Monday, June 24, 2013

In the Muranese Fashion: New Glass from Mattia and Marco Salvadore

Current work by Mattia and Marco Salvardore of
 StudioSalvadore, at the Sherrie Gallerie
 in Columbus, through July 31, 2013.
In March of 2012, I was introduced to the astonishing work of Muranese master glass artist Davide Salvadore at the Sherrie Gallerie in Columbus. This summer, Sherrie Hawk is showing work from his sons, Mattia and Marco, who work cooperatively at their Studio Salvadore in Murano. Murano is the traditional island site of Venetian glass works, where today's techniques have continuously developed since the 16th century.

The Salvadore brothers' sculptures capture color and light, transferring to them the molten look their medium once had, when it emerged super-heated from the kiln. The artists concentrate on a few forms—simple, graceful elliptical shapes ideal for framing the layered currents of color that swim through their depths.

Those colors are, in fact, one of the first things that caught my eye as I looked through the room toward the large front window, the natural source of illumination for all the work. The palettes are fresh and, above all, struck me as young. Young: as in springlike (leaf green, sky blue, buttercup yellow), but also as in hip. 
Mattia and Marco Salvadore, Opera 13. 
Blown and carved glass.

A signature of Studio Salvadore is swathes of color encased in transparent glass with large murrine applied on the surface. Murrine are the slices from canes the glassmaker forms for this purpose. Disks cut from the canes will make beautiful, circular decorations, all alike—like filled cookies cut from a roll. The Salvadores apply murrine at the end of the glassblowing process, so they sit boldly on the surface of the vessel. The small variations in size have to do with distortions consequent on working with high temperature materials.
Detail of murrine on Opera 13

The application of murrine is not the last step of decoration. Once the piece is entirely cool, then its surface is carved. This step is yet another opportunity for the worker to make the slip that would destroy so labor- and technique-intensive a work of art. These pieces are highly vulnerable to error and serendipity at every step of the process. They requires the artist's confident and unerring hand at all stages, from super-heated fluid to rock-like solid. I wonder how many pieces like the ones in this show are attempted for each one realized?

I'll return to my perception of the youthful air about Studio Salvadore's work. Fashionable is the word that actually describes the feeling I have about this body of work. The fact that nearly all of the work is similar in size, shape, and distinctive motif brings to mind an up-to-the-minute, fresh fashion collection presented on the elegant curves of uniform models. The colors and their satiny flourishes within the vessels give the air of draped or folded fabrics. This effect is spectacularly enhanced by the details of carving. In Opera 13, the horizontal surface waves atop the lime green give the effect of a pleated, silken sash. 

Opera 5 is the most translucent piece in the Sherrie show. Its swirling, interlocked patterns of
Mattia and Marco Salvadore, Opera 5. 
Blown and carved glass.
carved surface designs respond to the movement and shapes of the color designs. On top of the simpler areas of pale violet, though, the carving gives the feeling that quilting stitches do on fabric. The effect is not that we necessarily focus on the troughs left where glass has been excised. Rather, their edges define soft spaces in the way that quilting stitches define and gently gather tiny pouches of fabric. I see that this is similar to the effect of stitchery on fine, sheer fabric. Not only does the extra surface detail add the beauty of subtle design, but it piques with the illusion of transparency. Perhaps we could see through this were it not for those marks? There is a seductive element created by the intersection of translucence and the fine shadowy marking of the carved or stitched lines. 

Opera 5 is high fashion in its sensuous, seductive use of color and pattern; design elements subtle and bold; and materials the hand can barely resist caressing. It has the sex appeal that makes you want to get closer, and the attitude of couture that enforces distance as part of its allure.
Mattia and Marco Salvadore, Opera 8. 
Blown and carved glass.

Gazing at this beautiful show, then, from the back of the room, is like enjoying the pages of Italian Vogue, or enjoying a Fashion Week party in Milan, Paris, or New York. It is fresh, beautiful, new, and exciting. A wonderful show of exquisite glass!

I mention a vantage point from the back of the room not only for the view into the dazzling grouping of Studio Salvadore glass, but also because there sit on display three pieces remaining from the elder Salvadore's spring 2012  Sherrie Gallerie show.

At the time, I was disconcerted by Davide Salvadore's show because very little of his work looked like glass. His works tend to have matte surfaces which, while minutely and brilliantly decorated, nevertheless appear to be made of inlaid wood or leather. His forms, too, are unconventional, having the appearances of imagined musical instruments or dreamed "ancient" vessels. If the sons' sculptures are sleek,  young, and stylish, the father's seem almost curmudgeonly in their astonishingly wrought singularity.

Davide Salvadore, detail.
Blown and carved glass.
Mattia and Marco learned their art in their father's studio, Campanol e Salvadore, when they were boys. Both have worked with other masters since, both in Murano and at the famous Pilchuck School in Washington state. It is still clear that their father's influence is deep, being on the surface of the work shown here.

Exquisite glass carving is clearly a shared characteristic. Because the sons are more interested in allowing light to travel through their glass, they use carving almost as another color element, or as an enhancement to the directional flow of color. Because Davide's presentations are nearly always opaque, carving is exterior enhancement. He uses it more architecturally than his sons do.

Both generations apply murrine to the exteriors of their works rather than incorporating it into the hot glass. What different expressions result from the same technique though. The detail from Davide's fantastical instrument shows tightly focused murrine placed in double pairs for an almost classical look. This couldn't be more different from the sons' large, loose, urban tribal tattoos.
Davide Salvadore. Blown and carved

Sherrie's show of Mattia and Marco Salvadore glass provides a heavenly hour for any person with eyes to see. It is a trip to Paradise. That such pure sensual gratification is generated by so technique-heavy, physically demanding an art form is breathtaking, even as a concept. For the Salvadore brothers to bring us such light and elegant work is most artful indeed.

But their show is enriched for all of us by the three pieces of their father's that remain in the wings. Davide Salvadore's work seems to come from a different planet—the planet perhaps farthest away from youth: Age. The complex uncompromisingness of the elder's work; its depth of concept and design; the visionary quality to his use of materials: All this hearkens to experience with glass and with life too. The strange formality of his work lends a darkness to them that appeals to me. They are not only wonders of process and aesthetics, but repositories of experiences I don't have to know to connect to.

Not that this isn't true for the work from Studio Salvadore. But I am older now. I love beauty, color, youth and fashion. I love especially what I know will continue to sustain me, and I turn to art for this. I embrace especially work that I have to think about before I fall in love with it—the odd or rough, the characteristic, troubling, or off-kilter. Often I find that works with these qualities keep me coming back because they always have more to offer. I may not always "like" them, but I always have a conversation with them about something important. Those conversations may change from month to month, but they don't stop. It doesn't hurt if the works are beautiful, but they don't have to be. They have to keep talking and challenging, though. And they have to bear the deep, indelible mark of their individual maker.

All photography by the author, with thanks to the Sherrie Gallerie.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Photography's Back to the Future"

Garie Waltzer, Tokyo: Hanayaski Amusement Park, 2008.
Printed with 
archival pigmented carbon inks on Hanemuhle photo rag paper.
Catherine Evans, the William and Sara Soter Curator of Photography at the Columbus Museum of Art, has curated a breathtaking show for the Ohio Arts Council at their Riffe Gallery in Columbus. Photography's Back to the Future presents bodies of work by ten exceptional artists who use their cameras to transport us past documentation of reality. In the images these ten bring us, microcosms and galaxies hitherto beyond our focus or dreams lie before us. It's a show that made me catch my breath over and over in surprise and wonder as I reacted to the beauty, mystery, and acuity of ten distinguished visions.

Every photographer in the show dazzles with striking image, unusual  technique, or stunning point of view, so let me name them all: Amanda Hope Cook and Dennison W. Griffith, both of Columbus; Lori Kella of Cleveland; Tracy Longley-Cook, Francis Schanberger, Janelle Young, and Christine Zuercher of Dayton; Rachel Girard Reisert and Jordan Tate of Cincinnati; and Garie Waltzer of Cleveland Heights.

Garie Waltzer, Eiffel Tower Plaza, 2005. Printed with archival
pigmented carbon inks on Hanemuhle photo rag paper
Four of my favorites demonstrate that however I wish that I understood the many different technical forms of photography, I am at least not blind to the beauties of the work that results from them. As in print-making and multi-media art, my experience would probably be enhanced by understanding each artist's techniques and innovations. Yet these ultimately matter to the extent that they serve the ends of the work and its essential communication about the human issues—which bring me to art in the first place.

I led this review with one of Garie Waltzer's entirely absorbing, deeply layered images from her Living Cities series. In each of the huge, black and white, perfectly-focused photographs, taken in cities around the world, Waltzer shoots from a position so neutral and narrative—all-seeing and inescapable—that we feel the satisfaction we find in a nineteenth-century novel. The camera is situated at a spot of high, distant authority that permits us to roam with freedom through the  minutely documented world. Seeing the world through her image is unquestionably better than being part of it, where we would be reduced to insignificant participation with an insignificant consciousness.
Garie Waltzer, Rio de Janeiro, Rocinha, 2010. Printed with archival pigmented carbon inks on Hanemuhle photo rag paper.

Waltzer captures the essence of the city's interlocking series of macro- and microcosms. Her lens composes and frames a whole world, even though the background mountains, the shadow, or the park fences tell us that it is merely a slice of a city's life. Yet within this microcosm, we see the defining architecture and infrastructure and we can watch the movement and the expressions of the people moving through it. The depth and clarity of focus is uncanny. In Rio, we can see all the way back to the houses against the mountainside; in Tokyo, we admire the planning that fashions from a tiny piece of ground a sufficient "Disneyland" for hundreds of pleasure-seekers. No individual's delight is left ambiguous: All the facts are laid bare in Waltzer's living cities, where all the scenes, so beautifully composed, are just as her camera finds them.

Janelle Young, from Atlas series, 2012. Silver gelatin print.
Janelle Young documents in her 2012 Atlas series living worlds as ambiguous as Waltzer's are defined. Her camera may be focused on views of Earth from Mars, or on dew drops through microscopes. The reality content of her work is merely the stage upon which the viewer's dreams emerge and play what roles they will. The allure of her work for me is that I find myself sometimes the principal inhabitant of her odd landscapes and at other times a distant surveyor of far-away, misty and mystical scenes—the sorts of places that suggest the challenges that determine destiny. A remarkable thing about the pictures, then, is that the images are so plastic in terms of interpretation, while being formally so stable.

Janelle Young, from Atlas series, 2012. Silver gelatin print.
In the photograph to the left, one can even compare the camera angle to those Waltzer chooses in her cityscapes. We feel that we are high above a world laid out below us. Is it a city whose airport we approach? Or the the foothills that will lead us from our mountaintop to the moors? Perhaps it is the dream of Death's distant horizon, with its edges curving in to embrace us; or the setting moon that leads us to from this vague life to a glowing final place? 

The image to the right can lead all sorts of sensibilities into meaningful narratives and reflections. Interpret this through, time, space, delight, fear, Nature, spirit, religion, philosophy, the creative urge: The potential narratives are, in Young's suggestive visual definition, as great in number as Waltzer's in their clarity. Yet, like Waltzer, Young's mastery of her medium is at the highest level. In neither of these images is there a moment out of place. Allowing one's eye to shuttle slowly across every area of the surface, we find nothing even close to being "out of focus." Young has carefully chosen the degree of edge for every episode of the print: This is tour de force work.

Lori Kella, Majestic Effort.
Landscape is also the territory of Lori Kella, who handcrafts vistas to photograph. Her constructions are in the vein of traditional museum dioramas, in which scenes are set as background on which model humans or wildlife display their habits or dramas. Her work disconcerts viewers new to it. Its colors are vivid and the effects she creates do not at first glance appear to be modeled by hand: Of course they are photographs of real places and events! It is only after puzzled scrutiny that we discover the artifice. We experience her work in waves, each bringing a new swell of delight and surprise.

What finally clues the viewer in to the artificiality of Kella's work is its literal shallowness. Compared to the vistas we've seen in the literal and metaphorical landscapes of Waltzer and Young, Kella gives us horizons cut off by clouds, creating narrow, cosseted worlds for us to experience and examine. Though she often generates snowy and aerial scenes, even these are warm because the implied grand scale is closed off by cloudy skyline, looming mountains, or by trees. 
Lori Kella, White Paper Mountains, 2011.
In White Paper Mountains, the mountains rise abruptly from an even plain; a few small, cumulus clouds are suspended from a faintly glittering "invisible" wire. The helicopter in Majestic Effort is crudely painted, and its blades are seen individually, not as the blur that would appear if they were rotating.

The notes to Kella's work in the show remind us that her work, though whimsical, is serious, having to do with preservation of landscape, and being artistically related to the work of Ansel Adams and other great American landscape artists. No doubt all of this is true, but it is definitely the whimsical that most affects me in her work, for it removes me to an age when the world could be literally modeled for train sets and doll houses, and when our youthful minds inhabited them fully. As my brothers' O-gauge train chugged down its track between its minor scenery of water tower, general store and a few flaky trees, it shoved every other possible reality from mind. 

Kella's photography proves that the imaginary can be as discernibly real as reality. Photography is traditionally the documentary medium. It witnesses, defines, and proves. In Kella's work, personal worlds, the worlds we dream about—or the secret, fantasy ones in which we in fact mentally operate daily—are validated and proven real by the fact-finding camera.  
Rachel Girard Reisert, Tropism #8, Toned cyanotype prints on Arches Platine paper, 55 3/4” x 21 1/4.”

Rachel Girard Reisert's handsome series, Tropism, is another highlight of this wonderful show. Each triptych features one or more trees in three parts, which the viewer cannot fail to associate. I find them impossible not to understand as gestural, every springing branch (even the severed one in Tropism #8) an invitation to and anticipation of life beyond.

A tropism, for those of us who have forgotten, is an organism's tendency to orient itself by growth on some external stimulus. Phototropism is the apparent tendency of plants to grow toward light (though the light actually damages the side closest to it, allowing the farther side to grow faster, thus bending the plant "toward" the light. Stay tuned.)

Reisert works close-up, giving us studies not only in gesture, but in surface as well. These tree are portraits in the manner of figure studies, such care Reisert takes lovingly to detail the particularity of each. In Tropism #8, I feel myself granted a privileged, intimate view of an ancient elder, whose folded, mottled, and stringy skin is the displayed history of his long life. The point of view, up the trunk, pays homage to the subject, whose complexity is expressed through three views that suggest his roundness of character and vision, on top of his longevity. Is the outward gesture the tropism? Is the gesture promoting or crippling the aging tree?
Rachel Girard Reisert, Tropism #9, Toned cyanotype prints on Arches Platine paper, 55 3/4” x 21 1/4.”
As we look up into the triptych of Tropism #9, we see the branches of the central, dead figure gesture on the right directly into blooming spring branches (perhaps photographed with infrared film? I'm not certain). On the left, an abundant vine graciously entwines with dead twigs. The clean spareness of these images, along with the lilting composition reaffirms the hopeful messages of dignity and renewal that Reisert finds in nature's life cycles and seasonal cycles both. 

Reisert's focus on age in nature is particularly interesting throughout this series of work, as longevity's values of durability, texture, grace, and generosity seem to be in general cultural disfavor at the moment. Reisert's exploration of time through these studies is not only visually beautiful, but excellent for the quiet pace her triptych technique imposes. She invites our not only our inspection, but our reflection as well.

Photography's Back to the Future will be open at the Riffe Center Gallery through July 7. I'm able to cover only a few of the wonders in it. I am embarrassed to use the term "must-see," so I'll just say that I wouldn't want to miss this show and hope my local readers will not.

Photographs courtesy of the Riffe Gallery, Rachel Girard Reisert, and Garie Waltzer. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ohio Designer Craftsmen, "The Best of 2013"

Sharona Muir, Perrysburg, Ohio, Storm's Eye Ring. 
Wire, tool-dip, glass polychrome
The Ohio Craft Museum in Columbus is hosting the annual membership awards show of Ohio Designer Craftsmen through June 23. In viewer's terms, the show has something for everyone, though that's how crafts shows tend to be. While jurors—Michael W. Monroe, Director Emeritus of the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington State in this case—can focus on materials, mastery, and innovation, viewers indulge themselves in the decorative, droll, or too often, the cute.

This show is full of admirable works from a broad range of goals and tastes; I'm reminded why crafts are often presented in fairs. Quilts and crystal; clay in forms from humble earthenware to shimmering raku; and pearls set in gold neighboring felted footstools are herein gathered in a small space. The crowded displays inevitably create odd backgrounds for anything one stops to admire, despite the obvious care that has been taken by the installer for rational presentations.

Mary L. Alexander, Hubbard, OH. Until 
Justice Rolls Down Like Waters II.
 Cotton, hand-dyed (shibori).
Craft has long been presented as the little sister of Art; crafts workers don't get the respect, they may believe, that fine artists do. I think that the art-vs-craft dichotomy lies in emotional limitations. In general, I find crafts less expressive of the deeper thoughts and preoccupations of human experience. Often crafts bring me simple pleasures, but not the sort that stimulate my deeper thoughts or that induce reflection. But that's fine too.

Mary Alexander of Hubbard, Ohio shows two beautiful quilts. Both are formally composed of long rectangles; their composition creates a monumental effect that is softened by the use of light-dappled batik fabrics. They are hand- quilted in narrow, vertical bands. Like all the quilts in the show, they are art quilts—hangings that in her case, would fill a space serenely.

As much as I like the quilt pictured, I cringe at its title, Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters. The image of falling waters is clear, but it is difficult for me to derive from the quilt's medium, colors, construction, or pattern what only its title points to: that it in some way embodies the mighty, inevitable movement of justice. The artifact is light, lovely, and pleases the eye in ways that carry no such weight of concept.

This certain aspirational misfit is a crafts tendency represented by a number of works in this show: Either the artists has chosen the wrong medium for a powerful concept; or (s)he has attempted to add pomp to a piece unable to communicate in the haughty vernacular its weighty name suggests it should.

One of the quilts, with the simple name of Mickey was unusual in every way, though: Fine quilting and fabric enhance what would be an intriguing image in paint, mixed media, or as a print. Mary Ann Tipple's seems to have found the perfect medium, though, in fabric and needlework. 
Mary Ann Tipple, Elyria, OH. Mickey. Fabric, thread.

Star- or future-gazing, Mickey, portrayed as two related, psychically communicating selves, is ethereal and moon-lit against the rich, deep night of the blue background. The red quilted blocks suggest a scientific grid against which some meaning system can be charted, while the black and silver blocks, the red and white stripes suggest antic and partial occurrences contrary to implied plan. Inspired, bearded, rakishly capped Mickey seems tuned in to a universe of un-phased planets that never set. Tipples scene is mysterious, open, evocative, and fun. That it is a quilt adds plenty to the work. The patterns of stitchery in the two Mickeys distinguish them from one another, especially in the definition of the faces, one of which is more curved and free in pattern than the other. The texture produced by the careful quilting is  down-to-earth, tactile and very relatable. There is indeed a "homespun" feel that grounds this otherworldly image, suggesting how real and human it is to release the imagination and the to explore through science and fantasy the farthest reaches of the unknown. Here is the prospect of the far-out, speculative future, presented as a natural extension of the creative urge that moves even women gathered to ply ancient, traditional needle crafts.

Katie Schutte, Akron, OH. Sabedilla Motif Collar. Wire, powder coat.
The category of work in The Best of 2013 that struck as most consistently excellent in presentation and informed by interesting concepts was the jewelry. One tends to think of jewelry as existing to reflect the wearer's beauty; to add visual or literal value to the wearer; to enhance femininity (in most cases). Here were several excellent items that were not only exquisite in craftsmanship, but which question or subverted one's assumptions for the purposes of jewelry in the first place. 

Katie Schutte's Sabedilla Motif Collar is a large, spiky thing one would settle about one's throat with particular care. We can only assume that the powder coat is permanently affixed and is not in fact powder of the sabadilla plant, a South American lilly widely used as a botanical insecticide. It is as toxic to humans as to weevils. Everything about this ornament looks uncomfortable: the individual wire loops at the end of each "bulb" would have to be irritating to bare skin. Think about positioning the collar for a balance that allowed the wearer to carry the chin and shoulders naturally, or that allowed unencumbered movement of the head from side to side. It would be a continuous challenge that might make the wearer perceive time to pass slowly. 
Shawn Lopez, Bowling Green, Ohio, Honey Locust.
White bronz, copper, leather.

The wearer's movement isn't the only issue with such an ornament though: The wearer is thinking of its impact on the people who interact with her. How do people react to a person ornamented thus? Such jewelry creates a zone that both protects the wearer and will be taken as aggressive by others—concepts forever paired.
Honey locust thorns, 6" long

Those ideas of protection and aggression accrue equally to some other outstanding jewelry, in particular to Shawn Lopez's Honey Locust  and Emily Fruth's We Are the Church. Lopez's alarming collar cries out, "Punk!" and sets the gentle quilt- or plate-collector's pulse racing with the threat implied in this sensibility. It's title, though, leads, ironically, to the perception that the form copies nature, not weaponry either science fictional or medieval.

Mary Fruth's We Are the Church has its shock of irony as well, but it comes not from a reconsideration of punk, but of piety.
The aggressive defense of her equally exquisite collar derives from the soft, golden glow of protruding flying buttresses that bolster tall, pierced and pointed walls of a gothic church. The buttresses jut out from the wearer's throat, securing the house of God that surrounds the wearer's head. The same architecture, though, allows no one to get close to the wearer. Is she too holy to
Emily Fruth, Napolen, Ohio, We Are the Church. Brass
approach? Is this church only for the elect? Is the admirer too poor to purchase her way into it? The beauty, luxury, and exclusivity of this phenomenally crafted piece put it, along with Lopez's collar, into a very special zone of wearability married with complex concept: Both are pithy, sharp, and humorous.

Fruth, who won the show's Jane H. Zimmerman Award for Excellence in a Body of Work, also showed a show-stopping Chatelaine. In earlier generations, through the nineteenth century, European and American women carried chatelaines, in which they carried daily essentials, like scissors and keys. These were attached small chains that dangled in a bunch from the waist.

A chatelain
Fruth's elegant, traditionally formal interpretation of the chatelaine, is made for the contemporary woman. It does not pin to the dress, but has a broad hook on the back, so it can be hung over a belt or the waistband of trousers or blue jeans. She describes it as a "carrier for personal items such as cell phone, pepper spray, and kubaton," the latter being a small, pointed self-defense devise. It it beautifully crafted into an updated shape with only two chains, the formal emphasis being on two ovary-like curls that lead into the splendid uterus whence can nestle one's treasure, the cell phone.
Emily Fruth, Napoleon, Ohio, Chatelaine. Copper, enamel.

So, I was glad I went to the see the Ohio Designer Craftsmen's "The Best of 2013." There are inherent limitations on membership shows: They draw on a limited pool, and are therefore capped by the numbers and the ingenuity of the people in the group who decide to participate. This show, overall, demonstrates that drawback for the viewing public. Some of the work exemplifies high achievement of technique without demonstrating much imagination. But where it shines, it's a forum for some artists worth watching, whom I trust are showing much farther afield than here.