Alexander Kennedy, (The List, 21/10/2004)
The idea of ‘drawing’ in light ends up smacking of early excited forays into photography or animation (one thinks of scratched film being dragged frenetically over an electric light bulb), but it is a description that seems to fit New York-based Scottish artist Gary Rough’s work very well. Neon always overwhelms the form and the idea; it is difficult to utilize without being totally dominated by its superficial power. By reigning in the colours if the light and still letting it hit the viewer with an initial ‘wow’, Rough attempts to worthily walk the tightrope of over-glitz and kitsch, closely following the American neon wordsmiths Joseph Kosuth and Jenny Holzer.
Thirteen lightning-bolts in various cool colours rain down on the gallery invoking a curse that pulsates over the viewer. Everyday superstition permeates from a quasi-Kantian sublime, the lightning bolt of awareness and reason is made manifest, and zigzags out from a corner of the gallery, dripping down the walls like molten metal. This work explores the new sublime with its tongue in its cheek and its middle finger raised; it presents a clear (but slightly ungainly) aesthetic without being overly didactic.
Rough simultaneously harnesses electricity and its cipher, exposing and electrifying the philosophical wiring under the board of the Romantic nocturne tradition. But the viewer needs more than a hyperbolic gesture towards this movement in order to feel it s/he could be standing in mock awe, trapped in the false daylight of the post-Enlightenment and not know it.