Josh DeWall is interested in synesthesia, a phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sense generates perceptions in others: sound experienced as color, for example, or tactile sensations linked to scent. Synesthesia is a useful metaphor for his work because of the way it draws disparate elements seamlessly into a singular whole.
DeWall, a Fall 2008 resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, uses the tools of technology to interpret the natural world. He is not concerned with portraying the defining characteristics of particular species, as recorded in his collection of photographs of tent caterpillars and glow-worms in caves. DeWall is more fascinated with commonalities among forms that are purposeful in the natural world — with happens.
He explains, “I like things that have a flow. I appreciate movement.” And that movement is likely to be the contraction and compression we see in the movement of segmented creatures, not the clomp of mammalian of feet. It’s something which, like synesthesia, can’t be divided into clearly defined units. Even a series of thin-necked jellybean colored vessels suggests a viscous flow of one fluid droplet into another (in addition to the virtuoso glassblowing skills required to make them).
The movement of insects like silkworms, earthworms, maggots, and bees are facilitated by the structures of their bodies; likewise, these structures imply movement. DeWall addresses the relationship of external form and internally-generated movement through the serial manipulation of hot and, then, cold glass. A blown form can be cooled and then carved in various ways. DeWall uses a lathe to define ridges that emphasize a grub-like form. He carves these shapes without drawing and ends up with rows of precise undulating rings. Simultaneously organic and unrecognizable, some of these curving and certainly graceful objects have a definite e-eeeuu factor underlined by the encasement of a shaped colored interior in a dense layer of jelly-like clear glass.
This gradual technique requires that the piece is reheated at least once — often several times — embedded in additional layers of hot, usually clear, glass and blown out to further bend, stretch and elaborate the form.
These laborious methods add layers of color and give the artist a high degree of control often balanced by a high failure rate. DeWall says he likes to “go with the natural way the glass moves.” The truth of this can be seen by observing him at work, but equally observable is the ultimate care he invests in the finished product. “I’m all about perfection and control and muscle memory, using our brains and muscles together without having to think.”
His sense of improvisation united with discipline may reflect DeWall’s early lampworking interests. Lampworkers have to be detail-oriented: their work is composed of details; however, they have an especially close-up and personal relationship with the minute of melting and moving and cooling glass.
The techniques DeWall uses to make very precise lidded jars and goblets, with lamp-worked finials and feet, are echoed in more freely constructed caged forms weaving together molten threads of glass. The “Silk Series” cages encircle natural wood branches in glitter filaments, inspired not by spider silk but by the silk of the silkworm’s pupae. But DeWall is already planning new things, “We grow and our work should change. My goal is to keep making glass.”