A scene from Granite Calimpong’s first solo exhibition titled Banter • Courtesy of the Traver Gallery

Be sure to go to Traver Gallery before July 29 to see the solo shows of Granite Calimpong, of Filipino descent, and Jiyong Lee, raised in Korea. Both artists, working with glass, have invented striking new techniques that create dramatic textures and colors. 

Granite Calimpong’s exhibition Banter includes both clay and glass. He has been working to perfect his technique for many years. Now he is departing from traditional discipline in order to accept accidents in his process. He achieves highly varied textured surfaces with his unique technique of combining powdered glass and baking soda, which bubbles up during firing. Different colors react differently, so chance plays a major part in the results. The artist then inserts glass rods with mirrors into the fired sculpture creating striking textural and surface contrasts.

Look at these works slowly to carefully explore the shapes, proportions, textures and colors. On one pedestal are three pieces that underscore this variety: a bulgy orange shape, a yellow green piece shaped like a spoiling lemon covered with puddles of yellow/blue, and a pinkish clay piece.

The clay works in the exhibition are hand built, but asymmetrical shapes, with subtle surfaces created by adding color, and taking it away to suggest erosion.

Calimpong grew up in rural Ferndale California. His whole family are creative artists. He studied clay and pottery making with his father Conrad Calimpong, a well known clay artist. Granite and others helped Conrad build a large wood fired kiln in 1985 that is still the center of community firings. Calimpong even in his focus on glass still is part of a sense of  community that happens while firing the material, a marked difference from the individuality of painting. 

“ICY,” by Granite Calimpong. Blown glass, borosilicate rods, mirror • Courtesy of the Traver Gallery

Jiyong Lee’s exhibition Invisible Microcosm explores glass in an entirely different way. His unusual technique places colored adhesive in the cut lines between the parts of the glass. As a result the works gradually seem to change color from high intensity hues to almost white opaque as we move around them.

The “Segmentation” series includes mitosis (cell development), diatoms, and chromosomes. Jiyong investigates the most fundamental and usually invisible building blocks of life in solid optical glass. Each piece is both a representation of a process in nature and a metaphor about life.

Coming from South Korea in his late twenties, Jiyong had studied ceramics before he moved to the United States to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology for an MFA. His father was a medical doctor and shared his knowledge of science with Ji Yong. Other family members were engineers and doctors so they looked dimly on an art career, but Ji Yong persevered.

“Monochromatic Cuboid,” by Jiyoung Lee • Courtesy of the Traver Gallery

The work at Traver Gallery combines art and science with exquisite craftsmanship.

For example in “Mitosis” we see a bright yellow center. The artist describes it:

“I am fascinated with the progress of cell development. There are so much energy and mystery in it. I find it fascinating, and I want to visualize my fascination.

The orange/yellow part visualizes the energy inside, and the translucent layers around it talk about the layers of mystery and wonder.”

As we walk around “Green Diatom Segmentation” the color changes almost magically simply by our point of view and the amount of light striking the piece. Diatoms are single celled brown marine organisms. They have been around 100 million years and are responsible for creating much of the food in the sea such as algae. In photographic enlargement, we see their enormous variety. They are currently threatened as so much else with the changes of the climate. Jiyong’s three diatom pieces allow us to immerse ourselves in a few elementary shapes imbued with Jiyong’s subtle color technique. 

His third theme chromosomes are equally invisible to us and also crucial to life on earth. “Chromosome Segmentation” gives us two simple shapes, somewhat resembling bowling pins, that refer to that nucleus of cells that carries DNA coated with protein, something we are all familiar with in general. Jiyong calls our attention to chromosomes in order to give us their beauty and simplicity as the starting point for life. 

A glass piece titled “Chromosome Segmentation” by Jiyoung Lee • Courtesy of the Traver Gallery

So both of these artists take a medium that has been available for thousands of years and transform it by means of their own particular techniques into something mysterious and beautiful. Granite Calimpong focuses on chemical transformations through accidents that cause surface intricacy in his materials. Jiyong Lee makes visible the exquisite beauty of cellular and sub cellular life with his simple shapes that refer to the foundation of life itself.

As we hear everyday of the gigantic changes underway on our planet because of our recklessness, it is wonderful to look at the work of two artists who are thinking closely about the intricacies of their materials and offering us stunning examples of the processes, both chemical and biological, that sustain life on earth.

Banter by Granite Calimpong and Invisible Microcosom by Jiyong Lee are shows of new  work by two contemporary glass artists now on view through July 29, 2023. At Traver Gallery at 110 Union St. #200 in downtown Seattle. 206-587-6501 or try travergallery.com.  

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