For her third solo show at Heller Gallery, opening this evening, Amber Cowan will present the latest iterations of her reimagining and reconstruction of vintage pressed glassware, which she remakes through painstaking cutting and fusing at her flameworking torch. Cowan's unique artistic process invovles travel, scavenging, and an ability to map out new landscapes of detail and decoration, elevating industrially produced decorative products into singular works.
Cowan's process usually begins with long solitary road trips to places like West Virginia and the Midwest where she seeks out promising flea markets, antique shops, and yard sales in which to hunt down the outdated and out-of-style glassware styles. Though out of favor, there is a hint of nostalgia in these faintly familiar patterns and color, an aesthetic reminiscent of the home of one's parent or grandparent. It is hard to believe that the manufacturing of this glass once employed large populations of towns and cities across the United States. Since the recent closing of the Fenton Art Glass Company, in West Virginia, a major player among these manufacturers, pressed glassware of this sort and even the colors used in its making, have been on their way to extinction.
Turning a passe decorative art into contemporary art object, Cowan's practice can be seen as an act of preservation as well as an examination of cross-generational aesthetic ideals.
In a telephone interview, The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet spoke with Cowan about her process and artistic intention:
Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: Can you discuss further your act of bringing the historical decorative art object into a contemporary context?
Amber Cowan: The style was popular during certain periods of American history and I'm sort of bringing it into a different realm.
Glass: These works are clearly very interested in color. Can you tell us more about the significance of that?
Cowan: The colors themselves are found in the same way the objects are. Many of them are the last remaining of their kind and will go extinct. I try to date each color as part of my process. Collecting a series of objects for a work with a fleshy pink color scheme, I came across a nude made of Cambridge Glass, which I was able to date to between 1933-40.
Glass: Your works include figures and small characters. Is there a significance behind your choice of these objects?
Cowan: I have an affinity to particular animals, characters and symbols. There are recurring themes and imagery. I am particularly drawn to swans, snails and female goddesses. I put these figurines together and construct a narrative to surround the scenes, which are often inspired by dream and often by my personal travels. I particularly like the snail image and have the only mold in the shape of the snail remaining from Fenton.
Glass: you seem to be working with concepts of memory and perhaps references to domestic life in some way. Would you say this is true?
Cowan: Yes, many people of the older generation actually respond strongly to my work. Once someone wrote me an email after seeing my work in an airport and said it brought him to tears as it had sparked memories he hadn't revisited in forty years of sitting and eating ice cream at his grandparents dining room table out of glassware just like it.
People aren't interested in this type of glass anymore but that's all the more reason for me to reintroduce it to the contemporary eye through my work.
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