Jon Kuhn - Studio Art Glass
"Throughout my artistic career, my work has been reflective of my own evolving philosophy; influenced substantially be eastern mysticism. The mystics tell us that through meditation we find the universe within. The ability of glass to visually contain pertinent or critical information beneath the surface makes it the ideal medium to express this concept. By looking inside, we get a different view of understanding of the exterior. ... A correlation between my life and my personal work can be seen. As my life became more structured, the work became clearer and more refined."
Glass's trump card, the special opportunity it permits over nearly every other form of sculpture, is its potential to have an interactive relationship with light. Unlike stone or metal or clay, glass can invite light to enter into its midst, to bounce around within its depths, and to exit it, wonderfully changed through this interplay. Glass sculptures are objects, but not solely ones of surfaces. They provide interior drama and a literal infinity of profiles and possibilities. Glass can interrupt light, can cajole it into an ally, and then harness it to make it respond to the dictates of a human mind. Jon Kuhn's dazzling and scintillating sculptures call such observations to mind, and celebrate glass's spectral proliferations.
Jon Kuhn accelerates light, pixilates it into overdrive, heightens its tempo and speeds up its rhythms. His lively grids, immersed within blocks of clear glass, are comprised of interlocking tiny pieces of cut glass, often as small as 1/8-inch square, and often thousands in number. There is nothing chaotic about their display and arrangement.
It is Kuhn's very remarkable ability to think and see spatially how to liberate these grids from flatness and gravity. His work presents a hall of mirrors constructed just for the human eye, a parallel world of hypnotic order that seemingly appear to continue on its own, into endless chains of reflection and refraction. Light bounces around in ever-increasing velocity, revealing bits of Kuhn's abstract mazes. The exterior shape of Kuhn's sculpture - be it cube, chevron, cylinder or other - also acts as another accelerant or multiplier, as introducing a new planar variation into what is already a very complex space. Kuhn's vision is akin to the geometry of the molecular; to something finally more crystalline than crystal. With its blending of the palpable and the infinite, Kuhn's sculptures suggest the order that resides just at the edge of the chaotic, and the intellectual and spiritual essence that can sometimes permeate the mathematical and the logical.
Jon Kuhn's first degree in fine arts was from Washburn University. He is one of the leading artists working in the medium in the United States today. His pieces are in many important collections, including the Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian Institution and the White House. He is also one of the most independent of today's glass artists, working in a style that belongs to him alone. Kuhn's glass is cut, fused, polished and assembled cold, whereas most other glass sculpture is blown and worked molten. While a great number of glass sculptors work on the West Coast, Kuhn works in a studio in the Eastern United States. He is one of the most remarkable artists of the United States and is recognized globally for his artistic contributions and achievements.
Kuhn began his artistic career as a ceramist, working with clay. Fashioning vessels of silicate compounds, which changed state and chemical structure when they were subjected to very high heat. During his graduate studies he began working with molten glass. His earliest sculptures, from the late 1970's, show his roots in clay and the making of containers, but they also moved quickly into new, uncharted territories of expression in which he alternately polished and flattened surfaces or left them rough and etched. In these pieces, the fluidity of molten glass is still apparent in the irregular, flowing contours and rounded masses of the sculptures. Their irregular shapes suggest organic forms, while the colored glass visible behind the occasional fragmentary polished surfaces suggests fantastic landscapes and life forms in development.
In about 1985, a new visual element began to appear in Kuhn's glass sculptures: transparent layers of glass, fused into unified sections, appeared in the middle of the molten, opaque masses. These layered sections of glass eventually evolved into cubic cores. The cores became an ever more dominant and important part of the sculptures. In 1987 Kuhn sculpted his first cube. Unlike his earlier works, the cubes are made of transparent glass. Although solid and heavy, there is an air of weightlessness, denying their considerable substance (glass, a silicon dioxide, weighs approximately 145 pounds per cubic foot: the sculptures sometimes weigh more than 100 pounds, yet look weightless, denying their considerable substance. What is more, the cubes are displayed propped up on a corner, rather than their weight resting on a flat surface. They appear to float, weightless.
Light is an important element in Kuhn's work. Each sculpture captures ambient light, reflects and refracts it and throws it back into the space which surrounds them, appearing to dance in the space they occupy. The interiors of the pieces glint and sparkle, alive with color and reflected light, resembling geometric molecular models. Recent works, suspended by fine steel wires, chromed steel frames or hanging from the ceiling, seem to defy gravity completely. Pendulums, hung from breathtakingly thin steel cables, also defy gravity. These tensions between weight and movement; fragmented, lively interiors and simple, stable exteriors, known reality and imagined fantasy are the sources of powerful expressiveness in Kuhn's sculptures.
Apparently defying gravity, cubes made from hundreds of tiny pieces of fused glass float within transparent spaces created by sheets of clear glass. Together, all these pieces create a gem-like form, perfectly cubic in dimensions, which reflects and bends light the same way the facets of cut gemstones do. This has led some critics to compare the brilliance of Kuhn's work to that of diamonds.
The creation of the individual cubes is a complex process. First, color strips are cut from large sheets of colored glass. These strips are arranged in color schemes, then glued to a clear glass panel, which contains lead (known commonly as "crystal"). Four panels are made for each project. After drying, the colored glass side of each panel is ground smooth and flat. These panels are then glued to four more panels of clear glass and four panels of non-leaded window glass, forming a stripe stack in which layers of clear and colored glass are visible. Each stack is cut into 11-12 stripe panels, which are ground and polished. The stripe panels are glued together, alternating with more panes of clear and window glass, and turned so that stripes are at 90 degrees to each other. The resulting block of glass, the dot stack, is then cut into panels, which are stacked and glued, in criss-cross fashion, to form individual cubes. The same gluing, cutting, staking process results in clear refractive cubes when thin, leaded glass panels replace stripe-panels. Cubes containing colored glass can be combined with cubes made of clear glass in larger pieces.
Assemblage of the Individual Elements
Among Kuhn's earlier works, titles like Little Rock River and Flower Garden suggest landscape forms and organic entities. Containers are usually easily identifiable as such, and the size of the works is generally small. The next set of works, less clearly identifiable as containers and sometimes intended to be wall pieces, are all called Chemically Treated Vessel Forms (CTVF) and numbered. While the titles suggest complete abstraction, the pieces themselves have an organic quality, still suggesting landscapes (or perhaps the surfaces of other planets and planets in other galaxies).
In the mid-eighties, Kuhn began to work glass in a very different way: fusing, polishing, re-cutting and reassembling geometric pieces of glass into compositions which are remarkable for their brilliance. This was made possible in part through his adoption of a tool used in the industrial polishing of metals, called the Blanchard grinder. Kuhn converted the grinder into a high-speed glass polisher. His first Cube was made in 1987, his first columnar sculptures in 1986. These pieces served as the prototypes for most of his current work. Their titles suggest fanciful poetic associations: Cosmic Desire, Heavens Bounty, Primal Offering or specific places or situations like Emerald Garden and Olympic Vision. Literary and musical references also occur (Grapes of Wrath, Spirit Voices). Jon Kuhn is an avid reader and listener, who grew up in an era when the mysticism and cosmic concerns of Asian philosophies were very influential. He mentions these in discussing the sources of his work, which are, as with most artists, intensely personal. As his mastery of the medium becomes more complex, his pieces are suspended, first appearing in the mid-1990's. Now, pieces hang in space and move, driven by small motors. The utilization of industrial materials and techniques has resulted in pieces, which have ever increasingly unearthly appearances and evocative, poetic titles. One can only guess what will come from the artist next.
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