Glass Art Society Journal Biographical Statement, 2014
Illustrating With a Glass Pallette — Page 4
The lamp as an object has also been a format for my sculpture. Metal figures, fabricated from brass or aluminum, or cast in bronze, are combined with blown glass shades and other details, including Vitrolite glass mosaics on aluminum bases. These sculptures are scenic representations of situations. A deliberate ambiguity guides the drawing of various elements as I compose the piece, which is an illustration of its title. This format is a direct translation of my interest in certain Modernist sculpture with attached base plates. The geometric stylization of the figures comes from my desire to preserve the qualities of sheet metal, tubing, and machined parts. This attitude toward abstraction is evident in much of my figurative art. Many of the pieces I have created are made of materials that look precious, and there are often details that highlight such qualities. Part of my attraction to ancient art is the rich embellishment that can be found in many objects that have survived over centuries. Often the embellishment is symbolic, meant to say something about the animal or human portrayed, or the object represented. It goes beyond decoration; becoming essential to the feeling conveyed by the object. These pieces of history inspire me and have influenced the art I produce.
While looking for plate glass I discovered Vitrolite and Carrara glass in an old Rhode Island commercial glass shop around 1971. The colored plate glass was exotic to me, and I began to use it in assembled sculpture. Because it was made between 1900 to 1947, it has become increasingly difficult to find. I have removed Vitrolite from building facades and interior walls of abandoned buildings, or found it in Commercial Glass shop storage racks covered in layers of debris and dirt from years of neglect. Colleagues in the GAS have called me to ask if I want to buy their collection of Vitroliote, which has led to a small library of colored glass that I have used for forty years. The range of colors typifies an era of American design, and compliments my interest in Art Deco. It is interesting that Libbey Owens Ford and Pitttsburgh Plate Glass technicians came up with colors that are so visually compatible, offering designers a range of choices from both companies because they were serving a popular market demand of the time.
My first works with Vitrolite were assembled plate glass heads, busts, and animals. The abstraction of the faces and bodies of these characters was deliberately based on the slabs of glass being joined mechanically with obvious screw connections and fabricated metal components designed to emphasize the geometry of the joined glass pieces. A series of works with two human heads on a 24” long base was based on observations of people in conversation (1982-1984). I wanted to show the relationship of speakers and listeners as it changed from piece to piece in the series. The way each character is stylized emphasizes their attitude in the conversation. The Vitrolite animals (1984-1996) began as illustrations of animal expressions about people, such as “Sick as a Dog” and “Odd Duck.” Toward the end of the series I dropped the association with such phrases and focused on the qualities of the animals I felt were compelling, while trying to build a statue of the creature that showed its unique demeanor.
The Vitrolite wall murals (1979-current) have occupied my imagination longer than any other series. These pictorial works are perhaps closest to drawing and painting than any other art I have made because they illustrate a subject and a scene through male and female characters portrayed. I like to observe human behavior, and the way I draw people is often interpreted as humorous even when I don’t intend it to be so. I do show the foolishness of certain actions and draw people in ways that reveals their emotions or thoughts. The stylization of faces and bodies comes from the original ink line drawing. Obvious references to Rousseau, Caravaggio, Wesselman, and other artists who have created images we know from years of repeated viewing, have been fair game as sources for classic symbols of a type of person. My intention with this series has been to create a picture that has layered meaning, perhaps not all evident at first glance. The low relief achieved with the layering of plate glass makes the materials and dimensionality important to the image. They are very frontal, not meant to be viewed from the side any more than a painting on canvas would be. The subject matter is varied, and often a male-female theme drives the image. They come from an urge to comment on society and human nature. This is true in much of my art, most overtly stated in the murals.
The series called Fabricated Music is conceptually different from my other sculpture. My goal was to capture the feeling of modal jazz through a vague representation of musical instruments and colored forms held in place by an armature. The armature is also formed to represent rhythm and tempo, and is polished or blackened with patina to accentuate these references. The moving colors in the blown forms cast colored shadows - a part of the concept that depends on angled lighting from a point close to the wall. None of these pieces were conceived to be a visual translation of a musical composition. They are an attempt to show the mood and feeling of the composition. This series was a departure from more deliberately representational work for me, and came from my response to the death of my stepfather, Ken Tricebock. Ken and my mother owned an advertising agency in Philadelphia, but as a young man he had a jazz band and continued to play piano and guitar all the years I knew him. His interest in modal jazz strongly affected my own diverse musical preferences.
The Individuals is a series I began in 2005 with a notion to re-visit the bust as a format after looking closely at marble sculpture in several US and European museums. I like the historical formality of the format, where the figure is presented in a heroic manner. However the gestures are altered with some figures posed leaning over, nose on the table, bent over backward, or arms and hands indicating some feeling or activity. The goal with each portrayal is to convey an emotion or quality of character. The facial expressions are important and the stylization of the features with hot glass led to a simplified approach. The liquid forms typical of added glass bits are often left untouched, to create an eyebrow or a hair, for example. The sense of hollow volume is preserved in the heads and many of the torsos, and the colors overlapping and fading like watercolor is exploited, so the use of glass for the busts is essential. This approach leads to a type of abstraction that I have used in many other hot glass series, such as the Mythology Vases and the Abstract Heads. There is no attempt at realism in the manipulation of the glass. The characters are symbolic in most cases, although I have made a few portraits of specific people, such as Lorenzo Di Medici as a young man, or Daniel Boulud with a street vendor’s hot dog. My means of rendering does not necessarily make them recognizable.
The Providence Performing Arts Center asked me to make a chandelier in 2003. The theater was built in 1928, and they never installed a chandelier because of the stock market crash. The interior surfaces are covered with an amazing collection of low relief motifs from various cultures in a baroque manner, gilded and very complex. There are many smaller hanging lamps that reference Tiffany style. The feeling of the theater was inspirational, but the assignment to create a piece that looked like it belonged there was daunting. The Rhode Island Historical Society, the President of RISD, the architects of the renovations, the board members of the theater, and the owners all reviewed my first presentation of 50 concept drawings at a meeting. By the end of the meeting we narrowed it down to five drawings, and selected the final concept drawing at the next meeting. The piece references many of the built-in details of the theater and has figurative elements similar to many of my illuminated works. It weighs 3950 pounds and has 350 light bubs and 21 LED assemblies. In the context of commissioned works I have made, it is unusual stylistically and mechanically because of the demands of the space.
Commissioned works have been an interest since the time I first became a professional artist. Most of the works made on commission have been functional art, such as sconces, chandeliers, cast glass murals, entrance doors, stair railings, gates, and other parts of buildings where a work of art can be installed to replace the expected standard. I have also made many commissioned works where a client has seen a drawing of a sculpture in my sketchbook and asked me to make it real. It is fairly common to be asked to repeat previous works as a commission. I have made similar pieces when asked, but make enough changes to satisfy myself and the client that their piece is unique. Commissions have stretched me in many ways because I have taken on jobs that require incorporating unfamiliar processes to achieve the imagined results. These occasions are also opportunities to learn, increasing my methods of approach to a problem. The kind of work I have made on commission is not practical to create for gallery exhibition. Often there are site-specific demands that make certain dimensions or colors perfect for the space, but I would not have imagined it that way for a show in a gallery. Creating works for a specific location usually means I must be there to imagine the scale and proportions of the piece, understand the limitations of the space, and examine the building structure, electrical wiring, and material qualities of the construction.