Pragmatic Plasma Art From Aaron Ristau
By Carsen Greene
Photos Courtesy of Aaron Ristau
Published Issue 083, November 2020
Colorado-born and raised neon sculptor provides electrified positivity to Meow Wolf’s Las Vegas experience, Omega Mart.
Aaron Ristau, luminaria sculpture artist, created one of a kind plasma art light sculptures for Omega Mart, Meow Wolf’s Las Vegas exhibit that he co-credits to Nicholas McCracken, aka Tesla Explorer. Having made lights since 1988, Ristau is a humble expert when it comes to both neon and plasma art lighting (in his own words, plasma art is “where you’re taking a lot of the neon sign world technologies and essentially just complicate it with torches, timing techniques, connectivity, electricity, or ovens”). His installation pops up outside the “store” portion of the Omega Mart exhibit, in one of the adjacent worlds visitors will find themselves in.
Apropos that Ristau created plasma art for Omega Mart in Las Vegas, a city known for its neon. The history of Las Vegas can be written with its retired neon lights – many of which are preserved in time at the Neon Museum.
Looking at a neon sign, it might seem straightforward. A lamp. But that lamp had to be hand-blown and then filled with various gases, like carbon dioxide and nitrogen, at low pressure, and then electrified. It’s dizzyingly complex in its materialization.
Neon light work is a dying art, due to high labor costs, rapidly advancing technologies, and of course, the birth of LED lighting. Ristau speaks of how laborious even getting the equipment together to be able to craft his install was.
“To me, light is very positive and inspiring. So there’s a play component there too. I like it when I feel like my lamps are doing something playful,” says Ristau. His installation includes spiral glass and layered tubing to hold different colors and textures, “I wanted to make it look like a new animation – it didn’t just light but gave motion to the light.” He achieved that element of play with a mix of bulbous and spiraling shapes and tweaking his gas recipes to get the color and brightness just right.
Ristau apprenticed for many years with Tony Greer out of Lubbock, Texas before he could both handle and afford to go it alone. “Originally, I was taking common light bulbs and encasing them and all kinds of things just going, Geez, it’d be a lot more fun if this light bulb itself were more sculptural.” That was the “acceleration of desire to figure out more sculptural luminary,” he says.
He attributes his longtime success to early encouragement from the art community where he honed his craft in Marfa, Texas, “That was a real important place to get courage as a young artisan and make a name for me from the beginning and have some great times.”
However, having grown up in a family of artists and with children of his own, he maintains that he prefers having a day job to working as a full-time artist. He currently lives in Loveland, CO, where he works as an ultrasound repair technician. He’s previously worked in ceramics and even dabbled in gunsmithery. But, he’s also still tinkering with neon and lamps, giving light to gases that play inside twisting tubes and bent beakers reinvoking the dance of a (somewhat) dying art – proving you still can capture magic in a bottle.
Find more of Aaron Ristau’s work on Instagram: @ aaron_ristau_studio or at aaronristau.com
Meow Wolf Omega Mart opens in Las Vegas early 2021. Learn more on Instagram: @omegamartusa
THIS FEATURE WAS PRODUCED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH MEOW WOLF.
Carsen Greene is the Community Manager at Meow Wolf and the co-host of Movie Mavens Podcast featuring two deeply intellectual (pending) and curious women examining two films that are (sometimes) related in genre. Call it a spicy double feature.