Exhibiting Artist Feature: David Mahawili

Give us a short bio.

I’m an engineer by education and career. I received my B.S.E. in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2012, and have since worked designing industrial control systems and some electronics. Although I’ve written music for the last decade, I only became involved in the visual arts two years ago, when I began making lighted frames and dabbling in photography.

How would you describe your work?

The simplest answer would be that I like to operate at the intersection of art and engineering, right and left brain, so to speak. I’ve never preferred one over the other, and I end up feeling like an engineer around artists and an artist around engineers. Fundamentally, though, I don’t think of myself as either; I just sit quietly and then meticulously craft a means of fixing an experience or concept into physical reality. The engineering, or intellect, then becomes a substrate out of which a mood, feeling, or idea is expressed. What I really want is to connect with people on a deep, personal level by reminding them of something familiar within themselves.

You’re exhibiting as part of Color of the Year Presented by Pantone and X-Rite. How were you inspired by Ultra Violet in the works you’ve created and/or was this a departure from how you typically work/your process?

I began working with light two years ago inspired by someone named Violet. She and I crossed paths only briefly, and I barely got to know her, but she dazzled me. I intuitively suspected that what had affected me most was her embodiment of relatively undeveloped qualities of my own: clarity of values, integrity of self, and a certain kind of dispassionate honesty. So, I ran with the symbolism the name pointed to, and it became the nucleation point for a creative exploration and subsequent spiritual transformation that is still unfolding to this day. At first, I used ultraviolet light to animate a canvas print by my favorite artist, but the ideas and scope kept expanding from there, eventually leading to the lighted frame design I’m using for this exhibit. Ultimately, Ultra Violet and its associated symbolism are deeply woven into the foundation, name, and meditative intent of the works I create today. Iodine means “violet-colored” in Greek.

Iodine Sky 

Iodine Sky 

To me, Ultra Violet represents a connection between what is known and what is yet to be perceived. Having the highest frequency of any color humans can see, we experience violet most in nature as the soft edge on the blue side of a rainbow fading it cleanly into the sky. A deeply natural metaphor, it’s as if Ultra Violet were a shoreline mediating between a colorful realm of experience and the infinite depths of the imperceptible cosmos.
— David Mahawili

If this way of working, being inspired by a single element, is a departure from your current process, is it a way of working that you think you’ll explore again?

My experience of inspiration is usually prompted by a single element, be it a concept, a piece of art, or another human. This dynamic seems to be mellowing out over time, though. 

Do you have a piece of work which stands out in your mind as something you are exceptionally proud of or that is particularly important to you?

Last summer I built a lighted frame piece that I call Nuclear Fuchsia. In the center of the frame is a photo of Hillary (my wife) with a mandala emanating from her. I wrote accompanying audio for the piece as well. It turned out well, and it’s probably my favorite thing that I’ve done to date.

Nuclear Fuchsia

Nuclear Fuchsia

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?

Recently, my yoga practice has been the single most influential thing. You learn how to cultivate strength from sincerely uncomfortable positions, and this miraculously generalizes into everyday life. It’s like, OK, so this situation is uncomfortable and you want to quit? Just hold it like you hold half moon. Swear loudly if you need to, but hold the pose! In fact, “hold the pose” has become my mantra whenever anything feels difficult. 

What new projects do you have on the horizon?

I don’t have anything slated right now. However, I did design new lighting modules for this exhibition, and I haven’t experimented with them a lot yet. I’d love to make something that requires some of their more nuanced features. 

What are you passionate about besides your work?

I love hiking and spending time near lake Michigan. Hillary and I spend a lot of time outdoors or going for drives. We just hang out and talk! In fact, I think my favorite thing in the universe is having meaningful one-on-one conversations with people. 

White Frame with Gold Scheme

White Frame with Gold Scheme

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard and repeat to others?

It’s not really advice, but I like conjuring up the imagery of one of those finger traps. It’s a great way to get a visceral feel for that hard-to-describe dynamic within the human psyche. The more you try to fight it, the more it tightens its grip; you become free only when you stop reacting and allow it to return to its natural resting shape.

Mandala - A

Mandala - A

Where can we find more of your work? Is your work available for sale or exhibiting elsewhere?

I’m not currently selling my work through stores or online. However, I’m happy to sell my work, and I’m open to the idea of commissioned works. My goal is to design a meditation room for a yoga studio, or maybe do the lighting for a bridge downtown. Both of those would be a dream!

Website: iodinesky.art
Instagram: iodine_sky_art
Email: david@iodinesky.art


Color of the Year Presented by Pantone and X-Rite
April 6 - July 29

Color of the Year is a group exhibition of original art works each utilizing the 2018 PANTONE® Color of the Year, 18-3838 Ultra Violet, as a major component of execution or as a point of departure. 

Participating Artists and Designers:
Abbey Hunter, Brianne Farley, Conduit Studio, David Mahawili, Ellen Mueller, Heather Day, Hwa-Jeen Na, Paul Johnson, Jeffrey Augustine Songco, Melissa Eder, Meredith Olinger, Michael Pfleghaar, Morgan Hughes, Patrick Ethen, Ray Koh, Rhonda Urdang, Sarah Nguyen, Scott Group Studios, Steve Loar, and Via Design in collaboration with Carlson Design, Detroit Wallpaper, Diane Hasso Studio, Leigh’s Fashions, and Rescom Electric.