Over the last few weeks I have been busily working developing a new line of work. This work employs a process made popular by Louise Comfort Tiffany in the 1800’s called fuming or irridizing. This process became a signature of the Tiffany style and has been repeated many times over because of its intense popularity. I have always said that I would not fume my work, and quite recently I went back on that promise in order to investigate this method to see if I could create new interesting forms that break some new ground.
Doing that is not easy to do. There is a lot that has been done…millions of processes and combinations….Some would say there is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps it is true….until we actually come up with something new. To that end, I am giving it my all.
Yesterday I went into the studio with the intention of doing what I have always done in glass, which is to bring a
sculptural sense to my work and giving the forms a different kind of quality that sometimes departs from traditional vessel forms.
The forms I came up with were an effort to create seashell like forms with the abalone shell being one of the chief forms for inspiration. I grew up on the beach as a child and can remember many small oblong and rippled shells that had beautiful mother of pearl interiors. I am in truth recreating that moment of discovery on the beach some 45 years later with this body of work.
What I am doing are making relatively small-scale pieces that I can control and work into shell inspired forms. A lot of this has to do with making the pieces off-center and breaking a lot of the rules that make blowing glass feel comfortable and “right.” So much of what we learn about glass blowing has to do with keeping a piece centered. So much of what I am doing now is knowing how to let a piece drift of center in just the right way in order to develop a sense of asymmetry amidst the natural order that is symmetry. The work is in its infancy and yet I have enough ideas and directions to keep me busy for a lifetime. Lucky for me, I am impatient and like to try new things and make new work so I guess I am making work for someone else to do in another couple of lifetimes!
I hope you enjoy looking at the pieces. They change so much in light, as some versions of the same piece in this post reveal.
All of this is fun and exciting and there is so much more to do, to make and to explore and discover. This really is the most interesting part of design work because everything is so new and the possibilities are endless. The key to creative viability I think is remaining fresh and new. As old lines of work are being retired in my studio work, new lines, like this one with a decidedly oceanic bent to them emerge. The tide comes in, the tide goes out. In the interim it leaves new treasures for us to see and explore….seashells and all manner of flotsam and jetsam to pick through….
If you like this work you can see more of the earliest work that was first done a few weeks ago in the post Breaking New Ground. You can also see and interact on my facebook business page by typing in staffordartglass.
Much of what I do in glass has been an effort not to do anything that is like anything others have done. This is hard to do well. There seems to be very little that is new under the sun. We say a vase is a vase. Sometimes we can make our work different by the shapes, the colors, the design we develop within the piece. I developed a way to make my glass look like rock and this made them very different and sought after. It created the art of the double-take that leads one to think that you see something that you do not, and in realizing it is not as it appears, leads one to wonder how on earth the artist or artisan accomplished it. I probably don’t need to tell you that this is also where art begins, that place where the ordinary gets transmuted into the extraordinary in some way. Doing this kind of work also spawned people making copies, people who I saw walk up to my work, observe it carefully, and then begin making a derivative of it in one years’ time. I am told that this is a form of congratulations, but for me it does not feel like that.
For years I have zigged when others have zagged. I did not follow conventions of tradition. As a result I developed techniques in glass that I have yet to see anyone work in the same way. They are different for the reason that no one has been crazy enough to do what it is I have done. Even my teacher once said that the techniques I would later use were not something that would yield significant enough results to be practical. That was eighteen years ago and many of those pieces later. They have somehow gone from impracticality to total practicality…..and new ground being unearthed, or blazed. I have long been amazed at the effects that fuming has had on glass. This was a technique that Louise Comfort Tiffany developed that became a signature mark of his design work in glass. Needless to say it has been wildly popular ever since with plenty of paths being cut into that territory. It has been enough to keep me from going down that road even though I have used analogs of irridizing for years, such as dichroics. Dichroic is a term for a development made during the early NASA days that was developed to create a thin metallic but translucent film on glass lenses to make it possible for photo film aboard the Lunar Rover to be exposed in full daylight on the moon without being cooked (which it did when exposed under normal full light conditions on the lunar surface). In a way, irridizing and dichroics aren’t that different from one another in that they both involve very small particles of metal that build up slowly on the surface of glass.
I always said I would not fume or irridize glass. I always considered it a well-worn path. And it is. The lure, though, of the lustrous surface in glass is powerful.
A few days ago I ordered some supplies for irridizing glass to give it a try. At first the results were entirely unremarkable. I began to think that the people telling me how they did it were not actually giving me the whole scoop. It took a little trial and error to work it out. The colors were okay, but not great. The information was incomplete, and some things like the type of alcohol used for the spray was wrong. These small things matter and can make big differences. I changed a few things and switched the order of some things around and found much to my pleasure and surprise that I had some pretty amazing results taking place.
Today was interesting since the ovens were still empty by noon. There was no work that had been made. By five o’clock, though, one oven was full and a second one was sent up. Work was being made at a pretty fast pace and everything was pretty amazing. For a first try.
At some point in my art education I discovered that there was an entry into the sublime that didn’t have to do with the usual concerns of art. In art content is king, which is to say its supposed to BE about something. I found increasingly that my focus began to settle on simpler things, less complicated things. While art does create an experience, so too does the glint of light off a brushed metal surface. Just HOW that impacts us or affects us, or me, is huge. How the look of polished bronze impacts me is hard for me to explain. It is just such a basic thing…because it is so direct, so immediate and uncomplicated. This is the same uncomplicated thing that leads so many on this planet to esteem a rather soft metal not very useful for much of anything except electronic connections and jewelry, a metal we call gold. What does it mean? Nothing. It isn’t about THAT. Its about the EXPERIENCE. It is the same thing that Monet did in his paintings to simulate the effect of looking through an early morning foggy haze. The haze itself means nothing, really, but is itself an effect. We might say that these things are without coincidence or unimportant, but for the they are not. I think that the rational mind NEEDS for things to MEAN something. If something does not MEAN something, it simply grows disinterested. The irrational part of the mind, though, is entirely comfortable with this lack of meaning and instead seeks the EXPERIENCE. All of this is very much tied up in how our two brain lobes function together as well as separately. But that is for another blog entry.
If the purpose of art is to help us to see a new way or to impact us deeply, I would argue that just how a color glints off a surface or a texture is rendered can also impact us in a similar way. Nature is the source for all art. HOW light impacts an environment has become fodder for at down through the ages. The Vermeer paintings of the wan northern light filtering in through the windows and illuminating the soft light complexions of his subjects creates a simulation or recreation of an original event experience that reaches the sublime. None of it would have half the impact were it not for something so simple as how light strikes an object, such as the skin of a human in the painting. Yes, these things matter so much, yet are so often yoked in the service of a larger work that we very often don’t recognize them for what they are, or WHY they are. I think for me, looking at a simple effect and KNOWING why it affects me fills me with something that just looking at a painting or landscape (whether painted or not) may not do since I might be so caught up in the details that I miss the simpler things, the foundational things that serve to hold the whole circus tend up on its rods and ropes. The ground holds the very canopy of heaven up.
I can remember sitting with my infant son who was all of seven months old in my arms in my backyard as the sun set slowly. The entire landscape was washed in a rich gold color. This was the “golden hour” as photographers like to call it, a time when the vibration of light changes to an increasingly warmer tone and is very kind to people being photographed. The air seemed to heat up but this had nothing at all to do with temperature. The world was bathed in this light that made everything glow. It was merely the effect of light as it glinted at its fallen angle in the sky. Within minutes the effect passed. What it conjured, or was conjured in my own mind as a result of its presence, was nothing short of mystical. It felt transcendent and entirely difficult to even put into words. Perhaps it was because I had had several dreams in my life when I noticed a golden light filtering into my dreamworld and felt as though the light of heaven was infiltrating in. The experience, though, was entirely simple and uncomplicated, just as with the sunlight. It went beyond content, it went beyond meaning. It was an experience of something so simple that it had the power to be a potent force in transporting me to another place…..but a place that was so incredibly present that it had nothing about being swept away, but steadied in the moment as all of the lights seemed to come on and light up life in a moment that felt like an epiphany. My son lay uncommonly quiet and still in my arms as though he was aware that something was taking place. No squirming; a willingness to take part in this moment, however it was he took part in it for himself. So in the same way, I find the simple direct nature of making decorative objects to carry, at least potentially, the same experiential “oomph” as some of these stolen moments that rise like highlights in life. Curiously, more and more of them are singular, simple, and entirely direct. Like how the glint of gold is direct, perhaps.
The challenge now is to take this method of working and push the shapes into territory not normally thought of as part of the fumed world. There are actually very few people who fume glass who make unusual shapes. For some reason a lot of fumed work tends to be pretty traditional. Maybe its time to shift things around.
I have been drawn to a rather amazing piece made by Tiffany’s studio that uses a type of fume that is very different from what has become mainstream. There is a giant punchbowl that he made that is really quite amazing. The surface on the glass, though, is buttery, soft, and sensual. It lacks the glitz of the tin chlorides and the shifting color palette. The effect of this punch bowl is far more subtle and this type of surface does not show up often in fumed work. Currently, I don’t yet know why. I suspect that it is because it is either very expensive a fume mixture or it is harder to accomplish. I suspect that it is the latter. And if this is so, I would like very much to find the particular metals used for the effect and see how I can bring a 21st century sensibility to it in the creation of new work. This is to say: stay tuned – there will be more!
I hope you are liking looking at the pieces as much as I have enjoyed making them. It was a real surprise to be honest.
I didn’t think I’d like them as much as I do. It has lit a new fire underneath me. Sure, it’s just another line of work, but its more than that. It gets me down the road a little more with all of this and moves me to the next thing…..and there is a lot of these next things to fill a lifetime it seems.
Please contact me directly for studio hours: our work is seasonal and sometimes the studio can be down for repairs, for example. Some days we are blowing glass while other days we are running errands or away at a show. Let us know when you are free to come see us and we can work something out that works for you.