- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

Glass art, both functional and decorative, isn’t what it used to be, as the Fraser Gallery’s “Compelled by Content II” handsomely demonstrates.

Surely a winner despite its unwieldy title, the show offers glass sculpture by artists who tell stories through their art — described as “narratives” in the gallery’s overly art-jargon-filled press release — such as District artist Tim Tate, who incorporates his personal ideas of redemption through bell-shaped containers, and local artist Michael Janis, who shows the fate-driven Greek mythological figure Icarus falling into buildings instead of the sea.

Ideas, rather than flamboyant glass expressions such as the famed Dale Chihuly’s baroquely exuberant glass “dances,” dominate here.

Some works, including those by Mr. Tate and Mr. Janis, “read” easily.

Mr. Tate began with rounded flaming glass hearts, then cast them into flat, mold-made pieces with more diverse imagery. “It was here that I began to explore issues of heaven and hell, and life after death,” he says.

The artist currently focuses on glass containers he calls “reliquaries.” Overlaid with text, they include stories and histories written in Mr. Tate’s swinging, optimistic script. It was with these reliquaries, also, that he was able to share his feelings about being HIV-positive.

Look carefully at the “Two Paths Taken,” in which he pictures his mixed feelings about this life-changing condition. “The eight ball in the center is a reference to the ‘Magic 8 Ball’ we all had as children … divining our future,” he writes. “The glass bubble on the inside describes how my life changed 22 years ago after discovering I was HIV-positive.

“The outside bubble describes my fantasy of what my life may have been like if that day I had been told that I was HIV-[negative] instead,” he says.

“The exercise,” he concludes, was a “healing moment” — as this deeply spiritual piece shows.

On the other hand, Mr. Janis seems obsessed, in very nice ways, with what he perceives as an overwhelming fate that rules us. Two works here — “Luck, Chance and Fate” and “The Fall of Icarus” — effectively portray this conviction.

His enigmatic, 4-foot-high, standing plate glass work, “Living Between Luck and Fate,” with slanted eyes, a nude, a man hanging from a rope, and a bird’s-eye view of people walking in a square, is impressive.

The artist uses the ancient sgrafitto technique of scratching into and drawing upon the background black glass plate to achieve a shimmering, mysterious quality.

Other glass works, such as those by 31-year-old newcomer Carmen Lozar, a teacher at Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University, delightfully intrigue and puzzle.

An artist with impeccable credentials — study at Alfred University, Corning Museum of Glass and the Pilchuck Glass School — Miss Lozar presents “Tenuous,” three tiny glass sculptures named “rabbit,” “lizard” and “baby with umbilical cord.”

She writes that many of her charming pieces emerge from her dreams. “Sister in Butterflies,” an intricate, four-piece construction of flameworked glass and mixed media, comes apart to reveal the engraved words, “I dreamt my sister has beautiful long eyebrows. I dreamt she fought off butterflies while laying beneath a dogwood tree, thinking they were threatening when really they were just searching for her smile.”

Portland, Ore., pop glass artist Mel George presents a conundrum of cotton threads and wire wound around varying-sized thread spools in “A Shades Difference.” Visitors must look long and hard to guess at their meanings. For Miss George, however, they symbolize her own personal identity and geographical placement issues.

Turning to Michael Rogers’ seven-piece, 100-pound, floor-mounted “Sea of Words,” visitors again are likely to have more questions than answers. “Why is the cast-glass bust of a mask-faced man sitting in a life preserver staring off into space?” they might ask. “Why do the six bottles near him seem to bob on an implied ‘sea’?”

The show’s artists exploit the expressive qualities of different kinds of glass, as well. For example, Mr. Rogers cast the central glass figure in “Sea of Words” so that the “man” seems lighted from within.

Robin Cass shows two shimmering, bird-shaped works that she says were inspired by the ancient Romans.

Jeanne Breenan of Washington state presents three stylized bird holders — green, brown and blue-purple — with which to hold golden precious objects.

Kayaks provide stories for Syl Mathis’ cast glass-and-steel “Next Breath” and Alison Sigethy’s slumped glass “Tidal Race.” Miss Sigethy aims to evoke the annual National Open Kayaking Championships in Greenland, according to the gallery’s director, Catriona Fraser.

Last — but certainly not least — mother-daughter team Liz and Lindsey Mears created “Sacred Geography,” a standing glass “book” of nature images. Mom Liz makes the “pages” of landscapes, leaves and trees, while daughter Lindsey writes the nature-inspired poetry.

Yes, glass art sure isn’t was it used to be.

WHAT: “Compelled by Content II”

WHERE: Fraser Gallery, 700 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., through June 4

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 301/718-9651

WEB SITE : www.thefraser gallery.com

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