Tim Wagner Essay

Tim Wagner Essay

Tim Wagner
Winter 2005 Fellow

“[S]eductive yet repulsive:” The New York Times’ oxymoron is a melodramatic description of Tim Wagner’s kiln cast sculpture, yet it captures some of its fascination. The Winter 2005 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America makes work that seems not so much contradictory as ambiguous. On occasion, that ambiguity can be disturbing. Wagner, who has a BFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, is sensitive to materials and to the mysterious cross-pollination which occurs when you represent one material through another one which is very different.

He has written, “Glass is brittle, fragile, hard, and dense; so by representing hair and rope as glass, I work to create a dichotomous experience that speaks to the character of both materials.” Sometimes the shapes these materials—real and represented—assume suggest physical danger. A rope, for example, suspended vertically, almost inevitably suggests hanging, knots, and binding, though its material character is the opposite of glass: flexible, soft, and fibrous.

Although Wagner verbally describes rope as potentially comforting or supportive, I believe that his rope trope is more ambiguous, threatening, and context dependent. The first rope-like work he made was a cast of human hair. The hair piece (actually what old-fashioned ladies would call a “switch”) duplicated a long braid of his wife’s hair which she cut off and gave to him soon after they married. Hair is an archetypal material suggesting both vulnerability and menace; eroticism and coarseness; the imprisoned virginal Rapunzel and Victorian mourning jewelry. A glass rope or braid of hair is authentically dangerous, a fragile and threatening lance-like form.

Wagner’s interest in knots and the splicing of rope extends the rope metaphor beyond cultural or functional roles to the idea of relationships in a broader human context. These sorts of distinctions and complexities are embodied in the best of his work, which tends to be formally elegant and reductive.

Trial and error typify his process. “I like to work. I work by instinct. I don’t like to think too much,” he explains. He typically uses latex casts to produce wax positives and telescopes some steps in the mold-making process. He says, “Sometimes the end result changes along the way, but I tend to get the results I want, so I’m happy.”

He currently lives in Washington, D.C. where his wife (“My best friend and closest confident” and a profound influence on his work) attends law school at George Washington University. In nearby South Virginia Wagner made a mold of a large tobacco leaf which he duplicated many times in order to assemble a punning “Smoking Jacket.” He deconstructed a real sports coat to obtain the pattern pieces which he completes with “real” veined and textured leaves. Wagner is interested in representing the smoking jacket as the symbol of a “ritualistic male event.”

The complementary female garment is a sort of Southern Belle Cinderella skirt which will be assembled from layered casts of a broom. Sections of skirt are cast in flat wedge-shaped gores, composed of pyramided flounce-like broom heads. The “fabric” will later be slumped to produce appropriate fullness. Currently, Wagner imagines displaying both these garments on especially designed metal frames accessorized with items of real clothing: a shirt under the jacket and a petticoat under the skirt, real cloth which will be visible through and at the edges of the clear glass.

The potential of building a flat patterned mold is also present in a strip of tire tracks Wagner cast directly from a highway. The ultimate use of these is to be determined, but like the “Cinderella Skirt,” they could be assembled into a flat sheet which is later slumped into a more articulated form.

Although at CGCA the garments were cast in clear glass, Wagner frequently uses black glass (colored with black marbles), especially for the hair and rope pieces. He also planned to take advantage of the hot shop at CGCA to work with blowing glass into molds (including one of barnacles) instead of exclusively kiln casting. He hoped to make casts of balls of trash retrieved from the garbage and of dust pans and brushes and to make “Tobacco Lungs” from tobacco leaves. “I came here with a [to do] list,” he acknowledged. “It’s grown and shrunken. I will make as many parts here as possible and put them together in D.C.”