For years I've been experimenting with glassware imagery—a reference to our fragile and often precarious human condition—to ask questions about our intimate relationship with the external world. Drawing inspiration from still life artists including the 17th century Dutch Masters, Paul Cézanne, Giorgio Morandi, Janet Fish, Josiah McElheny, and Beth Lipman, I play on and expand the still life tradition by probing the physics and metaphysics of objects; our experience of cultural materialism; the relationship between nature and abstraction; and the fusion of our inner world's unbounded, intuitive expanse with private, domestic environments. In my paintings, the first-person viewpoint of the still life replaces the traditional, third-person perspective of objects.
The simple glass vessels that I use to make preliminary tabletop arrangements are at once functional containers (such as bowls, cups, decanters, and plates)—that I fill with provocative, colored liquids to engage our senses—and conduits into liminal, ecstatic states of being. The glass radiates a breathless sparkle, drawing the viewer into a wondrous world. I see that component of the work as essential to my vision and quest; its purpose is neither to merely celebrate provincial, homey notions of beauty nor to critique consumerism in our culture.
However, to some viewers the glint on the glassware calls to mind the elegant but ornate depictions of glass vessels, shiny pewter and other objects that symbolized luxury and the emptiness of material wealth in 17th century Dutch 'vanitas' paintings. I share with the Dutch a love of technical facility and rigor, intricate passages in painting, and of course the existential concerns about materialism affiliated with the still life, but the objects I work with have a different social and historical meaning. My glassware collection is comprised mostly of pressed glass pieces (from the Goodwill or antique shops) that were mass-produced in the early-mid 20th century. They were supposed to resemble unique and exclusive glassware in history, but through the process of factory production lost their meaning as social symbols of luxury and wealth. Today we see these objects as they are for us: common and accessible if not mundane—a glass of the people.
The theme of mortality explored in vanitas painting, though, certainly still lingers as a relevant contemporary issue, as artists continue to grapple with the metaphysical reality of still life objects. Do they—as inert nature— urge us to contemplate the transience of life, as they did in Dutch Golden Age painting? Or are they—illuminated by 21st century physics—immaterial, animated, fluid impressions of evolving forms, created by underlying energy forces that are endlessly moving?
I use glass to explore this interplay of forces through a repetition and expansion of patterns; each painting moves from an initial simple reference of still life forms toward something immersive and infinite—an embroidered, reverberating network of shapes and colors into which the viewer can fall and get lost. The paintings are like living, dynamic organisms composed of illusory, fragments of experience—elemental, mystical and personal utopias that hover before our eyes.
As much as the paintings are soft, dreamy and tenuous, they are muscular and intensely structured; I often consider the intersection of painting and architecture as I include glass pieces that call to mind cathedral interiors—suggesting their stain glass windows, massive architectural supports, fine ornamentation, and decorative flourishes. The nearly symmetrical edifices that emerge often exude a "cathedral presence," evoking oceanic feelings of sublimity and beauty; modest objects take on a monumental presence, expanding over and above the still life table and domestic interior, and far beyond the painting frame.