Lisa Cerny Essay by Robin Rice
Spring 2001 Fellow
“I think if you become bored as a glass blower you’re not doing something right,” says Lisa Cerny, one of the Spring 2001 Resident Fellows at the Creative Glass Center of America. Cerny, a Canadian, began her professional art studies at the Alberta College of Art and Design as a graphic design major. Happily, she discovered glass in her foundation year. “Graphic design was all about deadlines and product and stress,” she recalls. “Glass was very laid back– plus it was glass!”
Cerny, however, did not abandon graphics’ two-dimensional orientation but simply applied it directly to her new three-dimensional medium, decorating the sides of blown vessels with complex pictures in light and dark. In addition, she often even seems to approach blown forms in what might be called a graphic mode. The walls of her studio at the CGCA were
covered with charts of vessel silhouettes and her vase-shapes or stacked three-dimensional lidded vessels are symmetrical and silhouette-based.
Though she produced a number of classic functional blown glass pieces almost as a discipline, the focus of Cerny’s work at CGCA expanded on etched drawings of human and animal subjects. “I like beautiful form,” she explains. “I like to make vessels but the fact that I can apply drawings makes them my own.”
She uses two techniques. Some drawings are etched with a diamond drill into a dark ground through a layer of white heat-compatible Paradise paint. The stippled surface is then overlaid with a glossy gather of clear glass. Using what might be described as a shallow cameo technique for other works, Cerny layers white and black or colored glass. With the drill, she works through the top layer. It isn’t a true cameo work because Cerny does not carve and modulate value in low relief through a thick layer of glass. Her layered-glass pieces are sandblasted to a matte finish after she completes the drawing.
Cerny sometimes reheats and blows out etched painted pieces inviting distortions. Continuing an engaging earlier series, at CGCA she produced a group of African animal vessels emphasizes the black and white patterning of zebras and elephants. When reheated and blown out the exaggerated patterns reinforce the shape of the vessel and the roundness of the animals. Cerny devises compatible forms for feet and lids: for elephants, a series of ‘fat’ rolling curves; for zebras, a sleek neck and foot banded in white and black. She similarly distorts human faces by reheating, but the effect is less decorative than the animal works. The expressive heads are not represented in illusionistic space but are more flatly organized in the manner of Ben Shahn, an artist she admires.When she arrived at the CGCA, she talked about experimenting more with distortion, but she also said, “The next step is to make conscious decisions about what I want to say.” By the end of the residency, it seemed she was moving away from distortions, toward pieces which embrace accuracy and control purposefully–sometimes playfully.
For example, an urn dedicated to the founders of Wheaton Village, the glass factory where the CGCA is located, is adorned with tongue-in cheek Victorian fussiness. Four intricate portrait medallions float on a wide white band edged with elaborate borders. The exaggerated conventions, rigid organization and tour de force display of skill are a commentary on the aesthetics of traditional glass from one who really understands them.
A second approach in Cerny’s recent work is strikingly illusionistic. On a cobalt blue vessel, sharply isolated highlights and muted half-tones effectively suggest the shadows and harsh artificial lighting of jazz clubs. Cerny allows the shadows on the inward-focused face of a trombone player to melt into the soft blue ground (most likely a meaningful color choice). Her foreshortening of the horn takes advantage of the convex surface of the vessel and the scene is not limited by a border Rather, her rendering dissolves the surface of the blown vessel, inviting us to look beyond its tangible form into an illusionistic pictorial space, a satisfying duality of visual experience.
With rare exceptions, like the founder’s vessel, her compositions avoid the singular point of view of Greek vase painting. Rather, they provide visual links between images arranged around the body of a vessel whose curves describe mass and movement. Turning the vessel 360* in your hands may be the equivalent of turning in place and looking out from the center. Or it might be interpreted like a film sequence. Though the imagery in each work is related in subject matter, Cerny says the series is often “pieced together in a fairly random way” more for visual flow than as a narrative, for example. “I’d like to be aesthetically pleasing,” she acknowledges. By allowing viewers to “read [the pictures] in their own ways,” she achieves her goal of doing “work that’s meaningful to me and to a wide spectrum of people.”