Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

The primary time Reuben Wu noticed the nice and cozy sandstone hues and huge, open skies of the American West, he was watching the landscapes move him by from the window of a tour bus.

The British visible artist, now based mostly in Chicago, has turn out to be identified for his elegant imagery of distant landscapes utilizing drone lighting, enhancing craggy peaks with halos, or writing glyphs within the sky like alerts from a supernatural entity. However for a very long time, artwork was only a ardour venture whereas he targeted on a music profession as one of many 4 members of the synth-pop band Ladytron.

“(Pictures) began as an all-consuming passion,” he defined in a cellphone interview. However when Ladytron took a break in 2011 after 5 studio albums (they launched a self-titled sixth album in 2019, and the seventh, “Time’s Arrow,” this month), he started a brand new profession from scratch. “Whereas the others did their very own solo tasks, making their very own music and releasing their very own albums, this was my solo venture.”

Wu’s imagery takes a traditional photographer’s mixture — gentle and panorama — and marries the 2 in transformative methods. He usually begins with dusky night gentle or the ink-black shadows of evening, then strategically illuminates parts of the scene with custom-built client drones. In a single picture, a vivid horizontal line hangs over a glacier within the Peruvian Andes, revealing the brilliance of the ice in opposition to a darkish sky. In a distinct movement piece, Wu simulated {an electrical} storm in Goblin Valley, Utah, however with completely straight strikes of sunshine reasonably than the jagged bursts of lightning.

The artist’s 2018 photograph ebook “Lux Noctis” is within the collections of the Guggenheim and Museum of Trendy Artwork, in New York, and he has shot industrial work for Apple, Audi and Google in addition to the DJ and music producer Zedd. Final summer time, Wu revealed a colossal venture for Nationwide Geographic: a canopy story and timelapse multimedia piece about Stonehenge, which featured the enigmatic monument lit by his {custom} drones. In November, considered one of his NFTs, a 4K video loop titled “An Irresistible Drive,” outperformed its excessive estimate by over 25% throughout an public sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, promoting at 441,000 HKD (about $56,500).

“I could not have dreamed of the place I’m now,” Wu stated. “I simply wished to have the ability to make a residing from doing artwork and from doing images.”

Alien inspiration

Wu has all the time been drawn to wild, distant locations the place he may discover solitude. His dad and mom immigrated from Hong Kong to the UK earlier than he was born, and he grew up an introverted youngster in Liverpool, he stated, who did not fairly click on with college. He was fascinated with science-fiction movies that blend the alien with the on a regular basis, equivalent to Steven Spielberg’s “Shut Encounters of the Third Variety,” which featured Wyoming’s Devils Tower as a website for extraterrestrial contact. (Unfamiliar with American topography, he initially thought the butte, a nationwide monument, was a fictional geological entity, he defined with amusing).

The movie’s visuals of distant desert scenes blended with eerie lights have been a formative inspiration in his personal work. “(It is) cemented into my mind, the concept of those seemingly unattainable lights transferring by way of the sky, form of like search lights on very atypical (American) landscapes,” he stated.

Reuben Wu has traveled extensively to remote places in the US and beyond for his work. Here, he traveled to Bolivia's salt flats, using the vast, empty land as his canvas.

Reuben Wu has traveled extensively to distant locations within the US and past for his work. Right here, he traveled to Bolivia’s salt flats, utilizing the huge, empty land as his canvas. Credit score: Reuben Wu

He launched into his first cross-country images journey throughout the US in 2013, round a decade after getting a style on the highway with Ladytron. The ensuing sequence featured vivid depictions of the Grand Canyon and South Dakota Badlands, in addition to a time-lapse picture of Devils Tower at evening amongst star trails.

Two years later, Wu found the impact that drone lighting may have on the pure world whereas engaged on an outside automotive shoot.

“I flew the drone up above some cliffs, and I used to be completely fascinated by the impact it had on the precise panorama,” he defined. It made the cliffs glow, reaching areas that have been in any other case unattainable to gentle artificially.

Wu's earliest inspiration came from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," inspiring his interest in the American West.

Wu’s earliest inspiration got here from “Shut Encounters of the Third Variety,” inspiring his curiosity within the American West. Credit score: Reuben Wu

Wu rigs lights on drones to go well with his wants on any given shoot or venture. The primary iteration, he stated, which he used when the know-how was nonetheless nascent, was a “huge” eight-rotor drone outfitted with do-it-yourself lights that solely had about eight minutes of flight time. The subsequent used a 3D-printed bracket with an LED scorching gentle, however nonetheless solely gave him a further two minutes within the air. The tech he makes use of now provides him a bit extra respiration room, with a half hour to fly out, seize pictures and return to him, however he is needed to study to work inside the bounds of every set-up.

“I am loads much less anxious now, as a result of I’ve crashed various drones,” he stated. “And ultimately, they’re simply instruments.”

Experimental sequence

After creating sequence of nonetheless pictures equivalent to “Lux Noctis” and “Aeroglyphs,” which experiment with ghostly lighting and geometric shapes within the skies, Wu discovered himself wanting to include movement and sound into his work due to his personal background in music. He started creating 15-second video loops from his pictures, displaying gentle beams forming patterns or the moon arcing throughout the sky, to the beats of atmospheric digital music that he produced.

“These (works) have been very a lot experimental and had no finish objective — they have been simply issues that I did for love out of affection,” he stated. “I could not license them, I could not print them… and they also have been simply there, stacking likes on my Instagram.”

Wu has been commissioned to shoot in various locations, including the New Mexico badlands. This image came from a 20-hour shoot.

Wu has been commissioned to shoot in varied places, together with the New Mexico badlands. This picture got here from a 20-hour shoot. Credit score: Reuben Wu

However in January 2021, Wu discovered a solution to make them a extra substantial a part of his profession when he was launched to NFT artwork. He minted his first “non-fungible token” on {the marketplace} Basis two months later — an “aeroglyph” of vivid traces forming a rectangle above a beachside cliff. It bought for 30 ETH ($45,000), a portion of which he donated to the Nationwide Parks Conservation Affiliation and the AAPI Group Fund. Later that yr, the web3 arts group Obscura commissioned him to provide a brand new set of pictures titled “Aeroglyph Variations,” which took him into the New Mexico badlands for a 20-hour shoot that resulted in 55 pictures of the identical setting, every with totally different lighting situations and patterns. Wu has additionally experimented with presenting the work in several methods, from animations, to AR experiences, to projection mapping transferring pictures onto bodily prints.

“It is very a lot a hybrid medium, and so I would wish to broaden that horizon much more, and take into consideration the top objective for my work,” he stated. “Am I creating a pleasant piece of artwork for individuals to take a look at and recognize, or am I creating an expertise for individuals to share?”

Wu is leaning in the direction of the latter as he continues to experiment with the shape his work takes, however regardless of the medium, his imaginative and prescient of and strategy to the pure world stays constant.

“Lots of people all the time say that my work is otherworldly — that’s the first phrase that individuals consider when they give thought to my work,” he stated. “However I am not making an attempt to create an alien-looking picture; I am making an attempt to indicate that that is our planet. And there are such a lot of new methods which are out there to see it that may renew your perspective.”

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