It’s hard to know what’s more impressive about the 77-year-old Lino Tagliapietra – the fact that the glass artist can still commandeer the equipment and personnel of hot blown glass with such skill or the never-ending imagination that is still unfolding in his work.
At the latest exhibit of his work at Museum of Glass – “Maestro: Recent Work by Lino Tagliapietra” – you can admire both in a setting that tries hard to do justice to the magic and drama of the Venetian glassblower’s creations.
Sometimes it works, and works well. The gallery opens into one of Tagliapietra’s most recent works, “Gabbiani (gulls),” from 2011. The simple glass birds – each no more than a curvy swipe of color – soar across the wall from head height to ceiling. They’re spaced for maximum impact with the lights casting fascinating, gull-shaped shadows, and yet they’re close enough to reveal the intricate detail that covers every surface and edge like a fingerprint.
It’s this unexpected combination of imaginative form and technically phenomenal texture that makes Tagliapietra’s art what it is. Raised in Venice, schooled in the demanding tradition of Murano glassmaking, yet innovative enough to bring that tradition to the Northwest and change it up every time he creates something, Tagliapietra is not your average glass artist. He straddles two worlds and yet inhabits a third all of his own – a place where glass birds fly and glass butterflies swim.
Wandering through the gallery this marriage of form, texture and imagination leaps out of every Lucite case. A vessel from his “Dinosaur” series stretches goose-necked and quizzical, exactly the aqua of the Venetian lagoon. There’s the squat, spiraling “Angel Tear,” the impossibly point-balanced “Saba,” the painterly-splodged “Fuji” vases. Inside the clear glass of “Medusa” and “Chiocciola” are deliciously eye-teasing reflections of the black scribbled canes on the globes’ surfaces. Royal blue lines radiate from a spinning gray pupil in “Pago Pago.” Curvaceous bodies arch into sinuous necks in the golden-red “Fenice” vessels.
One of the most dramatic displays is the “Barboleta (bubbles),” where Tagliapietra, pushing the envelope of how thin blown glass can be stretched, has created 12 upwardly curving butterfly wings, dotted randomly. Poised astonishingly on the floor, these giant glass shapes refract light into iridescent, saturated shadows that play beneath them – a magical swimming pool of light.
And yet sometimes the drama could be better highlighted. Next to the gulls at the entrance is the new-ish “Masai (shields)” series. Inspired by Masai warrior weapons, these elongated ovals – one series gold and cold-worked with tribal patterns, the other luminous blown glass in joyful tangerine, cherry and apple-green – invoke both exotic war rituals and Venice itself, in a magical state where glass boat oars paddled through psychedelically-colored water. Yet the shields are tucked away in the front corner like an afterthought.
Farther on, a cabinet of nearly 100 vessels made in avventura style, where the glass is slightly amended with copper to produce a substance both glittery and fragile, is also tucked away, overshadowed by the “Borboleta” and competing with their color. Yet these are some of Tagliapietra’s most fascinating art, worked into myriad tiny vessel shapes to create a Lilliputian land of shimmering, translucent metal.
“Maestro” covers work from the last 10 years, and although about half of the 65 pieces are less than two years old there are a few that were in the museum’s 2008 Tagliapietra retrospective. One of these is forgivable, as it’s probably the most striking: “Endeavor,” a flotilla of delicate glass boats. Subtle curves, with the mere hint of flattened prow and stern, they hang suspended at head-height, swaying slightly as visitors move through the air. Like the gulls, they’re similar yet individually textured – yet would do better in a bigger space, visible head-on as a graceful unison.
Lino Tagliapietra is a favorite at the Museum of Glass, appearing often in residencies and exhibitions. Yet two shows in four years is maybe not too much for this artist, whose skill, energy and imagination deserve all the honor they get. ‘Maestro: Recent Work by Lino Tagliapietra’
Where: Museum of Glass, 1821 Dock St., Tacoma
When: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon- 5 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. third Thursday through Labor Day. Exhbit runs through Jan. 6.
Admission: $12/ $10/$5/free for ages 5 and younger
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