Meet the Artist: Zora Palová

Corning Museum of Glass, October 17, 2008

Tina Oldknow: It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Rakow Commission artist for 2008, who is Zora Palová. Zora has traveled to be with us from Bratislava, Slovakia, with her husband Stepan Pala, who is also a very well-known and accomplished glass sculptor.

I hope you will not hesitate to meet them during the reception for the Rakow Commission, which takes place after this lecture in the Crossroads Gallery. You will be able to see Zora’s new sculpture in the Contemporary Glass Gallery.

Zora’s Rakow Commission is a monumental sculpture of cast deep gray glass, titled North Sea Waves. We just put it in this morning and I think all of you will enjoy looking for it. By the end of her lecture, you will certainly recognize her work.

The idea of water and its expression in glass is attractive to many artists. However, Zora is not inspired—as are some artists—by calm pools, mists, or chunks of ice. What she embraces are the cold and unpredictable waters of the North Sea. Her interpretation of these waters is strong and gestural in her thick, cast glass sculptures that combine heavy slabs with fragile undulating edges.

Zora is an independent artist who lives and works in Bratislava. She studied painting and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava from 1969 to 1971. She then switched to glass and studied, from 1971 to 1975, in the department of Glass in Architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts, with the well-known Czech glass sculptor Václav Cigler.

After 20 years of working independently while she raised a family, she was appointed in 1996 as a research professor, teaching glass sculpture at the University of Sunderland in England. In 2003, she became a visiting professor at Sunderland, so that she could devote herself full-time to her sculptural work, which includes individual objects as well as installations and architectural commissions.

Over the past five years, Zora’s sculptures have developed in concept and %%scale%%, and her exhibitions and teaching have brought attention to artists working in glass in Slovakia, who are not as well known or not as numerous as artists in the Czech Republic.

Zora’s approach to cast glass sculpture is perhaps characteristic of her generation, which draws from—and breaks with—the ideas developed by the famous Czechoslovak artists of the postwar era, such as Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová, and René Roubíček and Vaclav Cigler.

Her understanding and use of glass is gestural, emotional, and grounded in the natural world, rather than being philosophical or geometry-based. She prefers to work with light using rough textures and transparent color in glass, rather than with its reflection off the smooth surfaces of colorless optical glass. Yet, the discipline of working with glass in conceptual and theoretical ways (during her years of study with professor Cigler), has provided an important framework for her highly expressive sculpture, which is imbued with an emotional depth and intellectual gravity.

Zora will now tell us more about her life and life’s work. Please welcome Zora Palová.

Zora Palová: Tina, thank you very much.

Dear friends, first of all, I would like to introduce myself and my work, and then Stepan’s work. He’s my husband for 38 years, we are working and living together. Then, we will see, you will see, a video of the process of working on the Rakow Commission.

When I was thinking of what I would speak about in my lecture, in my talk, I was sitting on our terrace outside, and I had seen a beautiful sunset. And next day, again, but it is completely different, and then I came to the idea to speak about my private light inside glass, because when you see the light penetrating the clouds, and when the dark color and this light color penetrates through it, then it is very similar to what is happening in glass.

This is a sample of how we can create light inside of glass, because we are privileged, as glass artists, creating light inside of glass. If you know how to do it, if you are experienced enough, then you do it. Here, you can see the glass, in very deep parts, is darker, and the very thin parts on top, it seems like clear glass, and still it is the same glass. It’s just cut in different way. You can see different colors. It makes light. It is why glass needs light.

I have been inspired for many years with the water and with the sea, because in Czechoslovakia, or Slovakia, we did not have any sea. We had good water, a lot of water, but not a sea. And when I have been in Sunderland and I have seen such a beautiful sea, which changes every day, and gives you picture, different picture every day, dependent on the light, to the sky, to sunshine, to sunset, to sunrise. I just try to express it in my way.

Here you can see what happens; there are two pictures, when light comes in front of the picture and when light comes through from behind. It was the same: here is taken photographs from the polished side, and it’s completely glass, it is glass. The first one, the first picture, could be something different as well.

Here, I would like to show you two pictures. Because, as I told you, I try to express the sea and the feeling of the sea, this sensitivity of light. And that piece is from 1998, from the series of Wings, because I usually work in a series like, Wings, Bridges, Water, Sea.

This picture is from 2004. Because it was my intention to express the sea. I came to the first piece, because I think that it is very important to an artist to have a main stream of creation, and then you can go that way, that way, that way, that way. Obviously, you can come back and to think what to do more with the piece. And here I made the pieces in clay, and I thought, wow, I can stand it up and make a triangle shape, and I will get a piece like this. The shape of the form is still wing, but I start here with this, like a lace, look like lacework.

This is again an attempt to express, like, sunset on the sea.

This piece is two meters tall and is gray-green color. And again it is the waves, because what I like is the geometrical shape, really straight, with some details inside. What makes more a human piece in my mind.

This is about light again. I captured the light in a triangle. Because of the thickness and the thin parts in triangle, and the point of triangle. And again the light comes from the side, makes the color on the other side purple. It’s purple, green, blue. It’s just the work with light. I knew that it could happen on the point, but this purple color, I didn’t expect it at the time.

This piece is from the series, Bridges, from 1996-1997. I made many bridges because bridge is not just about connection to parts of cities, but philosophical connection between people, between relationships between people. I try to express, sometimes it’s a very industrial shape, and sometimes in a more soft . . . maybe I have good picture, right?

You can see some sample of my drawings, where I. . . First of all, I draw my pieces because I would like to have. . . they would become, at the end, in a shape. Obviously, by creation, I immediately think about the light, which through openings comes out.

Here is again a sample of my Wings. I tried to make it in clear glass, because the clear glass is not made from optical glass, which is completely clear, but is made from crystal. You can see, inside, some waves and bubbles. It is like the third, or fourth, dimension, like a new world inside the glass. From the other angle. . . One side is made by, in clay, by my finger, and my fingerprints stay, and this prism effect you can see the fingerprints everywhere. But obviously, it is very difficult to take a photo of it.

This again is from the series of Bridges. It was next. . . Next, I was thinking of to make like a big project, can you imagine, this piece, three meters tall, and people could walk through? It was my idea afterwards. It seems to me like a model, maquette, for a huge project.

This is from the series of the Birds. I tried again for a very simple shape, but very rough and very dynamic. Using openings, because I would like to dematerialize glass. Glass is very heavy, and I try to make bigger and bigger %%scale%% glass sculptures, but how to do it? I use as less glass as is possible. Then I came to the idea to make, like, drawings with glass. It means. . .it is like real drawing, but in material.

This is my very old piece from 1992. You see that I was working with the light inside glass. I tried to make openings through the sculpture to get differences, and to get space and light into the sculpture.

This is from my series of Pictures in Glass, it is like daybreak. And I tried to express when you start your new day, and you feel very strong, but obviously you are still in bed, lying in bed, but you want to wake up, and this triangle represents. . . oops, sorry, I must be still.

This is again from the series of these drawings, and it is quite an old piece, and from the series of Bridges. It is called Bridge Heart from 1994. It is ruby glass, and again about the dematerialization of glass.

This was, I think, the first of the series of Drawings in Glass from 1993. . . I like to figure out techniques, but, it is fissure circles, and I try again to make as less glass as is possible.

This is the piece which has been to Coburg; I won the prize there. And this is a drawing, it seems very soft, framed, and the inside is like a new, something new, and something very soft again, like ice.

This is from same series as well, it is green glass and it works again with light. And you can see shades and shadows, and because of these openings, the light is coming through and makes the glass completely different.

This is from the series of Bridges as well. . . and I was surprised when we took the photographs, what the shadows make, how it helps the sculpture.

This is an interesting piece of mine, it was commissioned for an association of Dutch insurers in Holland and it is eight meters tall sculpture, two and a half is made in granite and five and a half in parts, segments. It is interesting because there is not any metal support. It is eight meters standing in a stairwell, and you can go around and you can see from all sides, up to the top. It is still there and everybody likes it.

This is one of my new series, I call it Sitting. You can see drawing, and it’s quite small piece for me. It’s about 80-90 centimeters. So, for Chicago, SOFA Chicago, I prepared one 70-75 , in green color.

This piece is a leaf. I made it from the series, Leaves. I made it in 2000, it’s two meters tall, and my idea was to make four seasons: spring would be green, then summer, yellow, and then autumn, red, and winter, crystal. But when I made one, I sold it immediately. I made second one, a red one, sold it immediately, and a yellow one. And then I don’t have a photo of all of them. I think that I need to repeat . . . what I hate.

This is an installation: it is crushed glass just lying on the grass for one exhibition in Slovakia. I call it Upside Down, because I made it something like clouds lying on the grass, on the floor.

This is a piece which we made together, with my husband, Stepan, for National Glass Centre in Sunderland. It is outdoor sculpture and it is made in three sections, and it is five meters and two meters wide. It is about one ton of glass. It’s called Light Transformer, because of the light which comes through and is dependent on the sunshine. When the sunshine comes through, the piece is completely white. If it is gray, the sky, then Light Transformer is completely gray.

Now, I would like to show you Stepan’s work. Stepan is different, and he has different attitude to glass as I have. He is more involved in geometry.

Here, you can see the piece which he made in four segments. 96 pieces, four sides, segments of four sides, parts, glued together. It is a work of one year of him. It is two meters diameter. Now it is in the Association of Dutch insurers, in the same building as my tall piece, and it is in entrance hall. It is beautiful because it is again dependent to light. Because of prismatic, prismatic effect, then you can get color inside, it’s not just clear. It is made from optical glass, which is very clear, very pure, highly polished. Then it captures the glass, and what is fantastic about glass that I didn’t tell you, is that the light goes through. It didn’t stop on the top and reflect away, but it goes through and makes the glass clear, or without, make the glass, in this case, optical glass, and brings the color inside.

Because Stepan is interested in growth, he doing four side elements, and glue them in different ways. You have seen The Ring, was the first, not the same one here, because he has one side curved, but very similar four-side elements, and they can grow. It depends on how you glue it: they can grow to spiral, to double spiral, to the ring, to different shapes.

I like this piece because it is very, very simple. Two cubes made in optical glass. It seems that they are very calm, but they are very strong by light. When Stepan was at school, he made smaller pieces, these two cubes, in 1974. Then, he had an opportunity to make them bigger, it’s 30 by 30 by 30 each cube.

Again different. . . it’s like a picture for me, a very abstract picture. It’s just about light.

Here, he tries to make these curved sides of these four-sided elements. Like, some are curved and some are straight. He tries to make these bubbles, something what is completely different to his previous work.

Now, it is one of his last year’s projects, he is doing, like, waves and very geometrical, and to use different system, or rhythm, in the middle parts. Here is a blue, here is a yellow. It is different rhythm.

This is a very typical work of Stepan’s last period, maybe between 1990 to 2005. He uses lens or two lenses, and glued them with some color. He added color to lens to make new world inside, through the lens. Here are one lens is build up together with three columns. . . then one lens in optical glass.

Here is the front, he uses two lenses, and he put inside, maybe here you will see better, he put inside a very geometrical shape. But this one piece looks like picture, it is the same like that one.

This again, it seems when he uses two lenses and he puts something in between, it looks like it flies. It looks like it flies, really; sometimes you don’t see the lenses and just the piece, which is in the air.

Here is one sample of his drawings, but it is not made by computer, because he hates computer. But it is made by hand. He is a very patient person.

This is of his last work, his last project, it is like space is turning all around, and it is like space in space. You can’t see properly, but it’s like never-ending, turning one like. . .

This is the last picture of what I would like to show you. Because Stepan made, it was commissioned, like a propeller. It has been made from steel and optical glass. He uses here this optical principles, like a prism, but what is fantastic is that if you look from. . . Because of the light which comes through, you have got feeling that it is bent. It is not here, I think that he needs to make a video of it, and then you will see, because it turns, or rotates, on an angle, then it rotates like that. Then you have the feeling like something has bent the glass, but maybe next time I will bring.

Now, it is the picture from Sunderland, where I used to be, where I used to live. The sea was really dependent to the sky and to the light. You can see it was completely gray and it was my inspiration for Rakow Commission which you will see now on the video.

(Video plays and Zora narrates)

I’m working with clay first. It’s a student who helps me; we usually have some students in our studio.

It’s very heavy.

From the top, I can see better if everything fine, is because we will see the mold. There is a mixture of sand and plaster and recycled, crushed, old molds.

We stir the mixture, like a cream.

The wooden box must be protected and anchored properly. Now, he must very carefully pour the mixture, or otherwise the clay could flow up. He has to keep down all the time, to keep down the middle part and sides as well.

The middle process hasn’t been done, because it is very bored, I must take the clay out from the mold and it takes ages. And here is the filled kiln, the kiln is already loaded. After firing, after five weeks, we are allowed to open. Obviously, there is not only this piece, but we have to load the kiln full.

It is the blue piece what you are seeing. The last one is the piece for here.

Now, we start grinding. In the meantime, we took it to Železný Brod for sandblasting and acid washing. This is a different piece here.

Thank you very much.