Kait Rhoads, a Fall, 2008 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America, likes to work “outside the box,” a phrase that’s doubly apt in her case. Rhoads’ sculpture is original and exploratory: “outside the box” that contains most artists working in glass. It also seems to stand in contradiction to boxiness: literally and conceptually. “I don’t like square things,” Rhoads says. “The box (in finger quotes) is so boring.” She prefers fluidity, a sense of sensuous movement.
If an occasional thing Rhoads makes is boxy, it is a critique of boxiness or perhaps a reference to being boxed-in. The rather minimalist, corral-like Preserve, presents right angles in these ways. Like a four-sided life preserver (perhaps that’s what it represents), the woven glass and wire positive sequesters a sharply defined empty space. Its walls enclosing an empty center could be protecting something or imprisoning it.
Whatever the purpose, the rigidity is contrary to Rhoads’ more typical fluid shapes. Her sensibility has roots in a childhood partly spent on the sea. The boat where she and her family lived for a time was surely an out-of-the-box sort of dwelling. Home (that is, vessel)-schooled, Rhoads spent a lot of her free time swimming underwater where the phenomenological environment became an integral part of her sense of the world, a context in which she felt balanced and in control.
In contrast, life on board could be claustrophobically intimate. “Water was always a different world. Being on the boat I felt pushed and pulled by other people.” Rhoads mentally equated the ceaseless movement of water, the current, with the human energy of her familial shipmates enacting their lives above her on the surface. It became for her “ a representation of those forces that I couldn’t explain but could feel from above.”
At the age of 12, she left the boat and only recently has returned to diving. Now she draws on the underwater world as a source of visual imagery. The glittering Nudibranch evokes the furling, curling shape of the creature more commonly known as a sea slug.
Rhoads has worked as a fiber artist. Much of her glass could be accurately described as fiber art. Nudibranch, like much of her recent work, is composed of a permeable fixed fabric of hollow murrine, slices of hexagonal glass tubes, joined by copper wire, all supported by an invisible steel armature. Multiple polished surfaces refract, absorb and transmit light. The tactile, almost pointillist effect is jewelry-like. The patterned surface of coral seems clearly referenced in pieces like the recumbent Calyx and the bright branching Red Polyp.
Rhoads feels that the flexibility of fiber is often associated with women’s work, while squared-off architectural structures and metal are more associated with men. Preserve, shows that she can utilize either, although curving forms are more prominent in her work. Rhoads, whose ability to do handwork has been limited by carpal tunnel syndrome since 1991, makes the glass elements but turns to a full-time assistant, “a fiber artist person,” to handle the copper wire. She supervises the work closely and does not hesitate to rip out a painstakingly assembled piece if it fails to make “the gesture” she envisions. “I love making work where there is the flexibility to make a change,” she says, but the price of change is time. One work can take 300 hours to assemble.
“Sometimes feelings within us are so large and overwhelming. I want to whisper. It’s better to draw you in.” Rhoads pulls patterns and colors from her unconscious, aiming to echo motifs of the collective unconscious. The communicative intent is obvious in a work like “Preserve” and also recognizable in blown glass pieces that incorporate murrine and canes into pictorial surfaces. From the sumptuous, spring-like “Cherry Blossom” and “Clear Skies” to the powerful wave-like currents of black, white and orange in “Persimmon” these more traditional works are seductive and expressive, but part of the same impulse that inspires the woven murrine sculpture.
“Some people make art for themselves. Some people make it to be famous. And I want to communicate.” Clearly, a goal, Kait Rhoads reaches on a regular basis.