Among the top tier of glass blowers working today, Tom Farbanish exploits
a broad range of hot glass techniques. His recent work synthesizes a polarity
of expressive forms, contrasts which could interpreted as bridging and
even challenging habitual cultural norms distinguishing functional vessel
traditions from "high art" sculptural traditions.
In 1985, Farbanish was among the Creative Glass Center of America's earliest
resident fellows. His fall, 2002 residency was his third at the CGCA.
His familiarity with the facility allowed him to maximize his time. "I
think of this as a nine to five, five days a week opportunity to make
as many things as I can. I came here to hunker down and make specific
things." He brought along an assistant, Ben Ostrom, to help him complete
the work to his satisfaction. Farbanish knew in
advance that the Wheaton Village hot shop has a larger glory hole than
that in his own studio. He was partly drawn to CGCA because of the potential
to work bigger.
Farbanish appears to be relaxed and even casual as he sketches shapes
in chalk on the floor, briefly consults with Ostrom and settles in to
work, pacing himself comfortably like an experienced mountain climber.
However his apparent nonchalance is deceptive; this artist did not arrive
"in the upper echelon of being able to get a shape accomplished."
by luck. He is a severe self-critic. "I don't want to waste any time
or money," he says. "I only analyze the deficiencies. I just
want to eliminate the weakest point."
Farbanish has broad experience in making his own work, helping other artists,
such as Kiki Smith, to realize their ideas, and in teaching. For the last
couple of years he has been involved in projects for others and has not
shown his own art.
"The idea of understanding how things work" is intrinsic. "I
am a maker of things; that's what I am," he says but he rejects classification
as "craftsman as yeoman." Such distinctions are not just words.
Like so many artists working today, Farbanish juggles competing commitments.
Becoming a father caused him to become more concerned with economic security.
"Years ago I never questioned what I was doing. In first grade I
was the one who did the bulletin board. I always knew I'd be in art."
Nevertheless, he knows that "Most successful artists are phenomenal
businessmen. Successful artists are driven, focused, determined. A very
successful artist is extremely selfish," but how "selfish"
can a parent permit himself to be? At CGCA Farbanish was given the opportunity
to be "selfish," to concentrate for six full weeks on his own
Almost as a warm-up, he completed a number of frankly traditional functional
vessels. They were generous, symmetrical and classical in form with curling
handles. Compact bases in one contrasting color, usually black, and lip
wraps in a third emphasized vibrant body colors like lime green and royal
blue. However, these were peripheral to Farbanish's more ambitious production
which draws upon the vessel tradition as subject, expanding and improvising
on the vessel forms.
The bodies of the vase-like shapes are composed of stacked geometric parts:
spheres, cylinders and cones. In contrast to the symmetry of the central
sections, exuberant, fantastical handles are fluid like drapery. They
are made by solid-working hot glass on a metal punty rod: twisting, pulling
and forming a shape which will pair with another freely-formed handle,
compatible but not identical in form.
The assembled pieces literally enlarge on the vessel idea by becoming
objects beyond function in scale. By exceeding practical human scale--that
is the size at which an object can be easily shifted from one display
point to another, lifted by the handles or used as practical containers
-- they command a certain kind of attention. Likewise, they expressively
contradict their formal description by acting like sculpture with fluid,
spatially expansive Baroque handles and a patterned, gestural painted
surface. Handles combined with painting can utterly contradict the symmetry
of the central form, suggesting a secondary layer of meaning superimposed
on a marginally compatible proposition.
The vaguely liturgical shapes and subsequent painted decorations of these
sculptures make myriad references to vessel traditions from Greek to Islamic.
Farbanish's parents were Russian Orthodox and early experiences of church
art, which carries significant meaning through decorative embellishments,
may have played a part in forming his aesthetic. "Most successful
work (in crafts) is utterly digestible or is based on beauty," he
proposes. "It's not the intent of my work to be solely beautiful
but I intend the object to be with people."
There are many sources for this observant artist, but the link between
Farbanish's work and textile art is notable. In his own studio, using
glue and metal screws, Farbanish will assemble the components he made
at CGCA. Then he becomes a painter looking at glass as a surface to be
composed with color. His expressive painting is somewhat reminiscent of
artists of the Pattern and Decoration movement like Robert Kushner.
In some ways, Farbanish resembles a master Baroque artist like Bernini.
He orchestrates a broad panoply of form and materials to achieve a finished
work which transcends them all. Nevertheless, though he's been known to
use metal as a sculptural component, he identifies primarily with glass.
"I like the idea that I'm involved in a material that has an enormous
history. I think of the vessel as a painter thinks of a 2-d format. I
use the vessel as the same kind of starting point."
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