Spring 2006 Fellow
“Art is a way for me to chase my dreams,” says Greg Nangle and he’s not talking about money. Those concretized in his sculpture can be sensuous, nostalgic, or baffling — perhaps a mélange of all three. Sometimes they are nightmares. As in many dreams, surface appeal is often tempered or contradicted by an ominous core of meaning. Stylish and wittily constructed of bronze, steel, and glass, “She Melts with My Kisses” illustrates the clichéd metaphor of romance in a disturbingly literal way. “She” is melting: All that remains is the lower part of the woman’s body clad in a skirt, her Barbie-doll feet daintily balanced in high heels.
The essence of things gone wrong can be embodied in an image as commonplace as an overturned metal cup or goblet pouring out clear liquid in the form of cooled molten glass. For Nangle, a Spring 2006 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, this image, which he has repeated in different forms and materials is specifically related to bulimia and anorexia. Self-described as a “magnet for people struggling with eating disorders,” Nangle feels that these compulsions and perhaps perceptual distortions have a kind of “spiritual energy that I’m definitely in touch with.”
The overturned cup or leaking teakettle represent fullness and emptiness and the idea of nutriment which has been “digested or not digested.” This idea of consumption or digestion could be literal or it could be interpreted as metonymic of the acceptance or understanding of ideas or communication — or, at least, openness to possibilities. By representing vessels, Nangle, who could make very perfect functional ones, generally chooses forms which seem weather-beaten or distorted, forms which have personalities of sorts.
When a studio visitor suggests that a toppled tea set may suggest failures in hospitality and communication, Nangle responds, “It’s all there.” But, however one interprets it, an initial impression of coziness, even of coziness interrupted, is undermined by cups and kettle which seem almost abused, with surfaces which are irregular and dented. Lids and handles do not quite match up or welcome touch. And nothing rests neatly on a stable horizontal surface. There’s a disrupted, earthquake feeling to this tea party.
The link of liquid (in the form of glass) to communication is illustrated in a sculpture of an envelope of metal from which clear fluid appears to flow. The glass contents of the envelope are infused with a fairly common colorant for glass, neodymium. Nangle, though, was specifically conscious of the toxicity of this chemical when he titled the work “I’ll Still Open Your Letters.” The viewer doesn’t need to have access to this encrypted commentary on communication to understand the “written on water” message embodied in the work. Nangle adds another level of consideration when he remarks, “You don’t get letters anymore. Letters are anachronistic.” That sense of anachronism could be linked to the romantic but outmoded gesture of sending handwritten messages
Nangle’s interest in art goes back to childhood and an N.C Escher print he could see as he went to sleep in his top bunk bed. He also remembers loving the painters Bosch, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Dalí. He began making art as part of his unorthodox education at the Creffeld School in Philadelphia where “they stuck me in this room and said, ‘Do your thing.’” At Creffeld, Nangle helped to build one of the first high school glass studios in the country.
In 1996 as an art student at the University of Hartford, he orchestrated an elaborate performance piece based on the collection and mingling of urine from three men [another example of his interest in fluids]. He went on to study at Tyler School of Art. He’s mastered difficult techniques involving metal and glass and, in addition to making his own work, does metal and glass casting in his own Outcast Studios for the well-known artist Steve Tobin and others. Recently, he’s reproduced pieces of Lalique glass for collectors.
Nangle’s layering of ideas and codes may originate in the fact that he experiences more than one type of synesthesia, the stimulation of one sense in relation to another sensory experience. For example, he says, “When I see things, it makes a sound in my head. When I see a person’s face for the first time, I can feel them in my face. It’s hypersensitivity to the max. When I see somebody and I hear a sound, it’s loud. I don’t always have time to process it. It can get very confusing.”
Perhaps these interlinked perceptions also fuel his long time research—he calls it “an obsession” — with alchemists, and Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Gnostic churches, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church who was a Freemason, and “crypto-zoology.” Ultimately, “It all centers around food,” Nangle feels. At Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center he was weaving this erudition and fantasy into “alchemical allegories.” One series involves blowing glass into cages composed of found objects from Philadelphia which he calls “ghetto tumbleweeds.” Another planned objective was to cast extra large glass “puddles” in CGCA’s new casting furnace. He was energized. “This fellowship has allowed me to distance myself from using the studio as a way of making money and to use my shop for what I built it for: for me.”