AN INTERVIEW WITH RITA SHIMELFARB AND IMANI DAVIS

IMANI DAVIS: What was your inspiration for creating this art piece?

RITA SHIMELFARB: It was driven by the idea of both separation and connection between Love and Faith. Which sustains which? When one collapses, will the other one pick you up and hold things together? Are they two sides of the same coin?

I meant to show Love and Faith as twins, so I used the same model for both faces. However, her face transformed so much depending on the angle, that she did not look like the same person in both incarnations. I kind of liked that and it became an insider joke for the piece – the idea (and reality) that identity, depending on how it is presented, may not guarantee sameness or repeatable result.
 

ID: How long did this stained glass piece take to complete?

RS: It took its sweet time – no other work has ever taken me this long. I carried the idea alone for over a year, until I was clear on how I wanted the girls positioned. I took pictures of the model in February of 2015. Then the rest of that year was spent on on-and-off playing with the composition, colors and proofs for face-painting to get to where I wanted the piece to stay. I have at least half a dozen of different compositional incarnations of this piece. Once I selected glass, it took another 6 months of work to cut, fit, paint and laminate the piece. I ended up replacing some glass pieces mid-process, because the original glass choices were not quite right.
 

ID: What was the process like?

RS: I kept on trying to leave the work and it kept on calling me back. This one was a troublemaker. She insisted on being born.
When it comes to color and texture, working with glass is very different than working with paint and canvas. Unless you have your own glass factory, once in a while you'll run into difficulty with finding a right piece of glass for your design. Sometimes I try to work around this limitation by melting compatible glass in my kiln to create a composite piece with the colors I want. However, for this piece I was looking for the clarity and transparency without trapped bubbles in the golden halo – which is impossible to achieve through warm glass work. 

For the halo I've used the yellow double-flash mouth blown glass by Freemont, a glass company in Seattle. It was beautiful enough to sit unadulterated in a frame of its own. The semi-opague blue with magenta bloody streaks is by Youghiogheny. Both of these sheets were one-of-a-kind and I cut them selectively to follow the design flow. Because this is personal work, I was at liberty to accommodate for the quantity of glass I had on hand through the design, since I really wanted to use these two particular sheets. In production work setting the adjustment is usually done the other way around - an alternate glass selection is made to accommodate for the shortage in order to satisfy the design.
 

ID: Why did you title this piece "Love & Faith"?

RS: See the answer to the first question.
 

ID: Why did you choose yellow as the color to surround the two young girls? 

RS: I wanted the contrast in order to accentuate the dark skin tone – going almost for the gold leaf effect you see in old icons, but with transparency and luminosity which only glass can produce. Gold leaf is beautiful, but it lacks depth. I wanted play, movement and smokiness in the holding golden “halo”. 
 

ID: What made you decide to incorporate light into your piece? Do you think the piece would be the same without it?

RS: Panels which use transparent glass do not work without light. The panel has to be back-lit, otherwise it goes dead, especially in the painted details. Daylight is always preferred because artificial light creates flatter and harsher illumination. This panel is mounted in the lightbox so that it can be “alive” on demand at any time - a trade-off to being hung in a window to only come alive during the day. 

Just a side note on illumination - unknowingly I made a mistake during framing and used cold-temperature LEDs. They are shifting the colors in the wrong way right now. I’ll switch the LED lights to neutral the first chance I get and the colors will play together better then.

 

ID: Why did you choose to do this piece on glass? 

RS: Glass is the only medium I work with right now. I love it. It laughs at me. Ours is a somewhat of a dysfunctional relationship.

 

ID: How long have you been working with stained glass/glass?

RS: Over twenty years.

 

ID: Do you prefer working with glass? If so why?

RS: It picked me. What’s the point of asking if love is real if it feels like love?
 

Designing for stained glass is a science of its own. Also, working with glass requires a certain level of cerebral depth. Glass is a rigid, process-oriented medium. (Try to fire it without a specific schedule and marvel at unexpected results every time.) Painting on slippery glass is a vastly different process than painting on opaque surface with tooth to grab the paint. Glass appeals to both an artist and a process-loving geek in me.
 

ID: What other mediums do you enjoy working with?

RS: I dabbled in oil painting and drawing. They come in handy, but glass always calls me back. 
 

ID: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or artists who wish to work with a similar medium?

RS: It depends on how far and in what direction you want to take your glass work. 

Stained glass is a dying medium and is not really taught in schools. It requires expensive and fragile materials, is time consuming to make and is somewhat impractical. So, 4 strikes against it by contemporary world which demands products to be cheap, durable, fast to make and useful.

If you are just curious about the basics of making stained glass, most stained glass suppliers offer classes in that, as well as basic fusing. There are still a few large stained glass studios left in the United States, and joining one as an apprentice is your best bet for learning how the large scale production of stained glass is done. If you want to learn stained glass painting, then you are better off hunting down glass painters you like and figuring out how to take classes from them. Most don’t teach (formally) and the secrets of glass painting are jealously guarded. I feel that I’ve been very fortunate in finding the glass painting masters who agreed to mentor me.

The art of glass painting is pushing a millennium now and it has not been changing all that much. It is worth mentioning that there is a traditional (“proper”) way to paint on glass which has been used and perfected for centuries. It is important to learn the technique as well as the reasons for doing things the "right" way. Tradition is the home base, where you go from there is up to you. The best painters always look for ways to push and stretch what can be done with the materials and medium. If you are curious to see examples of contemporary painted (but not always “stained”) glass, take a look at work by these artists:

Sylvia Laks (Costa Rica): http://sylvialaks.com/

Judith Schaechter (Philadelphia, USA): http://www.judithschaechter.com/

Sibylle Peretti (Germany & USA): http://sibylleperetti.com/home.html

Peter McGrain (USA): http://petermcgrain.com/

Scott Parsons (Germany & USA): https://damnfineart.com/

Lebedev studio (St Petersburg, Russia): http://www.glasslebedev.ru/kartini.html

TR Biddle (Chicago, USA): http://www.studio19glass.com

Kathy Jordan (USA): http://www.theartofglassinc.com/

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