Glassy eyed: Artists reveal their fragile outlooks

Jeffrey P'an, "Jura Decoupe."
Jeffrey P'an, "Jura Decoupe."

Artists from Down Under are serving up art all over Charlottesville this month. Australian painter Reko Rennie has transformed a room at the Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, collaborated on a mural at The Bridge, and hopped up empty downtown storefronts with huge pink kangaroos. Meanwhile, New Zealander Garry Nash and Australian Keith Rowe shine in Warm Springs Gallery's blown-glass exhibition, "Illuminations."

Featuring work by six internationally recognized artists, "Illuminations" showcases  pieces that marry form and function. The concept of "vessel" may be the common launch point, but each hand-blown bowl, vase, and platter reveals the distinct aesthetic of its maker. For instance, Carrie Gustafson etches her symmetrical vases with uniform patterns so meticulous in their execution that just thinking about the focus required is headache inducing. In contrast, Jim Vollmer fuses parallel ribbons of candy-colored glass and folds them to create freeform bowls reminiscent of striped fabric.

But it is the artists from Down Under, along with Americans Jeffrey P'an and Fred Kaemmer, who offer the most intriguing work. Garry Nash's color-saturated pieces range from two small opaque vases, with crackled and dotted surface designs, to a clear orange bowl inlaid with scattered millefiori circlets to an oversized vessel swimming with yellow, blue, and green shapes. Drawing inspiration from The Great Barrier Reef, he imbues many of his objects with a sense of the ocean.

Keith Rowe also responds to the sea in vessels from his "Reef" and "Coastal" series.  On the other hand, his "Moonlight Series" evolved from Rowe's motorcycle rides along tree-lined roads at night. On the frosted exterior of "Moonlight Series Orb," cloudy circles of gold, deep red, and white drift in random clusters across a cobalt blue background. A glimpse inside the vase's circular mouth, however, surprises with an altogether different experience; the milky interior seems self-illuminated and almost alive with blood-red cells.

Jeffrey P'an, for his part, takes advantage of what transparency enables in his party-colored vessels that incorporate glass mosaic work, as well as etching and other textural enhancements. Colors and patterns show through from the opposite sides of his pieces, adding even more motion to P'an's already active surfaces. Meanwhile, Fred Kaemmer fuses blown glass with overlays of metallic leaf, creating reflective luminosity and teasing the eye with what is hidden and revealed in his bowls and vases.

Collectively, the pieces in "Illuminations" sparkle with their makers' varied responses to making beauty useful.

"Illuminations: An Exhibition of Hand Blown Glass" runs through February 28 at Warm Springs Gallery, 105 Third St. NE. 245-0800.