Northwest artists Jeff Ballard and Preston Singletary make glass sculptures that look like ceramics, wood and even pillows — everything except glass.
Occasionally, artists like to defy their medium.
And in the Pacific Northwest, some glass artists seem determined to make their pieces look like anything but glass. At first glance, and even after lengthy contemplation, William Morris’ works appear to be wood, bones, shells, fossils or ceramics.
Eugene artist Jeff Ballard and Seattle’s Preston Singletary play similar tricks.
Preston Singletary: ‘Journey Across the Fire (and into the World)’
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays through April 30 at Traver Gallery, 110 Union St., Seattle; free (206-587-6501 or travergallery.com).
Jeff Ballard: ‘Synapse’
11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays through May 2 at Abmeyer + Wood Fine Art, 1210 Second Ave., Seattle; free (206-628-9501 or abmeyerwood.com).
“Synapse,” Ballard’s show at Abmeyer + Wood Fine Art, is the more extreme case. Take “Pinch Me,” a rusty metal spool holding a length of rope with an attached ice hook that grips a feather-soft pillow in its clasp.
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Where is the glass?
It’s the pillow.
Pillow imagery recurs in several other key works in the show, most beguilingly in “Vacancy,” where various glass pillows behave like residents in a miniature flophouse. One is curled up as if to read. Another seems to be experimenting with bondage. Two more are fluffily coupling. Another lazily flops halfway out of its cramped compartment, as if to test the air.
“Vacancy” and other pieces in the show call to mind the bric-a-brac-filled boxed assemblages of Joseph Cornell. Ballard’s blown-glass pillows practically invite you to lay your head on them, if only you could shrink to their size.
Other Ballard pieces offer colder comfort. Several allude to his father’s death from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2009 — some incorporate mazes that harvester ants made between planes of glass, resulting in brain-like patterns that are illuminated with erratic LED flashes. The most dramatic is “Landmark,” in which a small-scale hut with ant-maze walls sinks at a precarious angle into a pool of sand.
Ballard isn’t confined to any single glass-art style. Instead, he’s like a stage director, coaching his materials into chameleon-like variations of identity according to each artwork’s specific need. “Weighting,” for instance, places two contrasting glass components on an old-fashioned delicatessen scale. On the left, a tiny house made of solid layers of fused glass is in perfect balance with a voluminous but airily disintegrating vase. It’s the mind behind the pieces, rather than any specific technical approach or design element, that makes the work so distinctively Ballard’s.
Singletary’s works are, by contrast, immediately identifiable as his. In his show “Journey Across the Fire (and into the World)” at Traver Gallery, he draws — as usual — on the Tlingit side of his heritage to create pieces that fuse the formline sensibility of Northwest Coast art with elegant contemporary design.
His oystercatcher rattles, hybrid avian-piscine creatures and standing anthropomorphic figures — which Singletary describes as “spirits” — are both playful and powerful. Their polished and sandblasted surfaces feel strangely ceramic in character as they mix rich translucence with densely hued opacity. He’s wizardly at creating meticulous contrasts in texture and exquisitely orderly surface-patterns from the fluidity of molten glass. Mythical and folkloric elements are present throughout his work, giving it animistic energy to spare.
“Journey” shows him refining his usual stylized technique rather than breaking with it — with one exception. “Mother and Raven Child” is an atypically smooth curvilinear female torso unmarked by any formline patterns, except on her swollen belly where the “raven child” of the title is waiting to be born.
Maybe it indicates a new path that Singletary intends to follow.