Contemporary Glass in New Mexico

Six Disparate Approaches to the Medium

 

For the past 30 years art collectors have had a love affair with all things glass, including sculpture, vessels, and jewelry as well as a new genre of art marbles. Glass in its various physical states ranging from searing molten liquid to cool solids is beautiful, dangerous, fragile and baring accident extremely long lasting. †Stone Age tool and weapons makers chose volcanically formed obsidian to fashion keen edged cutting implements. Some 21st century surgeons still prefer obsidian over steel bladed scalpels.††

Internationally renowned multi-media artist Larry Bell has been building sculpture out of glass since the early 1960s. Bellís atmospheric cubes and free standing float glass sculptures, coated with a variety of vaporized metals, are in countless museum and private collections around the world. Bell now divides his time between studios in Venice Beach, California and Taos. He spoke on the phone from his Venice Beach studio. †

 

“Of course there’s the romantic notion that glass has a three million year shelf life but I like glass because it does three things just by being what it is, it transmits light, absorbs light and reflects light simultaneously. Also, when I started using glass to make works of art no one else was using it. Both plate and mirrored glass was readily available and inexpensive,” Bell said. “Though glass has its obvious vices, like fragility and the need for special handling, the virtues of glass far outweigh its limitations. Glass is receptive to modification and highly interactive with its environment. Because we commonly see flat glass in doors and windows it is already charged with meaning when used in the improbable context of art.”  

In contrast to Bell’s often monumental glass works (his 1977 “The Ice Berg and Its Shadow” is built from 56 panels measuring 60” tall by 57-100” wide), Corrales artist Emily Brock builds her world views in miniature. For the past 35 years Brock has created tiny narrative vignettes that celebrate life as well as the incredible flexibility of the glass medium. Her painstakingly detailed and colorful tableaux chronicle daily activities, workplaces and repositories of knowledge like arboretums, museums and libraries.

Larry Bell Cube 36

Brock began her career as a clothing and textile artist who fell in love with glass as a material in the late 1970s. Since then, her works continue to find their way into major museums and private collections.  “My husband had taken a course in stained glass making. The materials he used caught my attention and I became fascinated with the true beauty of glass after taking a one-day workshop on the creation of kiln fused glass. I loved the way melting glass acted like fabric when it draped over an object,” Brock said.

Brock’s first constructed assemblage was a glass quilt that she melted over a firebrick that looked like a bed. She went on to build the details and furnishings for a complete bedroom. Another early work was a small barroom that a passing viewer wished he could be inside of.  “I realized that glass construction could be a format for narrative. So I became a storyteller within an endlessly interesting medium. As my stories became more complex I introduced new techniques to expand my vocabulary until I’d tried everything except full scale glass blowing,” Brock said.

Iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago, who’s monumental 1974 “Dinner Party”, a mixed media 48 feet on a side triangle, recently became a permanent installation in the Brooklyn Museum of Art collection, began working in stained, cast, etched and fused glass in 1992.

Emily Brock Refill Please

“I came to glass through stained glass and slowly began to explore other aspects of the medium. Cast glass has the pristine surface quality, transparency and translucency that I looked for in my earliest work. Though I’m now more figurative those qualities remain highly desirable,” Chicago said on the phone from her Belen studio.

“With the cast glass Tobey Head series I truly found my voice in the glass medium. The success of those efforts has led to a new series of heads that allow me to incorporate bronze and porcelain techniques within glass castings.

Chicago describes herself as a content driven artist who needs to know everything about materials and techniques. She always finds a way to complete a project even if she has to invent one.


 

Successful glass artist Karen Bexfield is a self described servant of her insatiable curiosity. Trained as a physical therapist Bexfield came to glass making through her interest in wood and stone sculpture and other art forms.

“I went into a glass studio with a simple question and became intrigued with the beauty and scientific complexity of glass as an art form,” Bexfield recalls.

“As my work grew I began to use organic penetrations of my forms to cast interesting shadows so the ephemeral overall shape is activated by its shadows.”

She explains that her inquisitive nature leads her to want to know how things work. Whether working on the structure of the human body to help reverse an injury or while building one of her lace-like glass sculptures Bexfield wants to understand the inner forces in order to find the intricate balance between materials, techniques and self expression.

Albuquerque artist Sarah Nelson recently completed an artist residency alongside Bexfield at the Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle.

“While I was in the program I found whole new ways of working that I hadn’t tried before. I’m now using glass in a more painterly way and it opens up a lot of new possibilities,” Nelson said. “The new approach to glass making felt threatening in the beginning, though once I started seeing in a new way everything turned upside down. I have a new direction to explore and I still have my early work to fall back on.”

Glass artist and marble maker Doug Harroun attended the University of New Mexico to study engineering before switching off to fine arts and jewelry making. A classmate had a glass studio that became a between classes haven for Harroun leading to an addiction to glass as a medium.

“Glass is the most seductive and technically challenging medium I’ve encountered. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. After graduation I parlayed my childhood love affair with marbles into a profession,” Harroun said.

Harroun’s stunningly beautiful marble designs are inspired by microbiological cell formations and other organic forms. Their eye appeal comes from his intuitive sense of color harmonies.

From monuments to marbles, glass is one of the most versatile mediums available to artists. With a solid collector base the future of fine glass art is as radiant as the material itself.

Judy Chicago Toby Head with Copper Eyes


Wesley Pulkka is an artist, critic, and arts writer for New Mexico and national publications.

Originally appeared in The Collector’s Guide - Volume 25


Related Pages

Glass Art in New Mexico article

Fused & Slumped Glass article


Glossary of Glass Terms article


Collector’s Resources

Albuquerque

The Albuquerque Museum | 505-243-7255
Sumner & Dene | 505-842-1400
Weyrich Gallery | 505-883-7410

Santa Fe

EVOKE contemporary | 505-995-9902
Bellas Artes | 505.983.2745
GF Contemporary | 505.983.3707
Charlotte Jackson Fine Art | 505-989-8688
Carol Kucera Gallery | 505-989-7523
LewAllen Galleries | 505-988-3250
Liquid Light Glass 926 Baca St #3 | 505-820-2222
New Mexico Museum of Art | 505-476-5064
Tansey Contemporary rem 652 Canyon Road | 505-995-8513
SITE Santa Fe | 505-989-1199
Tesuque Glassworks pic Bishop's Lodge Road | 505-988-2165
Wiford Gallery 403 Canyon Road | 505-982-2403
Zane Bennett Contemporary Art 435 S Guadalupe St | 505-982-8111

RESOURCE LISTS UPDATED WHEN VIEWED | ARTICLE CONTENT REVISED June 21, 2011

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