Celeste Starita Essay

Celeste Starita Essay

Celeste Starita
Spring 2002 Fellow

Celeste Starita, a Spring 2002 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America defines herself as a sculptor who works in glass — cast glass. She has no interest in blowing glass nor in making vessels or other useful objects. “I don’t want to be one of those people who makes the perfect goblet. Glass as a material for sculpture has endless variety. It doesn’t have to be functional. I have to believe that glass can grow in the art world as a sculptural medium; otherwise, I’d be a massage therapist,” she jokes.

Most glass artists, even those who define themselves as sculptors, have studied glass blowing. As students, they master forms which assume new identities as components of more complex potentially non-functional structures. In addition, a regular market for tumblers, bowls, pitchers, and vases is a sure source of income, but Starita scorns production work compromises: “I’m not willing to sacrifice my vision to the need to earn.”

During her residency, Starita concentrated on two reductive, essential forms: cubes and spheres. A typical work is a sphere suspended in a perfect translucent cube. It’s a macroscopic/microscopic vision. The sides of the cube reflect the sphere, infinitely enlarging its presence. In some works, the visible sphere is an illusion, a hollowed hemisphere which reads as a solid from the opposite face of the cube.

“Everything I do is self-referential,” Starita notes. The spherical inclusion represents an individual, self-contained and unique within the universe, “a vast expanse” of which the cube is merely a sampling. Initially, she chose the cube as the simplest form which could contain the sphere, but she has come to appreciate it on a more profound level. “The cube is an even section pulled out of the space that I’m trying to glean from.”

However, the sphere remains her central subject, one which manifests itself in virtually all her work. “The semiotics of the circle — all those metaphors — are very complex. It’s deceptive because you think it’s simple.” On a technical level, it’s difficult to cast a sphere. None, she says, is ever a perfect dimensional form. It’s also difficult to suspend a sphere in the exact center of the surrounding cube. In fact, in some of Starita’s most engaging works, the sphere has drifted to one side of the cube so that each face offers a slightly different point of view. Sometimes the sphere seems to be on the verge of edging outside its little chunk of the universe.

The circle within the square has multiple art-historic resonances, relating it to ancient architecture and to the Vitruvian man of the Renaissance, for example. On a more idiosyncratic and frivolous level, one might see a formal parallel between Starita’s sculpture and her collection of snow globes (all gifts, but friends know she likes them). A snow globe consists of a central image enclosed in a clear glass-like exterior and a mote or many motes ( “snow flakes”) drifting in a vast, inchoate void. Perhaps Starita’s fondness for them springs from the same deep source as her sculptural imagery.

Starita believes her interest in sculpture grew out of early exposure to her father’s furniture-making avocation. She has even collaborated with her father on one work combining wood and glass. However, Marcel Duchamp is her Muse. As a resident of Philadelphia, she’s familiar with the unique Duchamp collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She’s even named her cat for Duchamp’s female alter ego, Rrose Selavey. Her work is a general reflection of Duchamp’s interest in language and abstract thought — but she does not particularly share his fascination with transforming the objects of daily life and commerce into art. And unlike Duchamp, Starita certainly does not disdain “retinal art.”

Sometimes large within its enclosing cube, sometimes smaller, the sphere in Starita’s sculpture, particularly when it is centrally located, is a focus of light within space. She recognizes light as a key element of her work and regards installation with appropriate lighting as the completion of the work. It is a perceptual metaphor. In seeking clarity and order, she says, “There should be no visual interruption to get to the center.”

At CGCA, Starita placed clear spheres within an opaque white glass. She also cast several pieces in dichroic deep pink to blue violet, utilizing the way this glass shifts color depending on the quality of light striking it. Moving slightly away from the sphere, she completed a number of egg-shaped castings and continued earlier experiments with sheets of glass slumped and fused in the kiln. Hand-sized spheres of sand-blasted, laminated gray glass have an attractive weathered quality. As disk-shape wafers or square sheets, the fused glass, mostly a translucent gray, was sand blasted to an eroded satin texture, exposing fragile edges suggestive of friable layers of slate.

Using negative space, laminated squares reveal a sequence of openings — a sphere in reverse. The spider web patterns in shattered glass are a familiar sight which has rarely been explored by glass artists. Starita experimented with circular openings made by throwing rocks through glass and fusing the broken pieces. There is a narrative element to the implications of violence in broken glass.

Starita also began a consideration of glass as subject matter. Once, speaking of ladling molten glass into graphite molds, she said “I love the large glowing mass. It is frightening and challenging but beautiful.” She decided to record the varied character of molten glass by filming the process of clearing one color of glass from the tank so it could be filled with another. Unlike the typical journalistic photographer, Starita filmed only the glass — not people working with it. The glowing fluid slowly flows into a large metal container filled with water. The rapidly cooling stream twists and spirals glows white, red, and then orange. Lava like, it generates quantities of steam, and piles into fantastical landscapes which melt away or balloon into enormous evanescent bubbles. It is a primordial narrative of creation and destruction, another dimension in Starita’s vision of glass as a medium of universal expression.