Anne-Lise Riond Sibony
Even when she fell for glass in 1995, Anne-Lise Riond Sibony, a Fall II 2009 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, recalls “I always knew I was not made for making goblets and vases.” Born and reared in France, she planned, in fact, to attend a fashion design school in New York and while waiting for the semester to begin took a course at Urban Glass to fill the time. That was the beginning.
Soon Sibony was using glass as a material for painting, an area she had already studied.
She says that entering the glass field at age 27, “I was late so I had to run.” She painted heads that became three-dimensional portraits of a sort when imposed onto blown shapes. “Blowing a vessel is very rapid,” she says, “Finding a meaning takes longer. Art is about meaning so you have to create meaning along with the creation of the object. Working with art is the pleasure of searching for meaning.” But, she quickly qualifies: “Sometimes you don‟t find it.”
Sibony uses a graal technique which allows her to imbed painting and engraving onto a blown shape which will be reheated, fusing glass particles of “paint.” The original form, now malleable, is then blown out into a stable shape altering the painted elements of a face: eyes, perhaps a nose and mouth and occasionally hair. All the faces are expressive, some whimsical; some disturbing. Some are portraits of specific individuals, but many are more elusive and suggestive.
Human heads are vessels of a sort, decorated skulls containing brains, the personality, thought, memory and most of what makes each of us unique. Sibony‟s heads retain that character of the vessel, the original form that led to the making of them. During reheating, they can be enhanced with applied details such as green fronds and flowers, incised or applied patterns, and in one case shiny black glass beetles. As in traditional portrait painting, these elements tell us more about the subject and often suggest various sorts of a narrative.
Sibony‟s work is eclectic. Her portraits are strongly influenced by two very different painters. The wide-set, wide open eyes in Ingres‟ lush portraits are surely echoed in the large dark eyes of Sibony‟s. Hers, though, are less imperially calm, sometimes projecting a disturbing Twilight Zone sensation that the individual is silently struggling to communicate, imprisoned within the glass bubble of his or her exterior persona.
Pieter Bruegel‟s powerful humanity and economical story-telling does not come immediately to mind when considering this work. But the influence of his witty narrative gift and feeling for telling detail can be recognized. They are a source, in particular, of the images often appearing on the other side of the blown glass ovoid. Sibony explains, “The back of the head tells us what‟s happening.” One man is thinking of lost keys. We see them in the back of his head and are free to see the subject‟s thought as strictly practical (Where are my office keys?) or as a more metaphorical search for the keys to success or happiness. In portraits of her children, Sibony depicted their interests from dolls and animals to nightmares. It‟s not possible to see both the face (a literal façade) and the back of the head (the concealed thoughts) simultaneously. Always we are aware that something important is recorded on the other side.
Not surprisingly, these works were a big success. Also, not so surprising, Sibony has grown beyond them. “By 2008,” she says, “I was really fed up with the head. The size is always the same. The
problems are always the same.” In addition, the studio she uses in Paris closed for a year. Her painting experience, united perhaps with the importance of vessels to the glass medium, perhaps led her to still life as a subject. She began exploring the metamorphosis of two-dimensions (in paintings) into three. The insubstantial is made solid and palpable space folds like a series of nesting boxes. Her virtuoso painting ranges from trompe l’oeil to cubist. Her subjects are traditional: wine bottles and glasses (one grouping decorated with Masaccio‟s “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden”), fruit in which free standing oranges may be juxtaposed with a bowl containing painted oranges, and candy-like flowers. Fish ready for cooking have figured significantly in still life painting and they do in Sibony‟s work where they became increasingly important and, eventually, lively swimming fish.
A series of small vessels barely containing jumping fish by Richard Meitner (1986) spurred her interest. When she saw Meitner‟s Violation du fond, she recalls, “I was like, „Oh, I would so much like to make this piece.‟” Now at WheatonArts, she, who has always blown her own glass, works with glass blowers Skitch Manion and Deborah Czeresco. “I wanted to scale up. Working in the States everybody wants to build up a scale.”
Some pieces she‟s making are fish and some contain fish. She is thinking about fish as a metaphor or symbol, “I am the fish, hungry or angry. I am both the fish and the eater of the fish.” She envisions fish in many contexts from fishing lures, fish heads displayed separately from the body, and sardines in a can. Some are realistic with patterned scales and translucent eyes. But she‟s still at an exploratory stage, developing elements that she will fuel her work for several years.
On a parallel track, Sibony is working with haiku poetry, appreciating the condensed ideas as a trigger for concentrated meaning in an art work. She plans to engrave or paint haiku in her sculpture, perhaps this:
Food in fish.
Fish in dish.
Fish in us.
Water in fish.
Fish in water.