In his second resident fellowship at the Creative Glass Center of America in Spring 2004, Dave Walters focused on two bodies of work. One was a continuation of his long-term interest in graphic images on blown glass vessels. The other was more sculptural and kinetic, incorporating elements from several media in addition to glass. These latter works sometimes resemble deconstructed human bodies. Glass brains, livers or stomachs hang like the elements of a wind chime—or a marionette, though not in a way which literally reproduces anatomic relationships. On occasion, these obliquely human, mobile elements are mounted on or in an openwork structure of forged steel.
Walters, who has worked as a gaffer for such luminaries as Dale Chihuly and Lino Tagliapietra, is able to blow glass into any form he desires to realize his designs. Some elements of his kinetic works have the thin walls and mathematical precision of scientific equipment. They endow mysterious apparatuses with a kind of scientific authority consistent with the bilateral symmetry of biological or organic forms organized into mechanical almost robotic systems. Are these objects pseudo-sentient? Elaborate experiments? Charicatures of research fashion?
Walters produces a line of functional glass; however, he is best known for unique vessels enameled with detailed narrative drawings which reflect his print-making background. Mythological and biblical stories provide material for imagery which he refocuses through a very personal prism. There are clear relationships between Walter’s work and that of printmakers like Albrecht Dürer or the more expressive William Blake, but two-dimesnional work on vessels also has strong links to the tradition of Greek vase painers. Another significant influence seems to be early Christian or Byzantine painting and mosaics, in which the surviving Roman tradition has evolved into a powerful linear emotional expression.
The Greek vase-painters depicted stories of the gods in limited colors. They and Byzantine mosaicists and other historic illustrators included text as Walters often does. The stories Walters tells, though, often take a grotesque and surreal turn which has earned him the soubriquet of “The male Judith Schaechter” (the much admired stained-glass artist with a propensity for depicting suffering, torture, and bloodshed). Unlike Schaechter, Walters works primarily with black and white and an occasional accent color.
He wanted to put most of his energy at CGCA into glass blowing: making vessels to be decorated with enamels which are applied and removed by scrafitto (scratching away) or sand-blasted after being fired. Combining additive and subtractive methods allows him to great freedom. However, while still at Wheaton, he could not resist experimenting with a recently acquired a pen which gives him a great deal control for stippling.
Walters designs vessels for specific images. He is working on ideas growing out of traditional children’s stories. “I find they are rich with possibilities and take me back to my own childhood—the monster under the bed.” He planned specific shapes to go with specific illustrations. For an Alice and Wonderland Tea Party, from a projected “Alice in Wonderland Series,” he planned a trophy-like representation of the “Drink Me” bottle topped with a tea pot.
His hammer-wielding Humpty Dumpty will be self-destructive, with only a broken, teetering ladder for rescue. “I like a tenuous relationship,” Walters admits. Buildings in his drawings are supported on thin stems; they “look solid but are only as permanent as what’s beneath.” Additional subjects proposed for the fairy tale series include Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumpelstiltskin.
This artist brings his very impressive technical skills to bear on dark but archetypal subject matter. It will be interesting to see how—or if—he resolves his vision of the human body depicted in his kinetic works as a mechanistic, perhaps Cartesian entity with his more psychoanalytic graphic vision of the psyche.