Most glass metaphors are just too easy. As we’ve spent centuries utilizing the material in three primary capacities—for dinnerware, windows and mirrors—we made symbolic associations with two of these manifestations long ago. (Dinnerware is just too damned dull for go-to literary devices.)
In window form, looking through glass evokes freedom and possibility. As a mirror, looking at glass represents vanity or introspection, depending on the context. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” The mirror is the ultimate abyss, a literary device effective enough to have become a cliché.
Because of our everyday exposure to glass in the aforementioned forms, it’s easy to forget the medium’s versatility and potential to astonish. Glass can ably carry much of the colorful, attention-grabbing pop of a canvas, but it’s also a material that reveals sundry new intricacies and angles when altered by light. (This idea is less gratifying in bronze and clay sculpture.) Even with the many glass artists and pieces out there, the medium goes underappreciated.
Happily, Clear and Present: Works in Glass by 12 Artists at LewAllen Galleries Downtown wholly avoids all that humdrum symbolism and instead delves into glass’ untapped possibilities. The artists use the medium in several ways: in human and animal sculpture, in playful mosaics, to craft geometric patterns. The only thing close to common use is Charles Miner’s series of faded cast glass vessels, whose exteriors feature intricate carvings of schools of fish. Even if one were to ignore the hefty price tags that come with fine art, Miner’s works are too majestic to be confused with ordinary vessels. See “Tall Pescador” filled with punch at a party, and you’d at least feel obligated to compliment the host.
The most striking pieces in Clear and Present have nothing to do with everyday function. In “Exploration 156” and “Exploration 157,” Steve Klein creates curvy, carefully structured plates, which feature balls caught in motion in their centers. His “Holding 5” is Clear and Present’s most gorgeous piece: a teal and black lattice that resembles a loosened-up helix. Both its color scheme and clarity of construction are compelling.
Using small spheres of fused glass (dot de verre), Veruska Vagen recreates pieces by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and other famed artists into petite mosaics. Disappointingly, her interpretations do nothing to twist or augment the originals, but are whimsical and charming until the novelty wears thin.
Carmen Vetter’s “Transpose” engages three-dimensional possibilities. As a visual, it’s flat and underwhelming, with two sets of 10 red crescents stacked upon each other and facing opposite directions on a black background. But closer scrutiny reveals that each crescent has been carved out of the kiln-formed glass surface and creates a slightly altered visual depending on the viewing angle. The piece gains little extra visual punch, but its meticulous carving adds an element of subtle intrigue.
“Transpose” hits on Clear and Present’s major flaw: Its work leaves much room for appreciating craftsmanship and little for extracting meaning. Similarly, Hiroshi Yamano’s sculptures of birds perched on branches in trays are idyllic and precisely captured, but don’t offer much food for thought.
Some pieces don’t even have the craftsmanship angle going for them. Peter Bremers, who is responsible for the fantastic “Antelope’s Twist (Canyons & Deserts),” resorts to uninventive shapes and images in his Icebergs & Paraphernalia series, forgoing imagination for staid design. Glass contains loads of potential, but much of Clear and Present simply touches the surface.