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All About Glass

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Meet the Artist: April Surgent

All About Glass

April Surgent rethinks engraving and cameo techniques, reaching back to antiquity to create works that look painterly, photographic, and contemporary. Her images come to light through precise cutting and the grinding away of fused glass layers, usually milky white on the top with darker strata below. The size, thickness, and flatness of these objects reference panel or easel painting, as do her diptych and triptych compositions.

Through years of experimentation, Surgent has realized a language of subtractive marks that range from the exacting to the expressive. In 2003, she learned traditional cutting at Pilchuck Glass School from the storied Czech engraver Jirí Harcuba, whom she credits as her mentor (and with whom she has recently co-taught courses at Pilchuck). While Harcuba innovated the use of engraved illusionistic and expressive marks, it is Surgent who has taken up the challenge originally laid by Harcuba’s teacher, Stanislav Libensky. He recalls “Professor Libensky tried to convince me to leave off engraving—he argued it had no perspective. He said I should become a painter.”

Surgent has not only realized robust perspective, but also the details, textures, and atmospheres that create entire worlds. She is able to work her large flat planes because of the range of contemporary hand-held power grinders, drills, and buffers that allow her to “take the tool to the glass,” though she sometimes uses stationary wheels and lathes to which past artisans also brought their glass objects. Surgent uses the technologies to make painterly effects—repeated cuts can look like impressionistic brush marks while other abraded surfaces seem as watercolors.

April Surgent

Surgent uses her own photographs as her image sources. She “develops” the pictures by grinding the glass plates to reveal sometimes neutral, sometimes colorful, underlayers. Many of her images depict glass architecture—buildings with glass surfaces and complex optics that can be transparent and reflective. Her reflected images remind us we are looking at a constructed illusion. They also reference the camera’s glass lens and its mediation. In these pieces, the illusionistic “glass” reflections and transparencies inevitably refer back to Surgent’s vitreous medium and challenge the viewer to see her work as both a glass object and as representations of glass. 

Her images read as photographic because of their personal “snapshot” quality—especially her pictures of Seattle, Surgent’s home. These show her perspective and her relationships to the city’s spaces and to the people who inhabit them. As such, many of her titles, such as A Miscommunication Between There and Here or Flight Away From You, imply a connection, a transition, and a space.

Surgent has been working with glass since the age of 14, first as an exchange student in Bornholm, Denmark, and then at Detroit’s College of Creative Studies. Though she graduated from the glass program at Australian National University, Canberra, in 2004, Surgent has already emerged as an important artist, teacher, and technical innovator. 

Published on October 7, 2011