Joshua Noah Dopp Essay by Robin Rice
Joshua Noah Dopp
Summer 2002 Fellow
Influenced by William Blake, St. Francis and the architecture of Christianity and Buddhism, Josh Dopp, a Summer 2002 Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, devoted most of his residency to a series of abstract sculptures based on natural forms. He wants these works to invite contemplation. The cast and painstakingly hand finished works, specifically allude to the Taoist reverence for nature as a model for human behavior and embody the ancient “spirit of stones” which inspires the use of curiously-shaped mountain-like stones in traditional Chinese gardens.
Much of Dopp’s earlier cast glass was inspired by architecture. His “Arcade Series,” which was related to an interest in the ideal proportions of Romanesque churches, lent itself to installations emphasizing the modularity of the arch form. Itplayslaying with the negative/positive relationship between the arch opening and the solid wall.
Cut out doors and windows to make a room,
but it is in the spaces where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the room lies.
Benefit may be derived from something,
but it is in nothing that we find usefulness.
Attributed to Lao Tzu
The empty arch allows passage from one functional space to another. Aesthetically in a building and a sculpture, it becomes a module which can be arranged in different ways to make a finished work of art. InDrifting Intent from 1999, Dopp stacked arcades while in Four Bowed Boat, he integrated a dome with arched supports at the center of a flower-like base. Dopp says that he tries to pare his architecture-related sculpture down to a form that is calming.
At CGCA, the calming forms took the curving biomorphic configuration of clouds or rocks or clusters of bubbles: all analogies with vague landscape references. It is, however, the surface of these forms which most engages Dopp intellectually, meditatively and laboriously. He applies one of two textures to the works in this series. One, a flow of rivulet-like grooves follows the curves of the form and suggests bark as well as water. The second, a dense field of small cupped divots often reads as an optical illusion of raised bumps.
The artist sculpts the soft clay originals with wooden tools which he carved and applies a texture which will be further refined in glass. A plaster mold taken from the soft clay is used to cast the solid glass. Dopp then painstakingly refines the surface: grinding, polishing, sometimes sand-blasting, until it uniformly absorbs and reflects light. Sometimes the effect is satiny, sometimes grainy. In photographs and even when seen directly, small concavities covering the object may appear to be positive bumps, an intriguing illusion. On occasion, Dopp applies a shallow linear texture to these fingertip-size depressions .
Surrounded by the textured surface, small “windows,” as Dopp calls them, are points of unique interest. The flat lenses are ground and highly polished to allow the viewer a glimpse inside the object. Like little portholes, they disclose a new light-filled, almost aqueous world. “When you get close, you have to leave your comfort zone. It’s like Dr. Who’s magic house,” he suggests. “[The lens] looks small on the outside but when you get inside, it’s huge.” The reverse interior face of the surface is both revealed and distorted. In some sculptures, Dopp has concealed, or rather, embedded a swirl of contrasting color which floats mysteriously, almost like a fetus in the womb.
The experience of one of these gentle sculptures, with its hints of nascent life, is a softly undulating contrast to the mechanical/organic blown glass and metal collage the artist made two years ago, before the son whose happy pictures decorate his studio walls was born. The symmetrical Expecting (2000) may possibly have an autobiographical origin. It appears to be a glass model of fallopian tubes attached to a metal robotic uterus. It suggests the supra-human controlling power (and potential dangers) of childbirth.
Expecting is compatible with Dopp’s contemporaneous architecture-based works. The current biomorphic series presents contrasts with both ideas. It operates on a level in which humans identify with and accept nature. The grid-based symmetry and hard edges of earlier pieces have give way to an asymmetry in which one point of view segues into another, privileging feeling over logic. This was a conscious decision on the artist’s part. “One reason I started this body of work,” he explains, “is that this form is very forgiving.” Appropriately, his slow process of refining and finishing the work has a similar meditative quality.
At CGCA, Dopp cast pieces in several colors including a dichroic rose/purple which shifts from bluer to pinker depending on the type of light which illuminates it. He also cast numerous smooth untextured abstract works like clusters of spherical and flattened ovoid bubbles. These range from small objects easily fitting into one hand to larger, more vertical trunk-like pieces, perhaps 18 inches high. The jelly-like color and clarity of these objects sometimes has a molten, flowing character emphasizing the glass medium.
Dopp has not entirely abandoned architecture as a source. He cast a series of slab-like elements suggesting both sections of an arch and monolithic stone circles. Nevertheless, his chosen source of inspiration has shifted from the building to the garden, from the works of man to the works of nature. His recent sculpture expresses a deeper level of human and tactile engagement. Human figuration is implied through the softness and flexibility of glass “skin,” though the human body is never represented. The references to weathered, natural forms also link to ancient art traditions. It’s an intriguing direction for this young sculptor.