As Christianity and morality were to the Victorian era, post-colonialism and semiotics are to ours. In the academy, the early twenty-first century is the heyday of deliberate idea-oriented artists, an anti-expressive time in which art students, especially those in craft-based fields, are often required to write down what they want their work to say — to mean — well before they pick up a blow pipe or jacks or model work for casting.
Thaddeus Wolfe strikes me as an artist who is finding a way to work within the dominant paradigm without surrendering the elements of material exploration and surprise — the spirit of an essentially intuitive artist. He is no outsider or naïve craftsman. He received his BFA (2002) from the Cleveland Institute of Art and subsequently has worked with established glass artists including Jeff Zimmerman (former CGCA Fellow) and Josiah McElheny. As a fabricator of glass work for conceptual landscape designer Paula Hayes, and painter Shimon Okshteyn, Wolfe understands the contemporary vocabularies of art, written and visual. Although he produces a functional line of his own work, much of his sculpture fits into the broad and topical category of science-related imagery.
Wolfe thinks visually, which, when you actually consider it, is what you’d expect an artist to do. He speaks and understands plain English, but it isn’t truly his native language. He is visual.
Somehow the meta message of Wolfe’s work—seems metonymic of many of his actual processes, melding chance or improvisation and rigorous technique. When he places blown irregular glass bubbles into a cube, the conjunction of organic with geometric has a parallel in the natural world in more than one scale.
Non-specific yet teasingly almost recognizable structures in Wolfe’s art suggest the intricate dance of knowledge in which each scientific “advance” reveals a new maze of seeming opacity or confusion. At WheatonArts where Wolfe was a Spring, 2007 Resident Fellow of the Creative Glass Center of America, he had access to an oil saw. The saw was originally made to cut stone but capable of making very straight cuts through accumulations of irregular glass modules. These slices present an unexpected view of structures. They could be compared to slices of frozen tissue samples and analyzed microscopically, for example, to detect cancer cells.
Wolfe is interested in science and the crystalline structure matter. He says, “Underlying and unperceived, on a molecular level there is a structure of organic matter.” The oil saw exposes irregular cell-like cross sections resembling laboratory specimens, but do not represent specific things. One work, a tangle of clear glass threads with a knot of bright red at its center suggesting blood vessels, but it isn’t intended to beblood vessels. Perhaps it’s more about a visual context, the representation of a world in which these kinds of arcane scientific/medical imagery are commonplace, a world in which people frame fetal sonograms as if they were portraits. And they are as much artifacts of emotional life as a dance program.
Another project at WheatonArts was building models and molds for casting blocky works inspired by the crystalline structure of matter. Initially, Wolfe looked at real crystals, but the work veered away from literal representation and became more architectural. Although he concentrated on small or intermediate scale pieces at CGCA, he plans eventually to make very large work in this vein.