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SUSAN LONGINI GLASS ARTIST

Susan Longini, Fremont, USA

Susan Longini, Fremont, USA

Susan Longini has worked with glass for over three decades and during this time her work just keeps on developing. Susan Longini has a diverse range of glass from vessels to large installations. Each piece is unique with wonderful colours that allow the deep beauty of glass to shine.

Zoneone Arts is delighted to bring Susan Longini to you…

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You have been working with glass for over 30 years, what have been some of the greatest technical improvements?

For the work I do, there are 2 huge game changers.

Computerized controllers allow me to create large-scale, delicate work using long and accurate firing schedules. When I got my first kiln everything was manually con-trolled, with external pyrometers and “infinite switches” that fed the kiln varying amounts of power, but did not accurately control the rate of heating. My pate de verre work is extremely temperature sensitive: there is no way I could do what I do without computerized controllers.

The other biggie is the development of compatible glass*. Bullseye Glass Co. is a pioneer and leader in the field, and their relentless research and development of a number of different forms of compatible glass have become the basis of my work.

‘Harmony Quilt’ in progress

*Compatible glass – where the rate of expansion and contraction in heating and cooling is the same across different glasses ‘Harmony Quilt’ elements in the kiln

Your glass technique is kilnformed glass. Can you briefly explain this particular technique?

Kilnforming refers to glass that assumes its form in the kiln. It can mean fused glass, where layers of compatible glass are laid on a kiln shelf and fired, fusing together at about 1500º F. Often these fused works are then laid on a mold and slumped to con-form to the shape of the mold. The slumping is at a lower temperature than fusing, so it is a separate process.

Kilnforming can also mean work that is kiln cast, as opposed to hot-cast glass ladled from a furnace. Hollow refractory molds, usually a plaster-silica mix, are filled with glass chunks and melted and annealed over a long period of time, days to weeks, to form a solid sculpture. Sometimes a reservoir is placed on top of the mold, filled with the glass chunks, and when the temperature is high enough, the melting glass runs into the mold through a hole in the bottom of the reservoir. This process gives a clearer look to the final piece.

My process is called pate de verre (literal translation: paste of glass) and is a little different than either of those. I use glass powders and small glass frits, about the size of sand, and mix them together with a binder. The powders are intense colors, and the frits are either clear or lightly tinted. By mixing them together I can create my own colors and tones, which is important to my work. Then I form the mix by hand into the desired shape, either directly in the refractory mold or on a kiln shelf, and fire it. Often it will be re-fired later in combination with other pieces. The color becomes more intense with each firing, so understanding what happens in the kiln is critical.

Explain the importance of heat on your work?

Glass is such a versatile material. It can be clear and shiny, opaque and matte, mas-sive, delicate and more. Much of this variation depends on time and temperature. My style of pate de verre is very time/temperature sensitive. I work with “low heat”, 1200º F to 1300º F, and a very short time span for the peak temperature. The work is often made up of “elements”, thin strips or wafers, combined together in subse-quent firings. They retain texture in the firing, which depends on not only accurate temperature and time, but also placement within the kiln. I have 3 different kilns with different configurations, and each requires a different firing schedule to achieve the same result. I have kiln logs for each series of work, including the failures…and yes, it seems that each time I try something new, there is a learning curve!

‘Harmony Quilt’ Installed’

How large are some of your pieces and what are the limitations of size to your work?

I love to work large, but my large work is really made up of smaller elements. Most of my recent work is on the wall, which has its own particular parameters. So I have had temporary installations up to 12’H x 30’W, but my biggest permanent installation is 4’H x 28’W. The idea of growing very large pieces from smaller elements is some-thing that appeals to me on a number of levels. The work can grow to any size and any configuration. It can accommodate curved walls. The pieces “speak” to each other, creating an installation with depth and complexity. Each element is no more than 2’ in any one direction.

‘Four Seasons Quilt’

You created 3 major pieces for the Washington Hospital Women’s Center; can you discuss this commission and the process it took you through?

Washington Hospital Health Services in Fremont, CA was building a new state-of-the-art Women’s Center. The CEO firmly believes in the healing power of art, and wanted the atmosphere to be calming and serene. The hospital was looking for a regional artist to create the major installations.

Fremont is a unique place: we have no majority ethnicity, but do have many ethnic-ities. People work together. When my kids would have friends over, it looked like a mini United Nations.

I wanted to honor this multiculturalism in the signature piece for the patient waiting room. The result is a luminous glass quilt, which is an art form that has traditionally been the domain of women. Harmony Quilt, 72”x72”x1.5” is made of 36 glass quilt squares, with 6 different patterns. A single pattern could be repeated 35 times to give a lovely finished quilt. However, in this case, the 6 different quilt square patterns rep-resent our different ethnicities. When the squares are installed together, they form an entirely new pattern, one that is richer and more vibrant than if a single pattern was used. That is the fabric of Fremont.

The Voyage Wall installation is kiln laminated glass, where the individual layers are still visible, along a 30’ curved wall leading women from registration to the dressing area. The glass waves, installed at approximately shoulder to head height, are meant to accompany the women on their personal journey to an unknown destina-tion (diagnosis), and give them a smooth voyage.

‘Voyage Wall’

Concurrently with building out the Women’s Center, WHHS also built a new Imaging Center, which is accessible through the same reception area. Knowing that I could work on curved walls, I was asked to create an artwork on a curved wall that greets patients as they enter the facility.

‘Shadows’ is a dichroic glass installation, with 1” stand-offs, allowing the cast shad-ows to become as much a part of the piece as the glass itself. With dichroic glass, the glass itself changes hue depending on the angle, and the shadows are a differ-ent color than the glass…to understand the nature of dichroic glass, you need to see the shadows. I thought it was a fitting metaphor for the tests administered in the Imaging Center, where careful reading of the lights and shadows of the CT and MRI images, taken at various angles or levels, reveals the nature of the image viewed.

‘Shadows’

I have been told that in the Women’s Center, some patients want to stay longer than they need to, sit and have a cup of tea and look at the installations. And patients have stopped short on entering the Imaging Center, exclaiming on the beauty of the installation (how can you go wrong with dichroic glass???). The CEO is right: art calms and gives optimism to people facing a potentially fearful procedure.

Can you discuss how the colour of the glass changes with the light, both natural and artificial?

Glass color and luminosity is absolutely light dependent. However, one of the motivators for working in the method I do is that low-fire pate de verre works in a variety of lighting situations. Since it is on the wall, it is usually front lit. Most commercial settings use halogen spotlights that give luminosity and sparkle to the work; often there is no natural light.

‘Canyon Sunset’

Residential settings are more varied, with work not directly lit at all. It still is successful, with a quieter appearance than a piece that has focused lighting.

‘Sunset’

Natural direct light on wall installations gives more luminosity and brightness while still being softer than halogen. I have started experimenting with LED (light-emitting diode) backlighting, which gives a completely different experience than front lit work. While it’s still not ready for prime time, I am excited with this direction.

Discuss your ‘Vessel’ work and how you developed it.

I spent some time in Europe as a child. Knowing that this was a temporary situation, my parents dragged me to every museum and ancient site they could find. Amazingly, it has had a profound and lasting effect on my work. What interested me most were the ancient, reconstructed pieces. They had broken, fallen apart, and were pieced back together, sometimes still missing parts. They were incredibly beautiful and mysterious. Their “imperfection” made them even more attractive. I also found a real connection with vessels, which were gorgeous in shape and utilitarian in pur-pose.

‘Amphora Grande Crosshatch, Spring Colbalt’

My Vessel series started as a statement of the vessel as a feminine receptacle for our aspirations and relationships: seeing women as vessels, carrying children to birth, holding families together and being the daily utilitarian vessel. The vessels are made of two parts, not fitting together perfectly, but working together harmoniously, like a relationship. The pate de verre is porous, so in fact can’t be utilitarian; it should be viewed as a metaphor.

Colour in your ‘Vase Analogy Series’ is much more refined. Can you expand on this?

My early vessel series referenced traditional vessel forms using contemporary colors. I used the same frit/powder mix ratio for every hue. Since I wanted the colors to be consistent in a piece, I mixed more than enough of each color to finish a work and ended up with lots of small quantities of left-over frit/powder mix, like small scraps of cloth. Having collected antique quilts, which I love because they create rhythm and order from many small random pieces, I realized that these leftovers were the start for making glass quilts. I mixed some of the color, sometimes adding new frit to make enough material, and the results were very rich and nuanced. After a few quilts, I understood that the tonal nuances would translate very well to the Vase Analogy Series.

‘Crosshatch Amphora – Turquoise’

Again your colour palette changed during your Residency in Lybster, County Caithness, Scotland Can you discuss how location has influenced your inspiration and work?

I have lived in California since 1981. A friend from here who moved to the Midwest longingly described California as a technicolor world, where colors are vivid, the sun-shine and dry atmosphere make horizon lines sharp and clear, and flowers bloom year-round. My work reflects all of that. So it was something of a shock to go to Northern Scotland, to a very different environment of infinite grays and indistinct horizons. In that far north latitude it is daylight almost round the clock in the summer, so even with the gray skies, gray water and black cliffs, there was a mystical light filter-ing through. Beyond that, the area has a long, hard history and is now rather de-populated. Lybster, the village where Northlands Glass Center is located, once had 15,000 residents. Now it’s about 800. I was captivated by the place and the history and hope that my work reflects that.

‘Caithness Neighbors’

Explain the use of shadows in some of your work?

Shadows can give as much information about a work as the piece itself, and they expand the complexity and scale as well. So sometimes I want to work simply and let the physical object be half the intended piece, with the shadow being the other half.

‘Falling Leaves – Green #4’

Can you explain your ‘Canada Geese’ series?

That was a Public Art commission for the Fremont Animal Services building. The office hub was in the middle of the building, and they wanted some separation from the public without being completely out of sight. The building is located next to a lake with a large resident flock of Canada Geese. I wanted to remind everyone, both employees and the public that they were in a very special spot and also speak to the function of the building.

So I spent a lot of time by the lake observing and drawing the geese. The resulting 8 deep-etched plate glass panels, each about 39”x39”, tell a vignette of the geese feeding, hearing the calls of other geese, flying to a new spot, and feeding again. A red-wing blackbird, also a resident of the lake area, is observing the sequence.

Can you discuss how your work through commissions has developed your work?

Commissions are extremely gratifying. The artwork is a result of a conversation, and really collaboration between myself and the client. There are certain questions to address in a commission: What is the function of the space? What would benefit people who are in the space? What is the aesthetic of the surroundings? What is the appro-priate material for the environment? What can I do for the given budget? Fortunately, when given a commission, there is already a green light as to my own general aesthetic and to glass in some form. Because each commission is unique, I try to push myself and offer something that expands on what I have already done. In that ex-pansion, I learn something and the client receives a one-of-a-kind installation.

Can you take a current work and expand on it?

A recent commission was for a home overlooking the Pacific on the Big Sur coast. The environment is breathtaking! The couple had seen one of my pate de verre leaf installations at a gallery and loved the idea of a scattered leaf installation in their bedroom. So I took the actual leaves that I make molds from, magnolia grandiflora leaves, climbed on a ladder and with a fan at blowing at low speed, dropped the leaves on the floor. The resulting configuration was the basis of the installation. I used the leaves to make molds and transform them into the final work, 48 pate de verre leaves covering an area 12’H x 8’W. Installed, they are cascading down a wall from a skylight toward the glass door that opens onto an ocean view.

‘Big Sur’

For gallery work I continue to look to the sky. The Caithness series allowed me to focus on the infinite nuances of our celestial realm. I am interested transitions, and the sky embodies that change, especially at sunrise and sunset, and each time it looks a bit different. The analogy is that change is really the only constant in our lives, and that it can be viewed as beautiful and inspiring.

As well as being a glass artist, over the years you have also seen the need to be an educator and administer in your field. Can you expand on this aspect?

Teaching is a wonderful learning experience. To successfully convey an idea or technique, one needs to understand both the how and why of that idea or technique. So I had to study to make sure I was clear on the assignments. As a professor at Ohlone College in Fremont for 17 years, every semester I had the benefit of 25 or so minds working on various challenges and coming up with 25 different answers each time. Art is a fabulous critical thinking field: there are many ways to successfully cre-ate work. I loved getting the results from my students, and they often came up with solutions that I could not have envisioned myself. That was exciting.

You are a Juror. Please give the reader some tips on what you look for in this role?

As a professor I emphasized presentation, presentation, presentation. As a juror, this is one of the highest priorities; artists should present well-crafted work cleanly, without background, in high quality images with proper lighting. The exception to that is if it is a site-specific installation that interacts with its environment. If several images are submitted, they should form a cohesive body of work so the jurors understand the artist’s style and message. Use titles; the title can summarize an idea in a word or two.

‘Dawn Boat’

Contact details.

Website: www.susanlongini.com

 

Susan Longini, Fremont, USA

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, February 2014

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