Thursday, March 22, 2007

Glass eye

Jeremy Lepisto's kiln-formed glass

Published in the Weekly Volcano March 22, 2007
pictured: "Clearing the Way," kiln fired glass

I could criticize Jeremy Lepisto's kiln-formed glass blocks at William Traver Gallery for being gimmicky, but I won't. They're gimmicky in the way of snow globes and flies in plastic ice cubes and other such curios sold in gift shops. I can even envision them a few years from now being mass-produced and sold at Target. But they are not mass-produced. They are individually and exquisitely crafted with an artist's sensitivity to light and space.

Lepisto forms his glass blocks by fusing anywhere from 10 to 16 thin sheets of glass in a kiln. Parts of images are rendered on each layer in a process that can best be described as printing with enamel on glass. For example, he may print contour lines on one sheet of glass and shadows on another. Various elements of a scene - stars, clouds, figures, buildings, telephone poles - are printed on separate layers. When fused together, the result is a constructed illusion of depth that walks a fine line between artistic inventiveness and optical trickery.Lepisto spreads the various parts of his scenes across a series of blocks that he puts together in various configurations. Typically they are connected in a long horizontal line, but in one called "The Stories" they are stacked vertically, and in one called "A Bit of Clarity" (one of my favorites) eight blocks are stacked together in a square. The image in "Clarity" is an urban scene with industrial buildings, one with a water tower on the roof. Seven of the eight blocks are a smoky gray, but right in the middle is a block of clear glass - the bit of clarity from the title - with an image of a single window. Very effective.

Most of Lepisto's scenes depict warehouse or industrial districts of small cities. Some are more rural. Buildings, railroad cars and light poles being strung across the countryside are common. Some are historical illustration showing how things used to be. People play a small role in these scenes. Most of his streets and buildings are empty. A haunting sense of loneliness abides. In one piece there are scenes of loggers at work printed in cloudy blocks of glass on wheels that are connected to create a long train with scenes painted on the side of boxcars. I like this piece despite it being the most blatantly commercial piece in the show. And I love the coincidence that a train track can be seen through the windows behind it and that trains on that track, so I'm told, pass within a few yards of Lepisto's studio in Portland. Talk about serendipity-doo!

A different group of works consist of four wall pieces Lepisto calls "sliders." Each is a two-part picture connected by a bar with a sliding figure on it. Viewers are invited to slide the bars to create different configurations. One of the most intriguing of these is called "Toward a Greater Union." It shows two cities, each on an island. On the slider bar that connects them is a picture of a bridge. Viewers can slide the bridge to connect or disconnect the two cities. Cleaver, huh?

Conceptually, these works may wear thin in a great big hurry, but visually they keep yielding new treasures the longer one looks at them. Lepisto's use of space is excellent, not only in his use of illusory depth, but in his sensitivity to interspersing space between images. He also shows a good feeling for combining line and mass and an intelligent use of positive and negative shapes. Especially interesting are his use of white cast shadows or negative contours. Viewers should take their time and study these pieces carefully. Study them from all sides and play close attention to cast shadows and reflections, some of which are drawn into the images and some of which occur naturally in the gallery setting.

Lepisto's work is full of visual surprises that reveal themselves only upon careful scrutiny. I think they definitely deserve that careful scrutiny.

[William Traver Gallery, "Jeremy Lepisto: A Place In Between," through April 8 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, 1821 E. Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685,]

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