Dancing on Glass

Philabaum's gallery shows off the work of a man whose glass art has a long gestation period

When Baltimore glass artist Anthony Corradetti was awaiting the birth of his baby girl, Lucia, he pored over illustrations depicting the minutiae of microscopic life--cells, zygotes, embryos.

He found that the images, magnified many times over, were not that different from the organic paintings covering his own glass art. He was already making sunbursts and spirals all over his pieces, trailing sinuous lines up and over and around their slick curves. But his glass pictures and the pre-baby pictures started converging even more as the pregnancy progressed.

In an artist's statement for his dazzling one-person show at Philabaum Glass Gallery, Corradetti explained that he wanted the drawings to mimic "a microscope reveal(ing) layers of cells within a slide." Like the human body, the vessels for this imagery would have "creases, folds and soft undulating curves."

"Organelle" is a case in point. About 20 inches high, it would be a straightforward cylindrical vase, except that Corradetti allowed it to melt enough in the glass furnace to slump over fetchingly to one side, like a sculpture taking a modest bow. Its painted surface is full of irregular shapes floating amoeba-like over the glass curves. A yellow blob has tentacles tipped in maroon; a jellyfish-like shape with antennae is colored a purple so deep it's almost black. Small lozenges in blue shoot around like fireflies. Behind these floating creatures, a "landscape" of reddish earth sprouts tall green blades against the delicately opaque white glass.

Embryonic-primordial soup is not the only painterly style Corradetti deploys on his glass. A ceramic artist who turned to glass back at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia back in the late '70s, and who later trained at the famed Pilchuk school in Seattle, Corradetti is showing about 15 shimmering pieces at Tucson's bastion of glass art. Now in complete command of his materials, he has at least four totally different ways of painting.

There's the geometric-art deco variety, vibrating in a criss-cross geometry, with circles and diamonds and checkerboards overlapping and intersecting. In such pieces as "Love Ball," the bright, kicky colors--blue, teal green, red, purple, light lime--change shades where the shapes collide. A blue circle turns purple underneath a shot of red; lime metamorphoses into teal when blue intervenes.

Different again is what could be christened the mirror style. "Liquid Gold" is just that: a two-foot-high lightbulb shape with shiny gold paint migrating across a surface almost as reflective as a real mirror. The big difference between Corradetti mirror art and a real mirror is that Corradetti somehow manages to incorporate rainbow colors into his glistening reflective paint. You can look into the big bulb and see your face, but it looks back at you all purple and red and gold. Painterly spirals of green and pink, outlined in black, hover around the mirror pools.

Then we have "Pink Swirl," a glass globe atop a glass base, in opaque white. Call it the Easter-egg style. Cheerful pink swirls curl around the curves, interrupted by circles decorated like the very best Easter eggs, filled with intricate geometric drawings, triangles in lavender and gold, and tiny diamonds in red.

In fact, Corradetti is like any painter trying out a variety of techniques, from pattern to splatter, from pointillist to expressionist. Though it's slick and hard and three-dimensional, his glass is his canvas.

As a young student, he wrote, he was frustrated by the long, slow process of shaping and firing ceramics. Liquid glass had an immediacy that he loved. Still, he wanted painterly colorations that you can't get with colored glass. Most glass art has gorgeous color, but it's incorporated into the molten glass.

Some glass artists, including Tucson's Tom Philabaum, occasionally paint on clear glass in a relatively simple process called the Graal technique. The artist paints on a piece of blown glass, reheats it and then re-cases the painted piece with clear glass.

But Corradetti's method is far more complex and time-consuming. First, like any glass artist, he uses a blowpipe to make a series of glass forms. When he's got a piece he likes, he paints "luster paints" onto the surface. The paint doesn't adhere to the glass until he's fired it in what's called an annealing oven.

The catch with luster paints is that when he paints them, they're all the same color, the brown of the medium they're in. Only when the medium burns off in the kiln does the color reveal itself, adding what Corradetti calls, in an understatement, an "element of surprise."

And then there's the element of time. The artist has to wait two days for the paint to cool, and then he layers on more paint. Each time he adds a layer, the piece must go back into the oven for firing. A typical work has about 12 layers of paint, meaning it requires about a dozen trips to the oven over a period of two months.

After all these years, Corradetti is nimble enough that even after this long gestation period, his works look loose and spontaneous and lovely. And there's plenty to see among the dancing painted shapes. The artist writes, "Like examining the life in a tidal pool"--or in a baby girl--"the closer one looks the more one sees."