Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seeing Salvadore

Making music with African-Venetian glass

"TIRABOSON": Blown and carved glass by Davide Salvadore

I got a sneak peek at the Davide Salvadore exhibition at William Traver Gallery in Tacoma, and I'm glad I got to see it.

Salvadore is a Venetian glass artist from Murano, the glass art capital of the world. His art reflects the colorful traditions not of Venice, but of Africa. Strange but true, and so, so beautiful.

Salvadore is showing a series of highly decorative glass sculptures based on musical instruments and African tapestry. All of his pieces are alike, yet different. Each is a convex gourd shape with a rounded body, or belly, and a long, sensuously curved neck. Each has a sound hole such as on a guitar or other stringed musical instrument with strings stretching from the neck down and across the sound hole. Each is decorated with highly elaborate carvings and other surface patterns, and finally, each has decorative glass beads dangling from the neck. Despite all of those similarities from piece to piece, there is tremendous variety in shape, pattern and texture. Or implied texture. I make that distinction because some of the pieces look like they are made of carved and polished wood, and there are places on many of the bodies that appear to be covered with woven coarse fabric or fine strips of wood. Only the luminous depth and slight glassy sheen give away that they are made of glass. That's good for two reasons. First, it means that the form, color and texture can stand on their own regardless of media, and second, there is a certain kind of fascination with one material looking like another.

Salvadore refers to his sculptures as musical instruments. They are shaped like banjos and lutes and mandolins; like ancient or native African musical instruments, not like guitars. No Fenders or custom Gibsons here. But they also look like long-necked birds.

The African influence is obvious in his art, though not in his bio. Biographical materials released in conjunction with this show mention that he was born in Venice and is the son of a glassmaker, that he has studied and worked with world-renowned glass artists all of his life and that he has lectured and exhibited around the world (but never in Africa). But of course you don't have to go to Africa to become enamored of African art. Picasso was famously influenced by African art he saw in Europe. And have you ever visited the Seattle Art Museum?

Salvadore's bio also mentions a lifelong involvement with music, thus the fascination with stringed instruments.

The shapes are asymmetrical, sensual and simple, contrasting with surface decorations that are highly complex and colorful, with a seemingly endless variety of pattern and color. The instruments are opaque, but with an appearance of translucence, which means that is seems as though you are looking into or through the glass, but you can't see through it. The interior surfaces visible through the sound holes are simpler and bolder than the outside patterns.

Salvadore is working in the Museum of Glass Hot Shop this week and will give a talk there Sunday, June 20 at 2 p.m.

Davide Salvadore

Through July 3, Tuesday-Saturday 10-6 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m., opening reception Saturday, June 19, 5-8 p.m.
William Traver Gallery, 1821 E. Dock St., Tacoma

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