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.
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.
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.
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.
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.