Visiting glass artist Ethan Stern will give demonstrations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Hot Glass Studio on Centre College’s campus.
Stern also will give a public lecture at 5 p.m. Thursday in Room 108 of the Jones Visual Arts Center.
Pushing form beyond the expected anatomy of the vessel, Stern uses glass to investigate the emotive potential of objects. Beginning each piece by creating a blown, geometric form composed of multiple layers of color and pattern, Stern then creates patterns and textures by cutting into the surface after the piece has cooled. While blown glass typically reflects light and is shiny and dense in appearance, a richer, more luminous effect can be achieved from the simple shifts in hue, density and opacity, which are a result of the process of engraving. These engraved marks, like the stroke of a paintbrush on canvas, leave evidence of the artist’s hand and are intended to create an expressive sense of motion, rhythm, weight and depth.
Glass is not a forgiving material. It demands an involved process and requires careful planning and manipulation. As the most direct way for Stern to leave his mark, engraving has become his voice within the medium. The process of carving is a reductive one; material cannot be added once it is removed. This action of continuously revealing layers adds a significant amount of weight to each step and the choices made, allowing the process to play the ultimate role in defining the relationship between the surface and form of each piece.
“At the most basic level, my work is an ongoing exploration of abstraction and the expressive qualities of form, color, texture and light,” Stern says. “I use glass as a catalyst to help answer questions about how we see our environment, the objects we use everyday and the spaces we occupy. I am very aware of how my physical surroundings influence the qualities of each piece.
“I live in an urban area and work in an industrial part of Seattle. I cannot help but allow the hue of the day and the contrast between the engineered and natural landscapes permeate my sense of beauty. Translating this information into my recent work has led to imagery and form inspired by design, architecture and the visual deconstruction of my surroundings.”
Stern adds his “formal investigation has been limited to shapes that are flattened and sculpted to have geometric edges and tight corners creating a strong silhouette.”
“I have been drawn to this way of working not only as a means to explore pure form, clean lines and minimal composition, but to create a canvas for texture and pattern on the surface,” he explains. “While these forms have allowed for a significant amount of exploration, I have become interested in a more direct investigation of the role architecture plays in my artistic practice and the human interaction with physical surroundings.”
Stern’s newest work attempts to examine how objects on a human scale can be viewed as architectural. How much does scale influence our interpretation of beauty and perfection? Drawing from the idea that architecture can be more than a building, more than a large square structure which functions before it speaks, Stern feels challenged to investigate how we relate to the objects we live with.
Can balance and contour dictate how we interact with the materials around us? If standing in front of a building hovering above you feels imposing, what happens when its form has no right angles or tilts and curves like the human form? Through blown glass objects reflective of these architectural forms, Stern investigates how our urban environments directly influence our human experience, while allowing the work and process to interact with the public in new and exciting ways.
About the artist
Originally from Ithaca, New York, Stern has established himself as a major upcoming artist in contemporary glass sculpture. He studied ceramics at the TAFE Institute in Brisbane, Australia, later beginning his transition from ceramics to glass while enrolled at Alfred University in New York. He currently owns a studio in Seattle.
Stern began examining the effects he could achieve through engraving in 1999 while at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington. Carving the surface of the glass allowed him to “pull together elements of color, form, pattern and texture to create a unique voice within the material.” Stern works with glass in a way that reveals the artist’s highly individualistic touch. He explains, “The evidence of the hand, the subtleties of surface and the creative process are vital to the creation of my work.”
In 2010, Stern received the “Best Emerging Artist” award from Tacoma, Washington’s Museum of Glass. Stern’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions across the country and is featured in the collections of The Eboltoft Glass Museum in Denmark, The Museum of American Glass in New Jersey and The Palm Springs Art Museum, in Palm Springs California. Stern has taught at the Pilchuck Glass School and Pratt Fine Arts Center in Washington, the Penland School of Craft, The Pittsburgh Glass Center and The Appalachian Center for Craft in Tennessee.