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"Cane Blanket Vessel"
David Blankenstyn, "Cane Blanket Vessel," 2008, glass cane. Image courtesy of the artist.
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"Alberta Colour Gradient (detail)"
Robert Geyer, "Alberta Colour Gradient (detail)," 2009, hand coloured and pulled glass rods. Image courtesy of the artist.
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Natali Rodrigues, "Begegnung," 2007, cast and polished glass, steel mounts. Image courtesy of the artist.
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"An Unguarded Prayer"
Lori Sobkowich, "An Unguarded Prayer," 2008, leaded and cast glass with vitreous enamel, decal transfer. Image courtesy of the artist.
CALGARY GLASS NOW: A Survey of Contemporary Glass Art
Triangle Gallery of the Visual Arts
November 19 to December 17, 2009
By Mary-Beth Laviolette
Is it possible that contemporary glass is overtaking ceramics as the pre-eminent craft in Alberta? Not so much in terms of number of practitioners, but in quality and range of work, breathe-of-imagination and engagement with contemporary society and visual culture? That’s a big order to fill and yet as this juried exhibition suggests, the energies and input of emerging artists are high, while many established artists continue to impress.
Organized by the Calgary Glass Initiative, this is the second survey of glass art from Calgary and surrounding areas mounted at Triangle Gallery since 1995. Together with the recent Alberta Craft Council display of Glass 2009 in Edmonton, there is the impression that the efforts of the Alberta College of Art & Design and Red Deer College, as well as the collective and/or shared studio arrangements of many glass artists is paying off handsomely. Glass 2009 featured $90,000 worth of glass art acquired for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Collection. Purchases included work from Martha Henry, Tyler Rock, Julia Reimer, Tim Belliveau and Ryan Marsh Fairweather who also appear in the Calgary Glass Now exhibition.
In the last couple of decades, contemporary art
glass has sometimes been undermined by a reputation of being like candy floss: big, decorative and supremely precious (well, it does break). InCalgary Glass Now, although the range of glass is from the blown to the cast to the factory-produced (incorporating such items as a glass teacup and commercial mirror), the spirit is less about a precious medium and more about a material, with all its peculiarities, at the disposal of an artist. In that regard, there were some surprising moments like Lori Sobkowich’s An Unguarded Prayer. Made in response to the turmoil of Afghanistan, Sobkowich takes the format of a stain-glass church window common to many Christian churches and transforms it with motifs from central Asia. Deeply resonant too was Natali Rodrigues’ deceptively simple plaque of cast and polished glass Begegnung, in which the spiritual idea of grace is given material form.
There was also real substance in Jamie Gray’s commentary-rich, Have Your Cake, and Tyler Rock’sCannon, as well as Catch from his Riel Rebellion-inspired Almighty Voice series. For visual impact, Gray’s large-scale wall-mounted work, with its image of outstretched hands, was the more effective of the three works and I wondered if Rock’s two artefact-filled bell jars were too small in scale for their content. The question of scale was also raised in the flameworked figurative sculpture of Martha Henry’s bird women featured in Metamorphosis. These mythological figures were beautifully executed but seemed a little on the teeny-tiny scale, tipping over into cuteness.
It should be mentioned that Rock’s and Gray’s artwork would have looked fine in a contemporary art exhibition, thereby crossing the arbitrary and sometimes silly divide between Craft and Art. Other examples in Calgary Glass Now which accomplished this leap in categorization included the photograph-laden Retrieval by Robyn Weatherley which investigated memory, and the gender themes of Liz Bowen’s bodily Ornamentation of Sustainability and Angela Bedard’s motorized installation If. In a more modernist temperament, there was also Robert Geyer’s stunning minimalist composition of pulled glass rods, Alberta Color Gradient, with its references to 1960’s colour field painting. As for the visual culture of today and a Generation X sensibility, who can really beat the members of Bee Kingdom, represented by individual pieces by Philip M.Bandura, Tim Beliveau and Ryan M.Fairweather?
Finally, a few words should be said for glass art of a purer sort, the kind that revels largely in what this material excels at, especially with light and colour. David Blankenstyn, Bonny Houston and Barry Fairbairn have each contributed a vase-shaped work - a more traditional format - but given their sheer beauty, is anything else really needed? Glass veteran Jim Norton’s Floor Lamp is far more elaborate in function and appearance but it’s also part of the reason why there is much that glows in this latest “survey.”