THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
They don’t call Toledo the Glass City for nothing. This town’s history as a pioneering force in both industrial glass production and art glass ensures that significant artists working in glass and the collectors who love them will often make their way here. A case in point: John Brekke and Jane Bruce, two accomplished artists from Brooklyn, whose creative ambitions extend far beyond the limitations of traditional art glass, have arrived at River House Arts. In their two-person show, JB Squared, they combine conventional glass techniques and materials with video, installation and conceptual art to create distinct and distinctive bodies of work.
John Brekke is a documentarian of the everyday, pre-occupied with recording the (overheard) spoken word. He snatches from the air conversations, altercations and occasional soliloquys that drift into his open studio window and walk by on the street outside. And then he etches these bits of talk onto the surfaces of vintage enameled bedpans and cooking pots, where they coalesce into a kind of jive poetry. Truncated phrases and absurdist non sequiturs are spangled across the surface of the utilitarian and vaguely embarrassing artifacts in his Pissoir Series. Into the orifices of these found objects, Brekke has introduced globes of blown mirrored glass, transforming them from receptacles for bodily fluids into phallic totems.
John Brekke, Pan, 2019, engraved vintage enamelware, blown mirror glass, steel. Photo by K.A. Letts.
The nine blown, engraved and enameled glass rondels on display around the gallery appear, at first glance, to be more conventionally pleasing examples of art glass. Fishes, birds and airplanes provide most of the imagery in this body of work, all of them benefitting from the translucency of the glass that can evoke air or water. Brekke’s rondel Fishes and Birds illustrates how Brekke uses glass as a ground upon which to address his meditations, in this case on time and ephemerality. His signature etched letters make a reappearance in the background of the composition, but in this case are used as a decorative element and can also be read as fish scales. Two fishes in the center circle each other, recalling the ouroboros, an ancient symbol of infinity. The birds fly endlessly in a circle around the edges of the rondel and refer to time’s passage, or as Brekke more prosaically puts it, “a clock”.
John Brekke, Fish and Birds. Photo by K.A. Letts.
Jane Bruce is a memoirist of the natural world. Her lyrical recollection of the timeless and unending northeast Scottish coastline, inhabited only by birds, informs her architecturally-themed, mixed media pieces Constructed Landscapes. These tabletop assemblages manage to be both intimate and monumental; the air of timelessness and silence they evoke is reminiscent of Stonehenge or the pyramids. Wish I Was There, a related collection of 12 small translucent, kiln-formed glass tiles, charmingly recalls hand-colored vintage postcards. Their washed-out pastel colors paint panoramas of hazy, deserted seascapes and cast a spell of dreamy nostalgia.
Jane Breck, Birds. Photo by K.A. Letts.
Bruce heads in a more formal direction with a series of wall-mounted wooden constructions, entitled Constructed Space. Dead white, but occasionally punctuated with brightly colored splinters, these post-minimalist artworks seem to sink into the wall, and the opening in the center of each piece looks out onto nothing…or everything. Bruce gets more literal with two pieces that feature motion-activated videos of a meadow with butterflies and a bird-populated seascape. While I appreciated the skill with which she has integrated the videos into her artworks, I found them a bit literal next to the elegant simplicity of the adjacent pieces.
Jane Breck, Seascape. Photo by K.A. Letts.
Both John Brekke and Jane Bruce use the special qualities of glass to reach for larger themes, while refusing to be seduced by the undeniable attractions of the medium.
JB Squared / John Brekke and Jane Bruce will be on view through November 16 at River House Arts, Toledo.
K.A. Letts is a working artist (kalettsart.com) and art blogger (rustbeltarts.com). She has shown her paintings and drawings in galleries and museums in Toledo, Detroit, Chicago and New York. She writes frequently about art in the Detroit area.
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