Earth, air, water and fire. The natural elements both inspire the artist and provide materials we can manipulate to share that inspiration with an audience.
While paints, clay, stone and wood are all borrowed fragment of earth, opaque and in some form of solids, the elements which mesmerize us as much as they elude our capture, are air and even more so fire and water.
These are transparent or at least translucent. For centuries we have stared into and through fires to free our mind from the opaque in search of what the mind can see. We have been mesmerized by lakes, rivers, and ocean waves. Through water we recognize fire as light.
Glass combines the elements by using fire and bits of earth allowing light to give the fluidity and translucence of water and thereby freeing the eye of the observer to explore beyond what we see.
The artist who works with glass straddles this divide between opaque and transparent, between the concrete and the abstract.
By using many many individual pieces of glass, each a different size or color or degree of translucence, and then arranging them to collectively suggest an image the glass mosaic provides a view into the fire. As one stares into a glass mosaic it is the mind’s eye who organizes the bits of light and color and shapes our imagination’s explanation.
The first mystery glass artists must learn to navigate is the cutting, breaking, and shaping of glass.
In the process they will encounter a thousand cuts to both the fingers and the egos. Learning to break it where we want, or shape it, or sand it and then attach it requires patience and an optimist’s tenacity.
When the glass fragments deny our intentions and crack differently than planned, one either modifies the design or saves the unwanted pieces for the next inspiration. The original concept in the mind of the artist will be altered by “ dem’s the breaks” - as both the glass and the hands succumb to those thousand cuts.
The mysteries of color, pointillism, and arrangement provide a second mystery for the glass mosaic artist. Unlike, stained glass that requires lead channels soldered to larger pieces, the mosaic artist uses a transparent pallet to hold these tiny pieces or larger swaths in their proximity creating infinite opportunity for detail or suggestion. Grout or no grout provides opaque delineation and contrast allowing the artist to paint with light.
Composition to the glass mosaic artist is as fluid as the elements we mimic. The weaver of a tapestry grids out a plan and painstakingly fulfills their design with a thousand strands of cloth. Jigsaw puzzles fascinate us as we search to fit the thousand bits that reveal the design. Yet the glass mosaic is a puzzle where the artist shapes each piece, and weaves a design that is revealed by the process.
Sometimes the design is so precise that shaping each bit is a relentless process of perfection, while in other works, it is open and educated by fate or the artists responsive imagination.
Light plays her new role as these pieces are hung in a window or against a wall. Sunlight and or artificial light each add a literal afterglow further breathing new life into the moment of observation. As the light changes so does the suggestion delivered to the viewer’s imagination.
Today in this light from this angle we each see something that exists just in that moment and just in our own solitary observation. Just as the elements of fire, and water and air are ethereal, the images we see in glass mosaics lend us an opportunity to explore visions beyond.