Artist Tom Patti was drawn to glass in the 1960s, while designing houses of inflatable plastic for the developing world. “I wanted to work with materials that I could open up and look at,” he says. Sheet glass, readily available and affordable, attracted him as a means to expand his vocabulary of materials. Studying and manipulating the inner spaces of abstract objects, in order to explore “the essence of what the object is and what it presents itself as,” became the focus of his work.
Windows to the Interior
Patti’s admirers appreciate his work for its taut artistry and sublimity: the small, compacted glass sculptures, with their complex inner architecture, and the large-%%scale%% installations made with impact-resistant glass of his own formula, which breaks up light into its spectral components. Patti, however, focuses on the investigatory nature of his work, the integration of the aesthetic and the technical, and each piece as “the nucleus for something else…I have a sense of working on a single piece all the time.”
Throughout the 1970s, Patti experimented with small cubes made of pieces of ordinary sheet glass, stacked, heated to a molten state, and fused. He introduced an air bubble into each cube that expanded downward through the piece, leaving a dome on top and suspended rings or other patterns in the interior. Working with stacked and fused sheet glass fascinated him, he says, “because I could create windows to the interior and manipulate the form in order to make the exterior and interior simultaneously.”
In 1976, Patti met gallery owner Doug Heller, who immediately organized a show of his work. Tom Buechner, then director of the Corning Museum, not only chose one of Patti’s objects (79.4.134) for the groundbreaking 1979 exhibition, New Glass, A Worldwide Survey, but illustrated it on the cover of the exhibition catalog.
Though he began working with glass in the early years of the Studio Glass movement, Patti worked apart, choosing industrial sheet glass as the material for his art. While the Studio Glass pioneers generally rejected anything associated with industry, Patti notes, “I embraced it, realizing that our built environment was encased in window glass…I saw sheet glass as state-of-the-art.” At the time, “the public wanted to see the soft, melty, organic aspect of glass,” he explains, “the drama of blowing and decorating it.” Patti intentionally kept the exterior of his sculptures spare and geometric, “so that my hands wouldn’t be the focus.” His objects were the result of logical technical explorations and, at the same time, they were “investigations into a conceptual universe.”
In 1980, Patti was awarded a commission to create an architectural installation for General Electric, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, near his home. The commission resulted in a major shift in his work, and once it was completed, he “never went back to glass in the same way.”
Commissions for architectural panels of laminated glass (“like stained glass without the lead separators,” Patti says) in museums, public buildings, synagogues, corporate headquarters and private homes now consume his time. As in his small sculptures, Patti manipulates the colors and shapes the viewer sees as the vantage point changes. “In my early works, I was interested in spaces that I looked into as an observer,” he notes. “Now it’s as if I am in the space as a component of that space, looking out.”