The new sculpture garden at MBG features work by important Memphis sculptors including Ted Rust, Lawrence Anthony and Greely Myatt, as well, now, as Brian Russell!
Brian's freestanding sculpture Flutterby was acquired by the NBMAA for their permanent outdoor sculpture garden and was included in the Glass Today: 21st Century Innovations exhibition. This is a broad survey of contemporary glass in the second decade of this century.
Robyn Carey-Allgyer discusses the exhibition Continuum and the new Legacy Flame installation with Brian and Marta Hewett in Cincinnati.
In order to appreciate the uniqueness of a Version one must first understand something of the steps required to produce one of my glass and metal sculptures.
Each piece of cast glass requires that there exist a singular wax model in the exact shape and size of the finished glass casting. This is the basis for cire perdue, or lost-wax casting, a centuries -old technique used primarily for metal casting. This wax model is then invested (or encased) in a plaster and silica mold 1 to 1-1/2” thick. The wax is then melted out using steam, leaving inside the mold a perfect negative impression of the original wax model. This mold is then placed in a kiln and slowly heated to 1600 F, whereupon molten lead crystal glass, at 1850F , is poured into the cavity from crucibles containing the different colors. Once the mold is filled, which can take several hours, it is allowed to very slowly cool, or anneal, at a prescribed rate until it reaches room temperature. Then the mold material is gently removed, revealing the glass form. The mold is destroyed in the process. The glass is now ready for cold finishing, a labor intensive process of sanding the surface with diamond sandpaper. A final acid polish produces the lustrous satin finish.
Which brings us back to the wax model, the key component in the process. There are two ways to make a wax model. The first is to make a flexible rubber “master” mold around an object, remove it and then pour hot wax into this rubber mold. This produces a wax model which is the same size and shape as the original object, which can be made of practically anything: clay, wood, stone, metal, wax, plaster, fruits and vegetables (see Yams Away). It is a powerful technique and having a Master Mold allows one to produce practically unlimited numbers of identical wax models ready for investing and casting. I have used it occasionally for producing Edition works like the Nautilus and Wing Forms. It helps reduce the cost because the the process of making the wax object is amortized over a larger number of finished pieces.
However, the shapes that can be successfully molded using the master rubber mold are limited and the process of building the master mold is time consuming and expensive. I much prefer the second method of creating the wax model, and that is Direct Modeling. With this technique I am sculpting the final model directly in sculptor’s wax, handbuilding a singular object from wax sheet and semi-molten wax, or , in the case of the Hemispheres, a blank hemisphere model produced from a master mold, which is then highly manipulated to create the unique individual Hemisphere.
This Direct Modeled wax is then invested into the plaster mold, melted out and ...lost, it’s negative impression inside the plaster mold all that remains until the molten glass poured in assumes its shape. If something bad happens downstream in the process, such as a plaster mold cracking open in the kiln and spilling its glass (it’s happened, believe me!), then all is lost and I must start from scratch again. This element of risk makes the glass casting all the more precious.
Over the years I have been asked many times whether a sculpture that I had made and sold years earlier was available, or whether I can reproduce a glass piece that has been damaged or destroyed (quelle horror!). The answer is both yes and no. Because I must hand build the wax model, usually without the original at hand to even use as a guide, it is quite impossible to make a “reproduction”. But since I, and I alone, created the original model it is possible for me to make a wax model for casting that is similar to a previous work. What usually happens is that as I am working I find new ways to resolve curves, make transitions and pattern textures. My technique, evolved over 15 years of wax work and glass casting, has become more refined and efficient. So a new piece is born from the legacy of the older work, sort of like genetics at work. It shares traits and heredity but is its own individual, not a clone. And then there’s the whole issue of the colors...
Usually each piece of glass is comprised of multiple colors. My palette consists of about 6 shades of yellow/red, numerous blues, amazing greens, sexy violets, all of which can be combined during the pouring of the molten glass. The viscous, honey-like glass flows slowly into the mold through the various openings, cascading down over the internal architecture in the cavity. Different colors can be introduced quickly for a swirling blend or more slowly producing a stratified effect. Solid chunks of cold black glass can be tossed into the flow to melt inkily through the mix. The color patterns and blends in each piece of cast glass are as unique as a human thumbprint. A Version may be based on a previous work, and be recognizable as a fraternal twin, but it most definitely has its own one of a kind personality. Here is an example of three Versions of Quixotic:
Versions can be thought of as a reference point for the start of a new sculpture, a very useful aid in the commission process. My work is a continuum of thought, technique, materials and labor focused on creating enduring works of truth and beauty. Versions are like seeds, allowing this expression to blossom readily in the collector’s garden.
9 new outdoor works and 20 indoor works from 2003 to 2013 are on view at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens through January 6, 2014. More info about the Dixon can be found at http://www.dixon.org/