The once white walls of the Fisher Gallery are covered in black paper and fluorescent imagery for the Black Light Show — complete with neon flowers, glowing strings, and a green cardboard race car suspended from the ceiling.
Instead of a traditional art gallery with paintings hanging on walls, this student-made art installation uses ultraviolet light to create a neon effect throughout the space. “The concept of the show dates back to 1960s blacklight shows,” Studio Arts Technician Emily Lombardo said.
The gallery was a great opportunity for the community to get the chance to work on an immersive installation, Lombardo said. Starting on November 10, the school’s sculpture and painting classes came together to make the installation, she said. “The gallery helped build a sense of community and brought people together to work.”
Before students could enter the gallery and begin shaping the space, the area had to be transformed to accommodate the black light, Lombardo said. Lombardo covered the floor and ceiling of the gallery in black construction paper, they said.
“It was so dark we could barely see anything,” Isabelle Kim (10) said. Students then used glow-in-the-dark materials such as paint and string to transform the darkroom into a colorful gallery, Kim said.
Students had full creative control over their additions to the gallery, which allowed them to experience art in a way that differed from their usual art classes, Christine Tao (10) said. “Normally in class, we have a lot of restrictions,” she said. “In the gallery, people could draw whatever they wanted which really increased our artistic freedom.”
“Our teacher set out brushes and cans of paint and told us to get to work,” Sofia Liu (10) said. “We had no clear instructions on what the gallery was supposed to look like.”
On the right side of the gallery, Tao painted the bust of a bright green cowboy surrounded by the words “Be the Cowboy Mitski.” “The freeness of the theme of the gallery allowed me to paint pop culture references,” Tao said. “I really like Mitski’s music and was glad I had an outlet to express that.”
Students had limited time to plan and create their pieces as they only worked on the gallery during class time, Tao said.
“Sometimes students need to be able to create art in the moment,” Lombardo said. “We wanted to give students the chance to react to the different light any way they wanted to.”
This process forced artists to think quickly on their feet and adapt, Liu said. “Only certain colors would show up on the black paper,” she said. After originally wanting to paint a flower, Liu drew a bright yellow bumblebee in the corner of the gallery, she said.
The gallery also encouraged students to collaborate anonymously as new classes added unique elements to the gallery’s ceiling, floor, and walls each visit.
“There was a lot of anonymity because the work was unsigned,” Tao said. Students had to have faith that students that entered the gallery later would not completely paint over their artwork, she said.
The gallery was a collaborative effort, Liu said. “Some people would draw shapes and faces out of letters students had previously painted. It was really special to be a part of.”
On the left wall of the gallery, the word “Phoebe” is painted directly above a neon green skeleton with a dinosaur head and human body. Although Tao created the skeleton, she has no idea who wrote the letters above her original illustration, she said. “My artwork didn’t explicitly reference pop culture,” she said. “Someone interpreted it as a pop culture reference because a skeleton is common Phoebe Bridgers iconography so they changed the meaning of my illustration.”
The gallery allowed students to test new techniques and skills. When students’ names are attached to work, they feel a lot of pressure for their skills to be fully mastered, Kim said. “Since it was anonymous you could create any type of work you wanted to try,” she said. “I got to try out new mediums such as 3D sculpture.”
Next to Tao’s cowboy portrait, Kim transformed a painting of a colorful neon face into a three-dimensional sculpture of a man with bright blue accents. “I stapled neon string to the wall to create facial hair and eyelashes,” she said. “I got the opportunity to experiment with a texture that I otherwise would not have.”
The Black Light Show has been a common fixture of the school gallery for years. Visual Arts Teacher Kim Do started the tradition several years ago, Lombardo said. “The gallery is created once every three to four years so that new students can experience the installation,” they said.
Lombardo hopes that students can use the gallery to take a mental break during the day and relax, she said. “The gallery is very fun to check out,” Lombardo said.
Since the installation opened last Friday, students have enjoyed spending time in the gallery.
The show felt uniquely Gen Z, Ashley Coburn (10) said. “The dark lights and bright colors reminded me of a paintball studio,” she said. “It was very reminiscent of my childhood.”
“The gallery captivated me so much that, upon entering, I lost track of time,” Tamiah Williams (10) said. “I was so transfixed I was late to my next class.”
Overall, the gallery is a representation of the school’s art community, Lombardo said. “I want [viewers] to take away how creative and quickly the HM community can fill the gallery with fun imagery.”