2008 Rakow Commission Artist: Zora Palová

Zora Palová (2008)

North Sea Waves - Zora Palová

North Sea Waves

Zora Palová (Slovak, b. 1947)
Slovakia, Bratislava, 2008
Mold-melted glass, ground and polished
H: 190.5 cm, W: 39 cm, D: 28.5 cm.
2008.3.41, the 23rd Rakow Commission

Palová cast glass sculptures are not like the theoretical, geometric works that one associates with her early teacher and mentor, the well-known Czech artist Václav Cigler, or her husband of 38 years, Štepán Pala.

Trained initially as a painter, she makes sculptures with fluid gestures that break or pierce a surface, like ripples on the sea, and irregularly rounded sculptures with large perforations that take away any sense of a solid, cold mass. A glass pinnacle, for example, curves gracefully at the top, its surface sandblasted so that it absorbs rather than reflects light, giving the viewer the sense of an inner glow and power.

“Glass is a very spiritual material,” Palová said in a recent interview from her home in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. “It can absorb or reflect light. It is translucent or transparent. You can use it for expressions that you could never achieve with bronze or wood.”

She was drawn to glass, she recalls, to express the contrasts she feels in life: male and female, humankind and nature, air and sea. She may begin with a straight or circular form, an enormous mass, but then she gives it details such as swirls, curves, or irregularly cut-out areas that contradict the solidity and monumentality of the piece. Variations in the thickness of the glass let in different intensities of light. “It’s like men and women,” she explains. “I grew up with three brothers. I have three sons, and I’ve been married for nearly four decades, so I sense the differences. The woman makes the details in life that make it different.”

These sensibilities are in sharp contrast to her early training in glass at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava under Cigler, who worked with cubes and spheres, employing the prismatic cutting and highly polished surfaces associated with the optical industry. “He was a strong teacher,” Palová recalls, “but he gave us freedom.”

Zora Palová

As a student of Henry Moore in London in 1969, she created large-%%scale%% sculptures of clay, wood, and plaster that already had the dynamism and emotionalism that distinguish her work. Under Cigler, she learned the discipline of working with glass and she was influenced by his meditative approach to the material. It was while studying with Cigler that she met her husband. The two have lived, worked, and taught together since 1971, in their native country and in Sunderland, England, on the northwest coast, where she became research professor at the University of Sunderland in 1996.

Living near the North Sea has been a particularly powerful influence on her work, she notes. “In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, we don’t have seas. I didn’t know how to express the feeling of the sea and the air surrounding it.” The mysteries, movement, and power of the sea have inspired many sculptures, including the piece she presented  to The Corning Museum of Glass in October as the 2008 Rakow Commission.

Now a visiting professor in Sunderland one month a year, she spends most of her time in Bratislava, where she can devote more time to thinking about her work, relationships, and nature. Recently, she has produced very large-%%scale%% work, using a technique that she and her husband developed jointly. After winning an international commission for the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, the two created the largest outdoor glass sculpture ever made: 16 feet tall, six feet across, in three sections. Light Transformer, designed by Palová, is of a crystal gray glass that suggests long gazes over roiling seas and meditations on the dramatic light of the region.