Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rocking glass

Father and son show at William Traver Gallery.

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Feb 21, 2008

Pictured: "Speed Racer," cast glass by Paul Marioni, photo courtesy William Traver Gallery

Father and son glass artists Paul (father) and Dante (son) Marioni are showing together for only the second time anywhere at William Traver Gallery in Tacoma. Going against all reasonable expectations, it is the father whose work displays a more youthful, impish and edgy attitude while the younger Marioni is immersed in the mastery of traditional techniques. But they’re both excellent craftsmen.

Dante makes elegant vessels in blown and cast glass that are sleek and colorful. He has two contrasting bodies of work in this show: a series of leaf and acorn shaped vessels using the reticello technique and tall vases in brilliant colors with strange handles in starkly contrasting colors. They are all quite beautiful.

I might as well confess right now that I am not particularly enamored of glass art. I’m rather sick of the proliferation of glass in the Northwest. But Marioni’s vases are outstanding. His vases have curvilinear handles in odd colors, often multiple handles that crawl up the sides of the vases like spiders or trellises or Shiva arms, and typically the rims and bases are the same color as the handles. One of his more striking pieces is Red with Yellow Vessel Display, which is a wooden display case for 12 red vessels with orange handles, each differently shaped but identical in height. They look like strange medieval chess figures or an army of alien creatures.

The reticello technique creates diamond-shaped patterns by twisting and fusing together two cane cups in a manner that traps air and thus creates a little air bubble inside each diamond. There are about half a dozen reticello vessels in this show, all in clear glass with the crossing diamond lines in black and white creating moirĂ© patterns that move with the viewer. I particularly liked the pair sitting in front of the window with the cone of the Museum of Glass visible behind them, because the cone has an identical surface pattern. I asked. That wasn’t planned. But what a terrific coincidence.

Paul Marioni’s works are more sculptural. They are all part of a series called I Am in Motion, and each of his sculptures is perfectly balanced to rock when touched by hand. Most are saddle- or turtle shell-shaped, but in many of them the overall saddle shape is manipulated to take the form of human bodies or faces. The bodies embrace, and you’d have to be blind not to see the sexual innuendo or the references to yin and yang and infinity symbols.

Speed Racer is shaped like a turtle with a long neck and head sticking out from its shell, and I can’t help but see it as a small version of the rocking-phallus murder weapon in A Clockwork Orange in brilliant bands of red, orange, yellow, and blue. It is comical and quite beautiful.
The Calculated Lie is a figure eight or infinity symbol in clear glass that will keep rocking for up to 20 minutes, I’m told, at the merest touch (it never stopped rocking when I was in the gallery).

Two of my favorites are Trophy, cast glass and enamel, and Black Trophy, cast glass, enamel and gold leaf. I like the simplicity of these and the painterly quality of the surface decoration. Plus, I like that they are less gimmicky than the more figurative pieces.

Any one of Paul’s rocking sculptures would make wonderful conversation pieces if you had them on your coffee table, but these are pretty big-name artists and not many people can afford them. I was told that Elton John just bought one. If I were Elton John, I’d buy one, too.

[William Traver Gallery, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., through March 9, 1821 East Dock St., Tacoma, 253.383.3685]

Also see my article on Lino Tagliapietra at in the current issue of the Weekly Volcano.

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