If you don’t know. Meet Dorothy Tanner.
Just recently, I stumbled on to Dorothy Tanner and her cornucopia of neon colors and friends. My running buddy called one day to tell me she had just met the neatest woman. “You’re going to love her,” she gushed.
And I did.
Dorothy Tanner is a small, wirey, fiesty energized woman. Nothing like what a woman is expected to look and act like at her age. She loves cigarettes with no apologies. And, Oh, I forgot to tell you, she is ninety-one years old.
She gave me a tour of the north Denver industrial area studio and a broad explanation of Lumonics while showing rooms of sculptures and gracefully practicing her Tai Chi moves.
Dorothy Tanner, artist.
This woman is full of wisdom, adventures, ideas and energy. I wish I had turned on a tape recorder and let her go. I didn’t do that. If I had, I’d have to write a book. This is a woman who is completely candid about everything that is her, right up to the minute.
Dorothy has had two great loves in her life, art and Mel Tanner. He was the reason she got up in the morning. She was his muse, sidekick, friend, wife, collaborator, partner and family. Once they found each other they were together and art was the focus of their lives.
She was born an East Coast intellectual in the Bronx … to very forgiving parents, she added. “At age 27, I fell in love with art after a lifetime of music. My studies at the Brooklyn Museum changed my life. I started working in portraits, then clay, bronze and then, I fell in love with wood – the smell, the act of cutting into it. It allowed me the freedom to break away from representational art. Then I fell in love with Mel Tanner.”
She showed me the portrait of Mel she sculpted when she was first in love with wood and portraits. It remains center stage. After several hours of listening to Dorothy, it goes without saying the two had an intangible partnership that went far beyond marital love [Mel died in 1993].
They met at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and in 1963, opened the Granite Gallery on East 57th Street. This is where they were introduced to and fell in love with plexiglass and acrylic the basis of Lumonics.
“Through our experimentation with light, it became the basic element of our Lumonics art form.” Expanding on the characteristics of Lumonics, she explained, it is composed of colorful sculptural shapes that illuminate and enhance the latitude of space. Inadvertently connecting the elements of relaxation, energy and stimulus for imagination through shapes, light, sound and color. The effects meld into an experience. The Dorothy & Mel Lumonics experience.
Dorothy loved the heady New York City days.”It was an exciting time to be in New York City. We went to shows for De Kooning, Warhol, Louise Nevelson, Red Grooms.
“MOMA was such an eye opener for me. I was so taken by Picasso’s “Guernica ” and Lehmbruck’s (German sculptor) elongated, skinny people.
“Then, we decided to go to Europe to study and explore. After a year, we returned to the states and discovered Florida. We loved that it was so pretty and warm and the ocean was right there. We established a studio/gallery called Lumonics Light & Sound Theatre in Fort Lauderdale. And, this is where our visions came to life. When we fell in love with plexiglass we had no set path we followed, nor, do I have one now. Each piece depends on the mood I’m in.”
Today Dorothy is in Denver with a caravan of friends, artists and assistants, all who left Florida to seek another artistic fulfilling life. And like Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, they hit the road and found Denver. And here they are. Barry Raphael from the original Mel-Merrymakers, is the voice of Lumonics. He serves as her assistant, friend, social media expert, coordinator of events at Lumonics Studio and a gentle artist himself who knows intricately about the beauty and magic of Dorothy and her art. I mention him because he has done much to spread the art of Lumonics and keep the flames burning for all forms of artistic expressions. He’s another story.
Dorothy is waving her hands to indicate the parameters of the studio space which hosts poetry readings, music, art talks and dance, while fixedly observing, ”This [Lumonics Denver Studio] is a community of friends and artists. Our studios/galleries have always been a meeting place for young artists and friends who get together for music, dancing, smoking and discussions.”
Waxing in yet another metaphysical moment, cigarette lit and smoking, and, I’m sure thinking of Mel, she calmly threw this in, “We all have wisdom we block. If we allow ourselves to open up to all that’s possible we could all do whatever we want to do. There are many universes. We never leave. We’re always here.”
To find the euphoria of Lumonics at the Lumonics Light & Sound Gallery, is an event, a place to chill, feel free, experience music, talk art, dance, relax and share. Check the website for scheduled weekly events and gatherings. www.lumonics.net