Saturday, July 30, 2005

Vacation Days (Part II)

During our first visit to Lizza Studios, gallery director Betsy Green suggested that Debbie and I visit the studio of glass sculptor Christopher Ries in Keelersburg. She called ahead for us and it turned out that Ries himself would be there. It was only a fifteen-minute drive away, so we went. I know what you're thinking. "Glass sculpture -- what's that? Something like Steuben glass figures?" Well, if you've clicked on the link to his Web site you already know that what Ries does isn't remotely like that. Steuben glass figures are splendidly crafted manufactured objects. But, like all manufactured objects, they are short on individuality.
Ries's sculptures are nothing if not individual. He takes 3,000-pound blocks of crystal glass, cuts them where the flaw is (like a diamond cutter), then carves the somewhat smaller block into an abstract form, but into the form another form -- a flower, say -- will be etched, which will in turn be refracted by the light striking the sculpture and projected throughout the form. Sculpture is not usually transparent. Because of their transparency, because of the way the light, striking them, changes the pieces as the light moves, and as you move around to see the pieces from different angles, Ries's works seem to take on a further dimensionality.
Ries himself is an impressive fellow, absolutely fascinating to talk to, which Debbie and I did for a couple of hours. Many years ago I was a gallery director. I've met a lot of artists in my time. All of the best usually like to talk, not about themselves, or even about individual works, but rather about the material they work with and what goes into the process of working with it. Talking to Christopher Ries about carving glass is like talking to a mystic about God. He gives the impression of a man for whom a particular vision of -- yes, I'm going to use that word -- beauty is never for long out of his mind.
I do not mean to suggest he is some hopelessly impractical visionary. Visionary yes, but impractical -- not at all. His studio is an old barn, and has been wondrously restored -- by him. It's on a farm only yards from the Susquehanna. Ries himself grew up on a farm in Ohio, not far from the part of the state that gave the world some of its most famous pottery, including Roseville. Ries's mother wanted him to be a musician and in some way, looking at the play of light striking his sculptures, or the play of light on the wall cast by those sculptures, that is what he has become -- a composer and arranger of light. Light is an integral part of each work and he calculates the effect the light will have while he works. This is extraordinary art.

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