Lampworking is a fascinating branch in the world of glass art. Its unique technical and aesthetic versatility is attracting a growing number of artists and connoisseurs around the globe.
Each technique for working glass - be it "hot," "warm" or "cold" - reveals remarkable creative potential. While lampworking shares some procedures with other heat methods, it stands apart for its economy and versatility in the production of small objects. A torch with its concentrated directional flame permits an incomparable range of techniques for achieving formal definition in a piece. Lampworking also lends itself to the conception and execution of multiple components, thus inspiring artists to exploit its potential in montage or larger compositions.
Since the Renaissance, lampworking has represented a convergence between art and science. From precise microscope lenses to accurate botanical models, all were shaped by lampworking. Countless critical developments in chemistry, physics and other sciences have depended on apparati employing lampwork glass. In its capacity to inspire invention, lampworking persists as a "contemporary" medium.
Although lampworkers can and do collaborate, the typical studio is a one-person operation. This gives free reign to the individual's creative focus and the development of a personal language. While lampworking permits spontaneous expression, it also allows for adjustments and refinements that are not possible in other heat processes.
The Fusion of Lampwork and Glassblowing
Lucio Bubacco, lampworking and Andrea Zilio, glassblowing
Anfora Glassfactory, Murano
Left: Lucio overseeing the application of his lampwork art on a blown vessel.
Right: Andrea Zilio preparing one of the vessels for Lucio’s “Eternal Temptation” project.
Over the years, Lucio has established working relationships with a number of the many skilled glassblowing craftsmen on Murano. When combining the two techniques, Lucio alone is responsible for the figure modelling as well as the sculptural framework.
“When I plan a piece that will be made in the hotshop I have no worries about how it will look. Even though I have limited experience as a glassblower, I am familiar with the process and know how glass behaves. I understand the chemistry of colour compatibility and how to apply lampwork figures. I began visiting hot glass workshops as a child and I think my real strength lies in a deep understanding of how the material behaves.”
“Salem Community College proudly welcomed Lucio Bubacco as the featured artist at the 2002 International Flameworking Conference. Lucio has distinguished himself on the international glass landscape with an incredible variety of intricate miniaturized flameworked glass figures that skillfully celebrate fantasy and mythology, the angelic and demonic. Aesthetically, Lucio's foundation is the Murano tradition, where goblets and chalices have been crafted for centuries.”
Lucio’s inspiration is drawn from pre-Christian and ancient mythology, and triggered by real-life experience. This is one cool example.
Lucio explains what motivates and inspires his work. He demonstrates what makes lampworking technically unique.
I wander through his studio on Murano, a different sort of workshop than the furnaces we are used to on the island. I instantly realize that it is important to him to conceive his workspace in his own image, the result of his many travels around the world and his exchanges with other artists. Lucio Bubacco is one of those people that sparks your interest from the very beginning, he stands out in the context of Murano. Lampwork is actually only a means for him, and his works have demonstrated the need to transcend every traditional concept this technique embodies on Murano. I am interested in understanding his professional and artistic past.
Tell me how you got started, how you discovered glass.
I was born in 1957, and in the early Seventies I started to visit furnaces that belonged to my father's friends, though I mostly played around. But my basis remains lampwork (I used to heat glass for a craftsman). My father Severino Bubacco, a somewhat famous master glass craftsman who travelled the world for work, gave me the opportunity when I was a teenager to join him in France and America: that's when I realized what was happening outside our country, the ideas and the different approaches to glass. I was able to show my work, but it was mostly commercial stuff. Only Murano could give me the proper technical preparation. Simultaneously, I attempted to cultivate my other passion which was drawing.
But what was the atmosphere like in Murano in those years, especially in the field of lamp-work?
Very few of us had our own businesses, and the older ones were firmly established. When I completed my military service, I opened my first store, then a workshop with Emilio Santini who later moved to the United States. That's when I opened a boutique in Venice and only then did I start to interact with a wider range of people, and develop my work.
What type of work did you do?
At first I made animals in different shapes and sizes. But at the same time I wanted to pursue an idea that was technically almost impossible. To eliminate the defects in figures, in the human body is a very slow process. Art school students want quick results, but it takes a lot of practice to shape details in glass.
This is why you needed drawing, as you said earlier...
That's right. Of the courses I took, one was with Alessandro Rossi, and it proved extremely useful in transferring what I observed through drawing with a pencil into shaping the same things in glass. For example, take a horse’s leg whose bone structure is divided in three parts plus the hoof and not two like most of the masters do. It is also important to have natural talent. In any case, drawing is very helpful. Technique is also important, because in lampwork a very high flame allows you more freedom to work on details.
What is the genesis of your world where the human figure and movement become the central theme of your work?
Even as a child I was attracted by history, by the images of soldiers and costume-clad figures whose forms derived from classical Greek Roman and Byzantine art. But you have to shift your focus, and my first form of expression was not in glass as you see it now in my work. I went through phases dedicated to painting, to clay, even to making moulds for masks. And for quite a long time I displayed a variety of different things in my store-window in Sant’ Aponal in Venice in order to earn a living. But I was always more interested in glass form than colour, to be able to extract a life out of a glass rod.
When did you take the giant step towards solo exhibitions?
At the end of the Eighties, an American woman saw some glass compositions in my store; she showed several pieces to art galleries, and created an interest for them in the United States. One of these galleries is Habitat to which I am very attached.
I travelled there for two months, then I went to Japan. Impact with the outside world proved essential; I earned not only technical, but artistic and conceptual appreciation as well. My stay at Wheaton Village, a historic furnace in New Jersey where the greatest of international artists have come to work, proved fundamental. I experimented with new fusions thanks to the equipment they made available.
And so you progressed towards unexplored horizons from a compositional point of view?
Obviously, the innovations created by mixing colours and fusions were achievements that I would explore in a personal manner each time I returned home to Murano. I have always done things gradually.
I collaborated with several furnaces for my applications (of figures on vessels or plates) and for technical problems, such as welding one piece to another in the architecture of my more complex pieces. Today, I have invested even more by personally acquiring new equipment, annealing ovens and electric kilns to create as much as possible in my own studio, and to be more secure in my own technique.
What is your idea of the furnace?
The furnace is a world that has always fascinated me; the furnace is volume, lampwork is nothing in comparison. But my work is what I have inside and the furnace is the framework I need to give value to this content. In my work, the vase, the glass, the panels are simply the background and the suspended figures are the fulcrum of the work whose vitality remains undiminished.
At the moment, lampwork does not really have an artistic reputation, it still needs the furnace like a raw, crude or primitive flow which bonds together something more refined, elements in motion, details, etc. I used to use bright colours. Lately, I have discovered that black is able to express the strength and energy of imagination much better. Ivory is beautiful too, but it is fragile to work with.
How about your experience with schools?
They actually came about by chance, thanks to the work I showed in my personal exhibitions. They were mostly collaborations both in Niijima (in 1994), and twice at Pilchuck in 1997 and 1998. In Japan, I collaborated with William Morris in making several vessels while I attempted to teach the basics to the younger students. To teach you must be able to regress to the origins of manual skill. In the United States, we included lampwork in sand casting procedures. First we made soft glass figures with some students. Then, with those who had furnace experience, we would make applications or inserts with a three-dimensional effect.
As I look at your work, I observe traces of narrative scenarios, between metamorphoses and mythological themes, alternately aggressive or seductive, gentle or ironic. Is your goal to hold a personal exhibition or do you find stimulus in something else, and where do you think your research has led you?
When I show my work in an exhibition, it means that I have reached the next step in my personal evolution. It's easy to lower your standards if you don't change direction, branch out from a theme that is your own and express yourself freely. This is where other aspects of my personal history and my character come in. I have had contacts in many different fields lately. I like the idea of creating works on commission to fit into a context, a setting such as a beautiful home or a garden, or even the cruise ship that was offered to me recently. I always consider myself in relation to glass and its potential, and allow myself to be stimulated. Had I been born anywhere else I would have been a painter or a sculptor.
An interview by Andrea Toso
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