For Matthew Szösz, setting up just one glass art experiment is an involved process. The preparation takes half a workday in some cases, and up to four weeks in others. It all leads to that pivotal moment, when the sculpture either takes its final shape or shatters into a million pieces. The Seattle-based artist has repeated this process countless times—with about 75% of his work instantly collapsing into rubble.
This spirit of fearless experimentation is reflected in his dazzlingly innovative, award-winning oeuvre. Szösz debuts new works from two of his ongoing series, Inflatables and Ropework, in his solo exhibition Minimal Tension. The show opens at form & concept on Friday, April 27 from 5 to 7 pm, with an artist talk on Saturday, April 28 from 2 to 3 pm. It runs through May 19, 2018.
“I am something of an outsider in my practice—lacking traditional training in glass, and autodidactic in my use of the material,” says Szösz. After studying furniture design for his undergraduate degree, he entered the glass world as a studio assistant. “I was a mold maker and a hardware person and a tool maker, and I just kept getting traded from one glass artist to another,” he says. By the time he entered the graduate program at the Rhode Island School of Design in his early 30’s, he was more than prepared to break every rule he’d learned in glass studios. In pursuit of unique and dramatic sculptural forms, Szösz began dreaming up experiments that would push the material to its limits.
“I had a professor who said, ‘no surprise for the artist, no surprise for the audience,’” Szösz says. “That surprise, where it’s as much a product of the material and circumstance that you set up as well as your own vision, is the thing that’s exciting for me.” He calls some of his experiments “material/process investigations” and others “bad ideas.” Either way, the key is to set up novel conditions in the studio, shifting heat, humidity and other variables to see how the glass responds. It’s a winding process—part scientific, part artistic—that has yielded significant treasures, such as Szösz’s Inflatables series.
Szösz builds the Inflatables using flat sheets of window glass, linking them together with tubes that channel air. He slips sheets of ceramic between the panes to keep the glass from fusing in certain places. The final step is to heat the piece to a molten state and blast air through the tubes, with the hope that it will inflate like a balloon but not burst. When he succeeds, Szösz emerges with a glass pod that resembles an enormous, clear chrysalis—or perhaps a lava monster’s pool toy. “There’s a certain amount of suspense and surprise,” Szösz explains. “When it actually does work, you get the idea that you’re working as a team with the material, kind of a partnership rather than just imposing your idea on something else.”
The artist developed his Ropework series over the course of seven years. The project started as an attempt to capture the twisted, bulging lines of Japanese temple ropes called Shimenawa using glass fiber. “The exploration moved from the creation of glass fiber pulling machines to a re-purposing of industrial fibers, to studies of British Empire-era ropemaking and sailor knot tying culture to create the geometric forms currently produced as part of the series,” says Szösz.
Considering the breadth of his creative inquiries, it’s no surprise that Szösz has a full array of art world honors under his belt. He was an Emerging Artist-in-Residence at Pilchuck Glass School in 2007, and a Wheaton Fellow in 2008. In 2009 he was an artist-in-residence at Nagoya Institute for the Arts and taught a workshop at Toyama Glass Institute. Szösz won the 2009 Jutta Cuny-Franz Memorial Award, becoming the second American ever to do so. In 2011 he was a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant Winner, and a year later he was selected by the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery as one of the top young craft artists in America for their exhibition 40 under 40.
“We’re particularly excited for Matthew’s artist talk on April 28, when we’ll show some videos of his process,” says form & concept Gallery Director Frank Rose. “Whether you’re a glass nerd or totally removed from that universe, you will marvel at how he brings these sculptures to life.”