Patti Warashina spent her career working in clay, achieving international renown in that medium. But after five decades, she took a chance on a new material. During a residency at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma in 2013, she began work on a series of glass pieces that she would eventually combine with clay. The results are currently on view in “Thinking Clearly” at Abmeyer + Wood in Seattle.
“I was very unsure about the imagery I wanted to portray with the blown glass, since it was a new medium for me,” Warashina says of her foray into the glass studio.
When she first described her plans for the week-long residency to hot shop manager Benjamin Cobb, he told her she had just enough work for one day.
“I couldn’t go down there and say ‘I want a hundred wine glasses,’ could I?” she deadpans.
A month later, she arrived with more narrative concepts and a few ceramic figures fresh from the kiln that helped extend and expand on her ideas. But the bulk of the work in the show was done in the three years following the residency, building on the glass components conceived by Warashina and executed by the Museum of Glass team.
Since the 1980s, Warashina’s ceramic work had focused on the figure. In recent years, she has simplified the anatomy, surface textures, and colors of those figures to arrive at a universal, albeit still female archetype. In these most recent works, simple bubble forms of blown glass play well with the formal reductivity of the clay figures with their cylindrical torsos and loopily curving limbs.
“In the last seven years I have eliminated the notion of garments on the simplified figure,” she explains. “Clothes make reference to a culture or timeframe, which I’m trying to avoid.”
She used only clear glass, saying that color added “too much information … clear glass is more open-ended in meaning.”
Warashina’s figures have a whimsical quality, but they are not cartoons. There is a smart, sometimes cynical edge to the stories they tell. In “Assisted Living,” a woman in a bathtub full of glass bubbles would appear carefree if it weren’t for the two giant fingers grasping her head, alluding perhaps to the intellectual toll of aging. “Censored” is a twist on “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”; deaf, dumb and blind heads have their brains replaced by LED lights flashing and glowing through clear glass hats. Several pieces pose ceramic figures in conversation with limbless ‘glass ghosts’: “Excuse Me,” “You’ve Got Something in Your Eye,” and “Kiss.” Are the ghosts imaginary companions or stand-ins for the loss of face-to-face conversation in a digital society?
Warashina admits that this body of work posed technical challenges when the unyielding nature of glass met the unpredictable shrinkage of clay. Fitting glass hats to clay heads was one instance of these challenges. The crouching figure in “Beneath the Lotus” was one of a few ceramic pieces fabricated in advance of the residency. Making a dome large enough to enclose it stretched the capabilities of the glass-blowing team.
Warashina approached glass as a new material with enthusiasm, but some trepidation. The fully realized work in this show is a tribute to the clarity of her vision, and the skill of her collaborators.
“Thinking Clearly” at Abmeyer + Wood in downtown Seattle through May 31. For more information, visit www.abmeyerwood.com or call (206) 628-9501.