Brooklyn-based artist Alan Strack can measure his life in movies. “Film and music are always distinctive markers of where I was at in my journey,” he explains. “I can always say ‘Oh, this movie came out this year,’ and I can tell you I was in seventh grade and my girlfriend’s name was blank.” Not too surprising, given that his grandparents lived in an apartment above one of two movie theaters they owned in Oneonta, New York, called Showcase Cinema. “We would be lying in bed at night, and if you put your ear to the floor, you could actually hear what movie was playing,” he recalls.
After studying graphic design and photography at Northeastern University, where his artistic “college rebellion phase” saw him using micro-size film cels while his classmates emulated Andreas Gursky’s popular megaprints, Strack worked as an art director at Nike. When, last summer, after 13 years in Portland, his wife found a job in New York, they were ready for a new start.
The pieces Strack makes now, housed under the name Light-Reel, exist in the limbo between design and art, photography and sculpture. He works full time at his home studio, on a large light table tucked beneath the stairs, where he spends weeks at a time constructing his unusual projects. For each piece, Strack meticulously pulls film off its spool, cuts it into strips, sequencing and resequencing scenes until they form a collage of colored glowing lines. When it’s all arranged, he adheres it to a light box, sealed in a locally made frame.
Strack associates colors with films. For example, Mad Max is red. Aliens is blue. And one of his personal favorites, 2001: A Space Odyssey, is a lush magenta hue. How do people react to his work? “It kind of breaks down into three phases,” he explains. “First, there’s a ten feet, ‘Oh what’s that?’ read that sort of grabs their attention. Then they get a bit closer and realize it’s film. They spend some time with it, and there’s this sort of discovery process to understand what they’re seeing.”
The work is meant to force you to stop and think about what it is you’re seeing in front of you. “It’s sort of the opposite of hitting someone over the head with a giant, ten-foot image,” Strack says. “Especially with today’s chaotic pace, we have a tendency to spoon-feed people everything, so it’s important to take those moments of pause where you have to come in a bit closer and figure it out for yourself.”
For the most part, Strack works on commission; clients visit his studio and hand-pick scenes from their favorite films. And Strack views the work as deeply personal. His film archive of over 3,000 titles was harvested from the projection room at Showcase Cinema when it was torn down in 2000 — the very same room where his grandfather spent his days working. “This has always been a family business,” Strack says. “The big thing for me now, doing this, is trying to honor my grandparents’ legacy and the amazing childhood experiences I had growing up inside that theater in the best way I possibly can.”
You can view Strack’s work in person at Nitehawk Cinema or at his “Kubrick” exhibit opening January 2020. Visit Light-Reel for details and updates.