost feel like you are walking through a rainbow.

When you take either of our big lifts upstairs to the galleries, you are stepping inside an art installation created by artist Peter Freeman (2002).


Pink and green lights inside the lifts create an altered perception. You step inside and become part of the piece yourself! Once inside the lift the visual system of your eyes are affected by the coloured light and as the doors open the world looks a different shade.

The Pink Lift makes everything look a shade of green! The Green Lift makes everything look a shade of pink! It’s almost like stepping into a rainbow!


We caught up with artist Peter Freeman who created this work.


You are a highly regarded artist and have completed projects for many well know spaces including the Tate St Ives. But how did you get into creating Light Art in the first place? 

I grew up in Salford and have early memories of evening trips to see the Blackpool Illuminations. I’m not religious but my dad was a vicar and I think the practical and symbol use of light in the church and Christianity continues to influence how approach lighting. I studied Fine Art at Bristol in the 1970s when the possibilities for using light as a sculptural medium were first becoming acceptable and I naturally found myself making light sculptures using found and recycled light sources.

After Bristol I went travelling and saw the architectural neon lights of Las Vegas. On my return I learnt the art neon glass blowing and after some years working in neon factories set up my own creative neon studio in London. Since then I have expanded the lights I use to include fibre-optics and LEDs. I have always been driven by the idea of making poetic light sculptures that celebrate light and its potential to create a positive uplifting ambiance both as individual pieces and larger architectural installations.

How did you get involved with creating these pieces for Gallery Oldham?

I was invited by Manchester based Art Department to make proposals for public art interventions during the early design stages of the Gallery. I think it was a competitive submission and my proposals for the fire escape and a series of beacons on the balcony were chosen. At a later date during the construction phase I was approached by the architects to make a proposal for lighting the lifts.

Did you have a design brief? What inspired you at the time to create this piece?

Not specifically for the fire escape. The area was highlighted as one of the possible locations to be considered.

For the fire escape I liked the light-box nature of the space with the diffused glass facade. I wanted to create a sign for the creativity of building that also revealed the inner structure and purpose of the fire escape. The idea was to fill the space with light using contrasting hot and cold colours that would cross fade creating intermediate colours of magenta hues.

For the lifts the architects suggested the idea of the lifts being like port and starboard on a ship. I jumped on the idea and liked the possibility of making immersive coloured light spaces. When the lights were originally installed one lift was red and the other green.  The red was considered too dark and so was changed to pink. Pink turned out a much better more interesting colour all round.

How did you create the pieces for Gallery Oldham?  Where did you make them?  

The pieces were first designed on my computer using 3D design software and computer animations to create visualisations of the lighting and structural concepts. The lifts were more complicated because they had to meet certain lighting levels and also had to work with the lift manufactures specifications. The lighting for both projects was all neon tubing that I made in my workshop. I installed the lighting with the aid of an assistant.

Do the pieces represent anything else or have a message behind them?  If so, how do you interpret the meaning of your work?

This is a difficult question.  What my sculptures represent, I think the message is implicit. I am interested in the luminous beauty and emotional quality of light. I think light is often used in a mechanical way to reinforce cultural values. The sculptures and installations represent an intention to realise light sculptures that treat light more poetically, appealing to the senses, articulating spaces and architectural structures in order to humanise and give them emotional belonging.

Sometimes the light sculptures are freestanding forms or independent objects that radiate into the surrounding space. Others are architectural light installations, as with the installations at Oldham that integrate into the architectural envelope transforming existing structures and spaces. Architectural installations are site specific often public art and I work closely with clients, and design teams. It’s a creative process orientated towards a synthesis of ideas, exploring what is exciting and valued in the culture into three dimensions to give resonant luminous form to a contemporary moment.

What inspires your practice and creative process?

I’ve always been interested in the luminous beauty and emotional quality of light. Making light sculpture is about looking for poetic solutions using electric light and digital technologies to realise luminous forms that transform architectural spaces, celebrate light and bring pleasure to the senses.

I like the radiant power and intangible fragility of light, the flicker of a votive candle, the glowing glass tube of a neon sign and the colour change of a LED floodlight. I like the weightlessness of light, the flick of a switch on/off , the sunset reflections on swell of the ocean and moonlight shadows on a night stroll.

I’ve always been interested in the symbolic and spiritual resonances associated with light. We are made of light – Light is the reflection of our being and spirit. With the visual system the real and the imagined meet to create our experienced universe.

Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Both pieces at Oldham have been important to my art practice. They were early beginnings into an exploration of architectural light interventions and physical space. I think before these works I had been mainly concerned with light sculptures as radiant signs. Since the Gallery Oldham commissions the light sculptures have often been less object based and more to do with poetic light interventions in the build environment that explore the meaning and the emotion of spaces through lighting effects.

The Lift piece was one of the first installations that really started my interest in light sculpture as an immersive light experience. I was always aware of architectural space and light. But this project gave me the opportunity to create an enclosed environment that changed the space and perception of colour.

The fire escape explored an idea of light as a visceral material filling and altering the space both physically and perceptually. It also poetically allowed the building to express itself in a very graphic way using its inherent structure without the use of words.

The work of colour, space and architecture is ongoing and I have recently completed several performances with Shallal Dance Theatre  http://www.shallal.org.uk/  called Embodied Light Space that owe some of their their origin to the Gallery Oldham installation. I am also currently working on interactive light installations for four new buildings in Cambridge.

What would you like to share to inspire others about your own creative journey as an artist?

Follow your heart. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t exactly see the way forward or how it’s all going to pan out.