Judy Chicago's "A Butterfly for Pomona" highlighted in KCET Artbound by Janet Owen Driggs

"The Fine Art of Fireworks," by Janet Owen Driggs, KCET Artbound

In the mid-1960s, when formalism held the art world in thrall and content was banished, it was not so much the fireworks' eruption that fascinated Judy Chicago, as it was their rolling clouds of smoke. They "provided a liberation from formal structure," she said in a recent Guardian interview.

Chicago had been making brightly colored minimalist artworks, which sounds like a contradiction in terms but was an effort to combine formal concerns and emotional expression, with the colors intended to convey emotion. The artist quickly reached the expressive limits of that tactic however, and by 1968 had begun to experiment with pyrotechnics.

Exploring "openly female-centered art," Chicago's "Atmospheres" series (1968-1974) used fireworks and their billowing, dissipating smoke to free color from its shape anchors, and "feminize and soften the environment."

While the artist's subsequent socio-political work overshadowed her "Atmospheres," the series has recently been given more prominence by two public firework displays: "A Butterfly for Pomona" (2012) and "A Butterfly for Brooklyn" (2014).