From Sunrise to Sunset, Ten Artists Capture the Sun

Artsy Editorial
Jul 5, 2014 2:32PM

The sun—that giant yellow orb that has the power to brighten our days and nurture life—has inspired artists for centuries. The sun has risen its way into the works of numerous artists. Pablo Picasso once said, “some artists transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun.” From sunrise to sunset, these ten artists have captured this bright and curious star in their own personal styles. 

1. Olafur Eliasson, Little Sun, 2012

Olafur Eliasson is famously known for putting a giant sun inside the Tate Modern for the Weather Project in 2003. Eliasson, whose work frequently captures the elements of nature, has long been intrigued by the star. Little Sun is the result of his project launched in 2012 to distribute Little Sun lamps worldwide, providing a short-term fix to areas without electricity. The LED lamp developed by Eliasson and engineer Frederick Ottesen is solar-powered and gives people living in off-the-grid areas access to light at all times of the day. 

2. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Flatsun, 2011

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer recreated the turbulence of the sun––solar flares and explosions visible on the surface––with an LED screen that simulates the activity using mathematical equations. Flatsun is exactly one billion times smaller than the actual sun (and considerably less volatile). Its camera detects visitors and reacts in accordance to their distance from the work. The more people in the room, the greater amount of solar flares and activity. 

3. Alexander Calder, Sunrise II, 1967

For Alexander Calder, the sun was the catalyst to his artistic career. After studying engineering, Calder went to work in a ship’s boiler room. The ocean sunsets and sunrises inspired him to move to New York in 1923 and sign up with the Arts Students League. In this lithograph, Sunrise II, a yellow sun twists across the foreground reaching out to its orbiting planets in his trademark primary colors. 

4. Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, 1888

The Sower was part of a series by van Gogh depicting a sower in a field silhouetted by a setting sun. In this work, the sun consumes the sky with its rays emanating across the canvas. According to the Van Gogh Museum, the exaggerated size of the sun could have been what he was actually seeing as a result of the twilight phenomenon, “moon illusion.”

5. Max Pechstein, Somme, 1916, 1918

Painter and printmaker Max Pechstein grew up in Germany and was eventually drafted into military service where he served at the Somme and Flanders in 1916 with the Ersatz Bataillon Infanterie Regiment 133. This work reflects the constant danger and anxiety of the soldiers on the front line while beaming rays of sun shine down on the marching formation. Pechstein was released from the military in 1917 after suffering a nervous breakdown. 

6. Elijah Gowin, Into the Sun 41, 2009

In this series, photographer Elijah Gowin defies one of photography’s most basic guidelines and points his lens directly into the sun. The powerful star distorts and refracts light in unusual ways, leaving his photos with intriguing colors and shapes. As Robert Mann Gallery explains, “Gowin shows photography to be a material engagement with the world—rather than a transparent window on it—but in such a way that enables visionary dreaming. To risk blindness is also to be offered the possibility of transformative sight.” 

7. Richard Prince, Silhouette Cowboy, 1998-99

Silhouette Cowboy is the product of Richard Prince’s reinterpretation of the infamous cowboy in Marlboro ads. In this scene, the cowboys camp against a larger-than-life, setting sun. The blazing red sky and men with their horses evoke classic iconography of the American Southwest. 

8. Chris McCaw, Sunburned GSP#526 (Washington), 2012

McCaw’s “Sunburned” series began in 2006 after he was inspired by William Henry Fox Talbot’s conception of the sun as a pencil that gives nature the power to create images of itself. This photo was captured by exposing gelatin silver photographic paper to the sun for a length of time, resulting in a reflection of its path across the sky.

9. Alexandra Hedison, Untitled #8 (Nowhere), 2012

As part of her most recent series, “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” Alexandra Hedison explores the Malibu beach houses where she grew up. Untitled #8 is a familiar everyday scene: the setting sun peeking through a crack in drawn curtains. It alludes to the comfort of coming home and unwinding after a long day.

10. David Drebin, High Rise NYC, 2013

We complete the list with a morning scene in New York City. David Drebin captures the sunrise over Central Park South. It is a peaceful photo, taken before the city’s inhabitants have begun their day. Only a couple taxis maneuver down the usually busy streets and the windows in the monolith skyscrapers gleam in the sunlight.  

Newlin Tillotson

Artsy Editorial
Get the Artsy app
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play
Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019