In a local coffee shop, a shimmering view of Lake Tahoe seems to pop out. Ripples and waves in the water gently move, changing from moment to moment, mimicking the feeling of bobbing on the lake.
“Two-dimensional images are pretty, but so much more could be conveyed. I thought about how the light was moving through the lake, the uneven surface, the ripples.”
Paul Bartlett was captured by the beauty of Lake Tahoe while kayaking and tried to figure out a way to show its depth, color and clarity beyond what could be portrayed through a photograph. As a former professor of chemistry at University of California, Berkeley, Bartlett enjoyed researching molecules and figuring out how they form together in natural biological processes. At Tahoe, he thought about how to create a multidimensional effect to re-create that feeling of being on the water.
“Two-dimensional images are pretty, but so much more could be conveyed. I thought about how the light was moving through the lake, the uneven surface, the ripples,” he says. “Then I could introduce patterns and layers to capture the validity of the water.”
Bartlett first experimented by cutting out pieces of pictures and mounting them at different levels. He realized he needed a flexible medium to cut and shape images and it evolved into cutting aluminum cans and mounting photos to that, then layering them in different ways to get a multidimensional effect.
Bartlett created his first 3-D artwork in January 2014 and his process has been evolving ever since. He calls his work Xtra-Dimensions: a new way to present pictures.
“I tried different shapes for the water. I started out with a square design and realized I could put in waves and curves,” he says.
He starts by taking a photograph and laying it out in a grid using Adobe Photoshop to generate different patterns and masks. However, most of the work is collecting the cans. He visits recycling centers to harvest anywhere from 100 to 500 cans for a piece. At home, he cuts off the tops and bottoms of the cans, washes, dries them out and flattens the metal.
Bartlett uses aluminum cans because manufacturers use a special process to make them and he likes the curve and flexibility the cans add.
“Metal sheets don’t have the right characteristics. What I get from the recycling centers is more resilient. Therefore, I am forever dumpster diving for my components,” he says.
After image fragments are printed out, Bartlett then adheres the images to the metal, cuts it to size and shape to give it a multifaceted look. A copy of the photograph and grid pattern is attached to an acrylic sheet giving it depth and support. The final part is to glue individual components to their corresponding posts and line everything up with the template to make a complete and multidimensional artwork.
“There’s even more to it than being 3-D because of the pattern and possible shadows in the lighting system. I like to think of it as dimensions of dimensions of dimensions depending on how you see it,” he says.
Bartlett’s work has gained exposure in Lake Tahoe by being featured at Waterman’s Landing in Carnelian Bay, Pacific Crest Gallery in South Lake Tahoe, Bluestone Jewelry & Wine in Truckee and The Carmel Gallery in Truckee and Calistoga. Photographer Elizabeth Carmel saw his work at a show in Martis Camp and asked if he’d be willing to collaborate by taking her photographs and turning them into multidimensional art. He has used some of her photos to create artworks such as “Aspen Glow” and “Wild Dogwood.”
His goals are to continue playing around with new patterns and images, and he recently completed his first cityscape of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
“It’s a totally different pattern than lake or forest scenes,” he says. “I like imagining things and trying them out. It’s a lot of playing around on the computer. I get excited at the end when I’m putting it all together. When you see some of these from a distance, people think it’s a regular photograph. But as you get closer and move around, the picture moves and you may notice things that don’t quite match up. Depending on where you are, you may see different reflections and patterns. It’s funny to see people’s reactions when they are figuring out what it is. I feel it brings forth the feeling you get from looking at the lake.”