When someone says “art glass” do you think immediately of the colorful, often whimsical and crowd-pleasing objects that are staples of art fairs and craft festivals? Well, think again.
HUSH.ex, a group show of four artists from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art, on view until November 4 at River House Gallery in Toledo, will re-order your preconceptions of what glass as art can be and do.
Working within a narrow range of colors and a broad array of glass types, Megan Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius and Sharyn O’Mara have filled the gallery with a collection of visually and conceptually challenging work that refuses the flashy over-stimulation of the digital age. The easy appeal, saturated colors and fluid shapes of conventional art glass have been replaced by a more austere vision that is expressive of solitude and silence. The artworks are predominately black, white and shades in between; the types of glass include production milk glass, airport grade glass reflector beads, found and second-life glass and more. The artists heat, crack, fuse, burn and pour their way to artworks that push the medium of art glass well beyond its previous aesthetic borders.
Jessica Jane Julius’s Static Puddles are made by pouring black matte glass over shards of canework. The story of their production is evident in the jagged centers of black and white surrounded by the gloppy shape of each piece, but that is secondary to the lyrical appeal of these weightless black blooms. In another instance of prosaic material transcended by the poetic, Julius has applied airport grade glass reflector beads suspended in paint on four panels to create a wavy, translucent river that flows across the wall of the gallery. The title of the piece is Absorption.
Recycled, up-cycled and second-life glass provides the raw material for the works of Amber Cowan. Her installation of commonly recognizable milk glass objects, heated and deformed, transforms these everyday vessels into ghostly memorials to their humble use. In Tall Vase with Thorny Vines, Cowan has heated a production vase, pierced it and collaged ceramic plants into it, shaping it into a matte white still life that is both familiar and surreal.
The work of Megan Biddle focuses on process-driven work that emphasizes the unique qualities of materials and their response to outside forces such as time, growth, erosion, breakage. (In addition to her glass work, she produces installation, sculpture, drawing and video.) Her Further for Now series examines the way that layers of cracked glass can create a kind of line drawing on a hazy, semi-transparent field.
Dog hair, optical fiber and typewriter tape are the eccentric components that characterize the work of Sharyn O’Mara. Particularly prominent in this exhibit are her carbon burn-out “drawings” on glass. These hair-on-glass process pieces are abstract, yet often seem to reference seed pods or plants. They have an ethereal quality, as if they might disappear into thin air, blown away by fugitive winds.
The glass art that is featured in HUSH.ex is neither easy nor pretty nor decorative, but satisfies on a deeper level. These four artists demonstrate that there are many unexplored avenues for discovery in this medium that is so central to the regional aesthetic. They point the way to a creative trajectory in art glass that is cerebral, experimental and conceptually rigorous.
HUSH.ex is the second in a series of museum-quality exhibits organized by Contemporary Art Toledo, a collaborative partnership of gallerist Paula Baldoni of River House Gallery with Brian Carpenter, Gallery Director at the University of Toledo. (Their first exhibit was Beautiful Pig). The goal of CA+ is to provide a showcase in the Toledo area for provocative and groundbreaking contemporary artwork by nationally known and regional artists.
For more information about HUSH.ex and River House Gallery hours go here