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Speed Trails by Karen Chambers

“To truly go fast, you must go slow.”


That has been an important lesson for the 30-year-old artist to learn, and he has learned how to go slow and how to make speed work for him.


To begin with, Goodman’s chosen technique of glassblowing is inherently fast. The glassblower is always in a race to control the material.2 Knowing when to make the right move, like a race driver, is essential. The glassblower is always judging the state of the molten material, which is both his competitor and his vehicle for expression. The glass can’t become so hot that it speeds away and crashes.


“Trial by Fire: New Glass Work by Darren Goodman”3 presents three ongoing bodies of work: Fantasia, begun in 2007; Vetrobottles (vetro is the Italian word for glass), begun in 2008; and Tears of Joy, begun in 2010.


Despite their formal differences, Goodman’s three series have commonalities, all of which derive from Goodman’s reverence for the centuries-old heritage of glassmaking. All are vessels, a form that is naturally made on the blowpipe, but all are far from functional. The vase-like Fantasia might hold a blossom, if its stem were flexible enough. The Vetrobottles with their attenuated necks would be a challenge to fill or empty. And it is hard to imagine exactly how the Tears of Joy would be used. Could they be oddly shaped flasks or retorts used for alchemical4 transmutations?


Goodman differs from other contemporary artists who work with glass in traditional ways, but insist that they be considered sculptors who happen to work with glass or even conceptual artists. For example, Josiah McElheny is a talented glassblower capable of making historically accurate replicas and also fanciful but plausible artifacts for his pseudo-museum installations. McElheny exploits the history of glass while trying to distance himself from it.


Goodman’s attitude is far different. He works within the glass traditions5 to make sculptures that never deny their historical precedents, but rather honor and advance them.


The artist uses traditional decorative methods, such murrini,6 which are patterned buttons of glass; vetro a reticello,7 which uses rods or canes of glass with embedded white or colored threads to create a netlike effect; and trailing,8 where a thin thread of glass spirals around the bubble of hot glass on the blowpipe. But he adapts these techniques for his own aesthetic purposes.


In the first two techniques, the buttons and the canes with their designs are arranged on a steel table or marver and picked up by rolling the hot bubble of glass over them. They will be melted into the bubble, but instead of making static surface patterning, Goodman heats his proto-vessels to distort and stretch the designs, suggesting movement frozen in time. And instead of using trailing for an orderly spiraling effect, Goodman lets his threads of colored glass wander over the surface in a more dynamic way.


In addition to the skewing of these decorative motifs, each of Goodman’s series expresses a sense of speed in different ways. On their three legs, the Fantasia appear capable of scurrying and scattering at any moment. The Ferrari Vetrobottles are from a group that Goodman blew as trophies for the Ferrari Challenge9 races. And it takes only minutes to blow a single Tear of Joy.


The Fantasia forms, sometimes as large as 60” tall, sashay along, swaying to unheard music in a sprightly and lively dance. The series name comes from this sense of movement that reminded a friend of the Disney film Fantasia. In it objects are brought to life to dance with animated characters.


Goodman groups the Fantasia pieces, suggesting an interaction. I see them as a dance troupe, specifically Paul Taylor’s modern dance company. His choreography can be languorous as are the “bodies” of Goodman’s anthropomorphic sculptures with their graceful incline of necks and “heads,” the mouths of the vessels. But Taylor’s dancers can go at breakneck speed in works like Esplanade, where they race across the stage and fling themselves into the arms of their fellow dancers. Goodman’s Fantasia embody that possibility, too.


In 2009 Ferrari commissioned Goodman to make a group of Vetrobottles in Ferrari’s signature red to be used as trophies for the Ferrari Challenge championship races9 in Italy, Europe, and the U. S. As in the Fantasia, the reticello and murrini patterns are stretched and the trailing is loose. Here the surface designs could represent the battle for control that race drivers must exert over machines capable of attaining speeds of more than 150 mph. The attenuated necks of the sometimes as tall as 48” Vetrobottles reach upward, narrowing and ending definitively in a flared lip, perhaps signifying the end of the race.


Speed plays a vital role in the execution of Goodman’s most recent work, Tears of Joy. The forms are blown quickly with walls so thin that they do not need to be annealed, that is cooled slowly to prevent shattering.


The majority of Tears used for the Cincinnati Art Museum installation were blown during the two-hour period of Goodman’s “Glassexperience” performance10 at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion in 2010.


While Goodman gave highlights of the history of glass, two teams of students from his alma mater, Bowling Green University, produced 100 tears, blowing them as quickly as possible. The glassblowers used gravity as a tool to stretch out the Tears’ narrow necks, which end in crooks so that they can hang from a grid of cables.


This desire to perform surely comes from his love of music. Proficient on several instruments and a singer, Goodman once thought glassblowing would be his “day job” as he pursued a music career.


In the Cincinnati Art Museum installation, Tears of Joy drop from the ceiling, 15 feet above the floor, sometimes reaching it to rest on a mound on sand, one of the basic ingredients of glass.  


The Tears of Joy’s palette of blues, greens, and clear glass and the use of sandblasting for translucent effects evoke water, as does the fluidity of the form. Suspended in space, they might be seen as gently falling rain.


The Tears of Joy came from an “accident” during an exercise making bottles. “While shaping a hot molten bubble of glass, the bubble became so hot that I lost control and soon it came flowing down to the floor,” explains Goodman. “My soul was touched by the simplicity and beauty of this new shape and process that I had just found. I knew instantly that this accident could be repeated with control and precision, creating forms and sculpture that is truly unique to glass.”


How Goodman arrived at this form illustrates another guiding principle in his life. He explains, “I’ve learned to embrace the good with the bad openly, and it’s this awaking that I feel has brought me to where I am today, a place where I have begun shedding new tears of my own, tears of joy.”


For all the references to speed that can be found in Goodman’s work, it is when the viewer takes time to ponder them—to slow down—that they are the most compelling and rewarding.


—Karen S. Chambers

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