- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

Master glass sculptor Graham Caldwell lovingly coaxes molten glass into fantastic, nature-evoking images in “Slowly Growing Things,” on view for one more week at Addison/Ripley Fine Art.

As the exhibit’s title implies, Mr. Caldwell explores the organic growth of plants (“Bloom”) and sea creatures (“Outgrowth”) in these 16 blown and solid glass sculptures and one rubber, steel and hardware installation.

On entering, visitors first confront “Pillows,” the exhibit’s focal point. The glowing, translucent and transparent construction of approximately 50 brown, gold and rust panels hangs vertically on steel supports. The geometrically oriented work seems to float in space, yet it’s securely fixed to the wall and doesn’t move.

Mr. Caldwell, 31, spray-painted the smaller steel support holders — both those that protrude and those that fasten — with shiny black paint. They’re carefully crafted armatures that hold the more fluid and variably shaped glass forms.

With sculptures such as “Pillows,” Mr. Caldwell evokes the growth and structure of plants. He likens the steel supports to the central and spreading veins of a leaf, while the glass represents the leaf’s body and blade.

Like “Pillows,” the swinging, free-form “Interversalis” also echoes organic structure. It is composed of curved pieces of brilliant red glass suspended by wire from ceiling and walls that the sculptor likens to tiny swinging hammocks. Steel supports — here, too, representing the veins of leaves — make this work literally jump. The 101 “hammocks” add a shimmering magic.

However, the ambiguities and tensions of works like these fragment their impact, even if their intellectual premise is valid. Mr. Caldwell’s uses of the classical tradition in “Pillows” and a flamboyantly baroque vocabulary in “Interversalis” are examples of the exhibit’s sometimes unresolved paradoxes.

The artist is most successful when combining translucent and transparent glass techniques, static classic and quickly moving baroque inspirations, and refracting and reflecting light.

Sculptures like the previously mentioned “Bloom” and “Outgrowth” seem to grow and expand. Open, trumpetlike forms in “Bloom” push out into space. Its sensuous colors — ruby reds melting into purples, brilliant oranges fusing with soft peach hues — are a delight.

There are no black rods to mar the pale, aquatic-looking “Outgrowth.” Perhaps Mr. Caldwell set it on its side so that its tentaclelike hooks could reach out.

The rubber-steel-and hardware “Soon” installation represents a new sculptural direction for the artist. In this very large work, he emphasizes what he calls the “veins” or “connections” of nature in the many directive changes of the steel supports. The glass forms are sorely missed here.

Where Mr. Caldwell will take his art in the future is anyone’s guess. Hopefully, it won’t be in the overly cerebral and dehumanized direction of “Soon.” Anyone with the artist’s feelings for glass should stick with it — and grow. Never mind the rest of the stuff.

WHAT: “Slowly Growing Things”

WHERE: Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW

WHEN: 11 a.m. through 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through Jan. 29

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/338-5180

WEB SITE: www.addisonripleyfineart.com

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