Keith Sheppard, Reflections of Nebulae 2, Arts and Disability Forum Gallery, 03.08 – 08/09 2017

Interpretations of Sunrise from  Gliese 581c? Indeed that is what the artist named it as.

“How might a sunrise appear on Gliese 581c? Gliese 581c is the most Earth-like planet yet discovered and lies a mere 20 light-years distant. Although this planet is much different from Earth, orbiting much closer than Mercury and containing five times the mass of Earth, it is now a candidate to hold not only oceans but life enabled by the oceans. Were future observations to confirm liquid water, Gliese 581c might become a worthy destination or way station for future interstellar travellers from Earth.” ( the artists’s  statement emailed to me by the gallery)

My knowledge of astronomy equals zero, or very near zero. Well – I look at the starry sky whenever the clouds allow, living in the area with no street lights.  Consequently, looking at these sculptures in glass I relate directly to them – without needing the knowledge that Keith Sheppard mastered and translated from astronomy into art. And what an  enchanting translation that is.

In this detail of the above round disc  there are  bubbles visible; the artist told me those are the  flaws inside  the sheet of glass bought from the  manufacturer in the USA. Sourcing a special make of the glass plates indicates committment to high standards and dedicated research about the quality of the materials. Both signs of highly valued craft tradition, tradition of making anything well.

Glass  craft/art  started as a sort of prehistoric arte povera,  as found glass objects  on slopes of volcano.  The first invention of glass making is recorded for Egypt around 3500 BC.  The blowpipe  – used currently by  the well known  US artist/ interior designer/sculptor/entrepreneur/ manufacturer Dale  Chihuly (b.1941, http://www.chihuly.com))  – has been invented in Rome around 30 BC.

Chihuly: Belaggio hotel, Las Vegas

The next invention happened in the Venetian  Murano  where in 1291 they started manufacturing coloured glass.  The records also give a name of Marietta Barovier, who invented  “millefiori” beads of glass in 1480 there.

Keith Sheppard adapted “millefiore”  from a rod to sandwich, placing metals inside and over the glass, which he cuts by hand at first, a decision about size. It must fit his kiln.  His knowledge of temperatures needed at each addition of metal, oxides, or glass dust is rather impressive.

Trumping it all is his powerful guess of the right final colour, which is expected to cover an area confidently while staying translucent.  Indeed, it is the light that is the final ingredient.

Some details like the red ring,  are made separately, fired separately and then added to the main body – fired by lower temperature, but high enough to fuse.

This disc was displayed in the central window of the ADF gallery,  benefiting, at the time of the vernissage by the  late afternoon sunlight.

 

The installation is sensitive both to the discs and the viewer, discreetly calming.

 

Dark blue  object is called  Interpretation of Reflections on vd B 31.  The title identifies the object but is irrelevant to its visual power, which activates – what Italo Calvino protects for the future – people’s capacity for visual thought.   The artist’s knowledge is his inspiration, motivation, intention to make a confident – not anxious – object.  The beauty of the hue and the mastery of the cutting tools combine to excite.

Sheppard’s interpretations  enter a respectable number of other works of art on the subject.  It is easy to feel enchanted by the subdued  gold leaves and japanese pigments in Nocturne II by Lumi Mizutani

Glass involves weight and threat of being easily broken.   The marked fragility is intensified by unsettling delicacy of the lace like edges in  Sheppard’s  objects.

‘Interpretation of The Ring Nebula M57’

The surfaces  – seen in  detail are violently  uneven – as if indeed forged by the universe.  This invites  association with the Earth power, the uncontrollable power of the universe – of which we know so little, yet enough to read it as the sublime. Beauty and fear – descending  into a domestic setting.

‘Interpretation of Dusty Universe NGC253’

Even in a reproduction of its fragment each hue issues the heat of the force, the force of the heat.  What may appear as green –  tolerates contrasting tones and hues without fragmenting  the dominant colour.

‘Interpretation of Comet45P’

  Immanuel Kant’s famous dictum: The moral law within us, the starry heaven above us   edges into these interpretations of the named fragments of the universe.

 The visual  and tactile complexity of the surfaces  does not distract from the objects poetic force, the force of craft and art transforming the guessed, calculated and not fully known  into aesthetic experience evoking both the delight of the eye and the touch.  The last ingredient is light.

Images courtesy Paula Larkin.

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