Cultured Magazine

Spring 2014

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LIGHTNESS OF BEING Thaddeus Wolfe pushes the boundaries of blown glass with his new solo exhibition at Chicago's Volume Gallery. BY DAVID SOKOL 68 CULTURED Thaddeus Wolfe has outdone himself. The current exhibition "Unsurfacing" is Wolfe's second invitation to produce a limited-edition series for Volume Gallery, and to do so the Brooklynite is expanding the glass pieces he created for the Chicago-based gallery's "Assemblage" show in late 2011. Whereas the first series featured angular totems and lamps, this revision "introduces surface imagery through relief patterns," Wolfe says. The difference appears simple enough, but the process by which Wolfe achieves it is agonizing: carving negative forms inside a handmade foam mold; creating a plaster-silica mold from the foam; blowing glass into that shape; then cleaning and grinding and polishing the result. Of comparing the "Unsurfacing" to "Assemblage" processes, Wolfe says of the final step, "The relief patterns require much more surface finishing. The patterned surface of each piece must be ground and sanded to a high polish to reveal the underlying colors and to achieve the surface finish I desire. This can be rather laborious and time-inten- sive, but there isn't any way around it." And the effort is worth it, says Sam Vinz, who founded Volume with Claire Warner in 2010. "I have never seen glass blown in this manner," he says, adding, "As a gallery, we focus on working with designers who are extending and pushing the boundaries of how we know design or materials to be thought of. Thaddeus absolutely falls into this category because he is manipulating a traditional technique at a much higher degree of complexity. It creates a whole new level of mold-blown glass." "Assemblage" got its start during a residency at the Creative Glass Center of America in New Jersey, where Wolfe ruminated over the shapes of the minerals displayed in natural history museums. Instead of making those shapes accord- ing to a late-2000s trend—plugging nature's rules for mineral growth into some parametric design—his laborious approach produced forms that appear to build up, but which can fracture open at any moment. While Wolfe's technique may be exacting, his end product "is left deliberately vague." He says, "The 'Assemblage' pieces have given me a platform within which to explore many different ideas, like artifact, entropy, Brutalist shape construction, color interaction, glass transparency and translucency." Yet the "Unsurfacing" work, which is on display through April 18, does add one very clear interpretation to the mix: the time-consuming relief patterns "imbue a sense of time and dete- rioration, in that they appear worn-down and in fact are literally worn-down in order to reveal inner colors in the patterns." With age comes inner beauty. Thaddeus Wolfe's Patterned Relief 8, 2013

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