Celeste Wilson Essay
Fall 2013 Fellow
Hot glass is dangerous. You can’t be inattentive. Working with cold glass, on the other hand, requires a different order of precision. There’s lot less adrenaline and a lot more minutia. Coldworking is polarizing. Some glass workers love it and almost everybody else —the majority —hates it.
“I do like it,” says Celeste Wilson, a Fall 2013 resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America. “A whole day can go by (when I’m cold-working) and I’m not looking at the clock.” The most rudimentary cold-working task is grinding the base of a blown object flat and level, but it’s possible to do many things with the grinding wheel. “It’s very satisfying to me to take a piece of glass and do whatever I want to it,” Wilson says. Her eyes light up, “shape it or cut it or drill it. It’s empowering.” Wilson is versatile and expert in glass processes. She is much in demand as a studio assistant and fabricator for top artists. She currently works for around eight. “Any of my bosses can say, ‘I need these specific dimensions, this way, and that way,’ and I can say, ‘Okay. Give me some time and I can do it.’
Her confidence in her ability to meet any requirement reflects her natural bent as an artist. As a student, she listed glass as her major simply to qualify to take a course in it. “I took the class and it was amazing — way better than printmaking which was what I thought I wanted to do. I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s very addicting.” However, Wilson’s interest in printmaking is not coincidental. Making prints — multiples that are all identical, all flawless — is an unforgiving discipline. Wilson brings that exactitude to everything she does. She also thinks about integrating print-making techniques with glass. At WheatonArts she was considering ways to transfer layered stencil shapes onto glass either as fired-on paints or through sandblasting.
“I have a desire always to touch glass [even when it’s molten]. I think so many glass blowers do. It’s hard for me to remove my body from the process. The work I did in my undergraduate was all about the body and the fragility of glass and the body. [Although] I feel like that idea has already been pushed in the glass world.” Her most ambitious piece was a wall made of individual transparent bricks. The glass was blown into rectangular molds and stacked into walls. It placed the ephemeral, provisional character of glass against the seeming imperviousness of clay bricks. Wilson left the wall of glass incomplete, a possible commentary on human achievement. Is it in the process of construction or destruction?
Wilson explored a series of process works involving large spheres begun before her CGCA residency. Not knowing exactly where the series might end up, she suspended the globes through holes drilled in the cooled glass. They resemble hanging pieces of meat and like the human body — meat after all — they are fragile. She cracks them. “The first time I did it I thought, ‘Oh wow!’ It looked so much like a hanging carcass.’ My original thought was that it would stay together much more — that it would retain most of its shape — it would deform just a little bit.” The shattered shape is invested in plaster and a hot bubble of glass blown it to make a seamed fragmented former sphere.
Spheres, deformed, distorted and deployed, fill her studio. She blew into a pierced colander-like mold so the glass puffed out through the holes making shapes that may someday contain lights. She sliced one side of various small, thin-walled spheres and organized 19 of these bubble shapes into a 20” diameter mandala-like pattern. When asked if she were challenging the “tyranny of the sphere,” she laughingly agreed that although she had made innumerable rectangular forms for her wall; she was currently focused on spheres: “squishing them, heating them up, casting them and blowing into them. Everything I could do with a sphere I did.
“It’s kind of the nature of glass. Glass wants to be a sphere. It doesn’t want to have sharp edges.” There is more than a hint of ritual in the processes Wilson devices. “It’s a dialogue between perfection and accident. You like to take perfection and turn it into an accident and take an accident and turn it into perfection. . . . I do try to pay attention to the material and how it talks back.”
With her huge array of skills, insight, and intelligence, Wilson is a young artist who has not yet settled into a specific project or direction. She plans to attend graduate school soon. What she has already achieved makes you want to see what she will do next.
Written by Robin Rice