Polarized Light Art by Austine Wood Comarow

Austine Wood Comarow
The Artist
Mrs. Comarow is a local Las Vegas artist who creates Polarized Light Art, called Polage® art, a term she coined from the phrase “polarized light collage”. This amazingly colorful artwork is made "with absolutely no pigment of any kind. Just as a prism breaks white light into a brilliant rainbow, Austine’s materials – cellulose and polarizing filters – create her palette of pure light colors. Each work starts as a drawing. Then, following the drawing, she cuts various thicknesses of clear colorless cellulose in the form of cellophane into hundreds of tiny pieces at different angles, laminating each piece between polarizing filters. To the naked eye, when the mural is viewed without a polarizing filter, it appears simply as a silhouette of a mountain range on etched glass (Fig. 01). However, when viewed with a polarizing filter, the 25 window panels reveal full-color images of hundreds of species native to this region (Fig. 02).

Mountain Home is the name of her Polage installation at the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway Center. This translucent (back-lit by natural light) Polage art work is integrated into the top set of the building’s front windows, and ranges from 24” to 30” high by 73 feet long. Each of the 25 panels are fitted inside the window mullions, spaced out from the glass much in the same way stained glass is installed. Each of the work’s 1/4” thick panels are constructed of clear acrylic cut into the actual profiles of the Spring Mountain ranges’ 20 major peaks, arranged from south to north (right to left). She then designed the collage content to include images of flora and fauna that are native to the region. When viewed through 2 differently oriented polarizing filters, or if a viewer is rotated 90 degrees, contrasting colors and images will appear, giving the impression of seasonal change.  
Polage #1
(Fig. 01)
(Fig. 02)
Polage Viewers
(Fig. 03)

There are three ways to view these panels. The center offers two ways for visitors to view the panels. Either with handheld polarized viewers (Fig. 03) or by using a couple of mountain-range shaped standing viewers (Fig. 04) found on either side of the room. Or, you can view them with your own polarized sun glasses.
(Fig. 04)

The Artist


Austine Wood Comarow grew up in postwar Europe where her father directed the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which won the Nobel Peace Prize under his leadership. Having lived abroad for many years, she speaks five languages fluently. After attending Swarthmore College, she obtained a B.A. in Russian Language and Literature at the University of Indiana, and later earned an M.F.A. in illustration from Syracuse University. At a crucial point in her artistic development, she discovered that certain transparent materials produce colors when they are illuminated with polarized light and are viewed through polarizing filters. Most of her work since then has been devoted to controlling this phenomenon and creating an entirely new artistic medium. Austine is also an accomplished painter. Known professionally as Austine, her work is held in private, corporate and museum collections worldwide. A book about her life titled “Austine Wood Comarow: Paintings in Polarized Light” by James Mann can be purchased at the visitor center.


Graduate: Syracuse University, 1979-1981: Master of Fine Arts [Illustration]; Catholic University, Santiago, Chile, 1970-1973 [Studied color and printmaking with Chilean Artist Eduardo Vilches]
Undergraduate: Indiana University, 1961-1964: Bachelor of Arts [Russian Language and Literature]; Swarthmore College, 1959-1961; Ecole des Beaux Arts, Geneva, Switzerland
[Life Drawing]
High School: Ecole Internationale, Geneva, Switzerland


Selected Exhibitions, Commissions and Collections

2013 – Middle Kyle Canyon Gateway, U.S. Forest Service, Las Vegas, NV
2012 – Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL
2011 – Margaritaville Casino, Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas, NV
2011 – Gillette Children’s Hospital, St Paul, MN
1997–2011 – Maui Jim Sunglasses, Peoria, IL (numerous commissions)
2009 – Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences, Peoria, IL
2009 – Washington Square East Galleries Small Works Exhibit, New York, NY
2007 – Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences, Peoria, IL
2007 – Children’s Hospital Boston, Boston, MA
2005 – Ingham Regional Medical Center Greenlawn Campus – Women and Childrens Center, Lansing, MI
2005 – Las Vegas Art Museum, Las Vegas, NV
2004 – Riverview Medical Center Foundation, Redbank, NJ
2004 – Fairview-University Medical Center, Pediatric Cardio-Vascular Radiology, Minneapolis, MN
2004 – Kaiser Permanente, San Marcos, CA
2004 – St. Joseph’s Mercy at Macomb, Clinton Township, MI
2003 – Aesthetics, San Diego, CA, October, 2003 – January, 2004
2003 – List Gallery, Swarthmore College, PA, June
2003 – NYU Washington Square Windows, NY, April 18 – June 2
2003 – Children’s Hospital Boston, Boston, MA
2002 – Philadelphia Museum of Art, show of motorized works
2002 – Celebration of the Arts, Maui, HI (Selected for Poster)
2001 – Interactive Polage for Discovery Center of Idaho, Boise, ID
2000 –NuAire Inc., Plymouth, MN
1999 – El Dorado Hotel and Casino, Reno, NV
1998 – Roxbury Latin School1998 – Materials Research Society, Warrendale, PA
1997 – Boulder Dam Federal Credit Union, Boulder City, NV
1997 – Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum, Boulder City, NV
1996 – Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH
1996 – Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland, OH
1995 – Burgess Junction Visitor Center, WY
1995 – Oregon Coastal Refuges Hq., Newport, OR
1994 – Technorama, Winterthur, Switzerland
1994 – Paradise Valley Medical Arts, San Diego, CA
1994 – Tijuana Estuary Visitors Center, National City, CA
1994 – Butterworth Hospital, Grand Rapids, MI
1993 – Singapore Science Center, Singapore Airport
1993 – Great Bay Research Reserve Interpretive Center, NH
1993 – San Diego Children’s Hospital, San Diego, CA
1992 – Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego, CA
1991 – Cleveland Children’s Museum, Cleveland, OH
1991 – EuroDisneyland, Paris, France
1990 – Rubbermaid Corp., Wooster, OH
1990 – Sanrio Headquarters, Ginza, Tokyo
1990 – Seiko, Puro Village, Japan
1989 – la Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Paris, France
1988 – Hearst Broadcasting, WCVB, TV-5, Boston, MA
1988 – Montgomery Museum of Art, Montgomery, AL
1988 – Southern Nevada Heritage Museum, Henderson, NV
1988 – Better and Better, Inc., Sedona, AZ
1988 – Roberson Museum of Art and Science, Binghamton, NY
1987 – Boston Museum of Science, Boston, MA (Sponsored by Polaroid Corp.)
1987 – Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS
1987 – Ryder International, Arab, AL
1985 – New Mexico Museum of Natural History, Albuquerque, NM
1984 – Alexis Park Resort Hotel, Las Vegas, NV
1982 – First Interstate Bank, Farmington, NM
1981 – EPCOT Center, Kodak Pavilion and Living Seas Pavilion, Orlando, FL