Reality, Artifice, and Nature in Kathleen Elliot’s Blown-Glass Forms
It was an epiphany in a friend’s garage that led Kathleen Elliot to eventually shift course and pursue a career as a glass artist: She had been invited to try glassmaking in her friend’s makeshift studio, and left with a new passion for the centuries-old techniques. Guided by books and trial and error, she gradually honed her skill and style. By 2000, nine years after she first set flame to raw glass and gave it shape, she was enrolled in courses at the famed Pilchuck Glass School, where she moved from making beads to the more complex, sculptural forms for which she is now celebrated.
Elliot is fueled by an interest in blurring the line between reality and artifice. “What is real?” she asks. “How do you know? After three decades of studying philosophy and alternative spirituality, these two questions are the foundation of my artwork.” She explores these questions through natural forms and phenomena, focusing principally on intricate, convincingly naturalistic sculptures of plants, including edible, non-edible, and, sometimes, questionably edible varieties. Some of her pieces, like Gourds (2006) or Blue Moon Pods (2007), appear real enough to pluck. Others, including Flight (2013), are more abstract. This piece is composed of a branching network of vine-like shapes tipped by forms resembling leaves, feathers, or flower petals; it reads as a bird’s wing or a tangle of roots and shoots. In Questionable Food #1 (2012), part of the artist’s “Questionable Foods” series, the natural and the artificial are uncomfortably merged in a plant that sprouts dangerous fruit, its flesh composed of stitched-together scraps of soda and beer cans. In this work, with its references to the degradation of the environment and our health with our glut of processed products, it is all too clear what is real and what is not.