Reflecting on his art

ALISO VIEJO — The artist calls the piece "Metronome."

It is one of two dozen art pieces that trick the eye as part of a 42-piece exhibition at Soka University of works by Arie A. Galles, a professor of painting and drawing at the Aliso Viejo campus.

His "Metronome" may look like a painting on a canvas but it is not. The 54-inch by 92-inch tableau has a 3-D effect on the eye.

The work is a hodgepodge of shimmering colors — oranges, reds, yellows, blues and greens — shaped into discs or patterned in straight and squiggly lines. What appear to be vertical white lines transecting the tableau are, in reality, aluminum extrusions that Galles has screwed into place, and which resemble a set of opened floor-to-ceiling blinds.

If the viewer looks at the picture from the front and center, it fades. The picture comes into clearer focus and brightens when approached from a side angle. And, if the viewer walks from one side to the other, the colors change as light waves bounce off the piece.

"Metronome" like the other works in Galles' HEARTLAND II show, is an example of so-called reflected-light painting that the 66-year-old specializes in. The images in the show largely were based on aerial views of Midwestern landscapes that Galles sketched from his window seat during cross-county flights.

"I'm the only guy doing this," he said. "Nobody else does this."

He said he invented the technique of reflected-light painting through an accidental discovery while viewing a show at an art gallery in New York in the 1970s.

"The drawings were not memorable but the frames were highly polished aluminum, and what they did was cast a reflection of light on the wall …," he said.

As Galles explained it, the technique requires him to paint the sides of the aluminum extrusions in fluorescent colors, and not on the surface of the spaces between them. In fact, those spaces are white, and the colorful effect comes from light reflecting off the painted sections of the extrusions.

Creating one of these pieces is complex and labor-intensive, and can take up to three months, Galles said. In a video he posted on YouTube, the artist demonstrates the many steps in creating the pieces for HEARTLAND II.

As documented on his website,, the Laguna Niguel resident is a multifaceted artist who has decades of experience in making and teaching art. He combines a craftsman's skills with a painter's brush, and his imagination has taken him into other genres, ranging from charcoal drawings to photography to jewelry-making.

His life story is as colorful and eclectic as his art work.

Galles is the son of Polish Jews who fled the Nazis during World War II. The family moved to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where Galles was born and then was part of the Soviet Union. After the war, the family returned to Poland, where he grew up.

Before immigrating to the United States, Galles also lived in Israel and Italy. Later on, he spent two years working as a truck driver, plying routes across North America. His trucking trips took him to Texas, where he developed a love for cowboys, hats, boots and belt buckles.

His HEARTLAND II show complements a first set of reflected-light paintings with the same theme that Galles produced between 1985 and 1993.

HEARTLAND II is Galles' second show at Soka. In 2006, he put on an exhibition there called "Fourteen Stations/Hey Yud Dalet," his homage to the millions who died inthe Holocaust.

In 1993, he stopped doing reflected-light paintings and spent the next nine-plus years putting his energy into "Fourteen Stations." The body of work was a series of large-scale charcoal drawings based on aerial photographs of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and other Nazi death camps.

Twitter: @ImranVittachi

If You Go

What: "HEARTLAND II Reflected-Light Paintings" by Arie A. Galles

Where: Founders Hall Art Gallery, Soka University, 1 University Drive, Aliso Viejo

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays through Jan. 6

Admission: Free

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