Ones to Watch

Vibrant Things

Design Miami

Three red-hot artists sculpting glass radiant with color, light, and charisma

For this edition of our “Ones to Watch column, were profiling three red-hot artists taking blown glass in new directions. Each in their proprietary style transforms the ancient medium of molten silicates and pigments into of-the-moment expressions radiant with color, light, and charisma.

Oscillating along the spectrum between design and art—from functional lamps and vessels to pure sculpture—the glassworks of these ascendent talents have been spotlighted in a stream of gallery exhibitions, museum programs, and editorial coverage over the last few years. Given the many projects they have underway, you can expect to see even more of them in the near future.

Scroll on for our interviews with Sébastien Léon, Pamela Sabroso, and Thaddeus Wolfe, and get to know the vivacious glass creations from these ones to watch.

 

SÉBASTIEN LÉON

Sébastien Léon at work on his Hydrochrom collection. Twentieth Gallery founder Stefan Lawrence tells us, “Unique aesthetic forms with depth of meaning are what Twentieth is passionate about. Perfectly melding elements of art and design, Sébastien’s light sculptures offer both visual and emotional depth enriched by references to the sea.” Photo courtesy of Twentieth Gallery and Sébastien Léon

Sébastien Léon’s prolific creativity has many outlets. Beyond the paintings, sculptures, and glassworks produced through his LA-based studio, this French-born, Italian-educated artist-designer is the creative director of Formavision, an experiential agency catering to brands like Audemars Piguet, Audi, and Samsung, as well as the co-founder of up-market, made-in-Europe furniture company Atelier d’Amis.

At present, you can find Léon’s work simultaneously on view at two SoCal venues. Twentieth Gallery in LA is exhibiting his dreamy, ocean-inspired glass and light collection Hydrochrom. And at the brand new Morphosis-designed Orange County Museum of Art in Costa Mesa, his monumental sound sculpture Léontophones is featured in the high-concept museum shop curated by PLEASE DO NOT ENTER. With so much going on, we’re delighted he found time for our interview, which follows below...

 

What drew you to glassmaking, and what aspects of the medium do you most enjoy exploring?

In 2018, Gemfields commissioned me to create gemlike sculptures for Design Miami, and I used the project as a laboratory to reinterpret crystal formations in glass. I loved the medium so much that it has stayed with me. Today, it’s one of my main expressions. Aside from the poetry of working with the four elements, I like that glassmaking is very process-driven. You can guide it, but since it is molten and fluid you can never fully control it. Whenever I work on a new piece, it feels like a surprise waiting to reveal itself.

Tell us more about your glassmaking process.

Collaborating with different blowers around LA, I start by creating a set of basic geometric forms. The blower and I then deform the forms with a blowtorch or by swinging them in the air. I like introducing bubbles to give an ocean-like feeling. This is also why a lot of my sculptures are blue. Since glass comes partly from sand, I like the idea of connecting it back to the ocean.

Detail of Aegean Light Sculpture from the Hydrochrom collection by Sébastien Léon, 2021. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Gallery and Sébastien Léon

How do the forms you create reflect your way of seeing the world?

I vividly remember from my childhood a psychedelic episode of hallucinating geometric shapes. I am not sure why I had that experience, but I still see the imagery and often represent it in my work through clusters of deformed pyramids, cubes, or other geometries. That vision is applied not only to my glass but also to my metal sound sculptures and throughout all the media I work with.

How do you think about your glasswork in relation to the medium’s long history?

Since I’m originally from France and studied in Italy, I’m sure 20th-century French and Italian glass has influenced me. But I don’t consciously think about that. What influences me most is contemporary art and design: Larry Bell, Fred Eversley, Anish Kapoor, Gaetano Pesce, Ron Arad, etc. I know that traditionally there is a divide between art and design, but I see that separation as a creative limitation—which I happily ignore.

Works from Sébastien Léon's Hydrochrom collection, 2019-22. Photo courtesy of Twentieth Gallery and Sébastien Léon

What’s next for you?

Glass-wise I am currently experimenting with the silvering process. Aside from glass, I am also preparing a show of sculptures and paintings at Praz Delavallade in LA, scheduled to open later this year.

 

 

PAMELA SABROSO

Pamela Sabroso glassmaking in Brooklyn. Gallerist Emma Scully tell us, “Pam is a master glassworker, but first and foremost she is an artist. Even when her work is functional, it feels personal, challenging, and new. With a compelling spirit of surreal fantasy and playfulness, her practice pushes the boundaries of what functional glass can be.” Photo courtesy of Emma Scully Gallery and Pamela Sabroso

Pamela Sabroso was smitten with glassmaking from her very first encounter while studying art at Virginia Commonwealth University. After completing her BFA, she moved to Brooklyn to pursue the life of a “flâneur,” as she phrases it, intent on building a glassmaking practice while also cultivating soul-replenishing leisure time, especially traveling and hanging out in nature.

The approach paid off. Over the last decade, Sabroso has honed extraordinary glassmaking skills freelancing as an glassmaking assistant to more established artists, experimenting in local glass-blowing facilities (like the phenomenal UrbanGlass), and collaborating with talented glassmaking friends. Her long-time creative partnership with Alison Siegel notably earned the duo a Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant in 2017 and a Corning Museum of Glass Residency in 2019.

The main focus of Sabroso’s practice today is solo projects like the botanically surrealistic Luminous Flowers and Luminous Wallflowers represented by Emma Scully Gallery. Still she readily acknowledges the ongoing inspiration she draws from past team efforts. “Collaboration is inherent in glassblowing,” Sabroso tells us, “and complementary collaboration has had a significant influence in my art.” Sabroso’s insights into her work continue in the interview below…

Pamela Sabroso’s Luminous Wallflower Sconces I, II, and III, 2022. Photos courtesy of Emma Scully Gallery and Pamela Sabroso

What drew you to glassmaking, and what aspects of the medium do you most enjoy exploring?

I  was young and hopeful when I discovered glass in art school and set out to reach a “master” skill level. Over many wonderful years, I have come to see the idea of mastering glass to be laughable, yet I remain incredibly beholden to its brilliance. Glassblowing is physically demanding and gets you high like a good run. It’s also very zen. As a medium, glass naturally wants to be very fluid and organic. That’s the quality I enjoy most. I like getting things hot and allowing the material to dance—though this doesn’t always work in my favor.

How do the forms you create reflect your way of seeing the world around you?

My dog and I are lucky to live in Brooklyn’s beautiful Park Slope neighborhood. I’m happiest lying with him on the grassy fields of Prospect Park, absorbing the morning light and watching animals run around. That’s the key to my general well-being and creativity—sunshine and solitude. I think it’s important to dedicate lots of time to *not* working or making art. Sometimes I’ll stop working on a project for months, which allows me to see it in a different way and find the right inspiration to finish it. I see this ethos reflected in the whimsical qualities of my work.

Luminous Flowers by Pamela Sabroso, 2018. Photo courtesy of Emma Scully Gallery and Pamela Sabroso

Tell us more about your glassmaking process.

I am mainly a glassblower and enjoy hot mold blowing and slumping, usually at nearby Brooklyn Glass and UrbanGlass. My process involves nesting together furnace-made parts in a kiln, where high temperatures cause the components to stick together. I don’t want my glass to look over-worked but rather very natural like a wilted flower. The slumping method allows me to make more elaborate combinations than I can in the hot shop.

There is always the possibility of something breaking, so over the years I’ve learned to form less attachment with pieces. Luckily, glassblowing is so fast that if you lose something you can make another one in less than an hour. Losing a piece can give you insight into how to make the next one better. It’s never a setback.

How do you think about your glasswork in relation to the medium’s long history?

I am most familiar with and fond of the 1960s Studio Glass movement, when artists built their own hot shops outside of the glass production factories and emphasized the creation of original, expressive, and playful works over the mastery of technique.There is a parallel between then and now, evident in the type of work being made and recognized in today’s glass community.

Luminous Flowers by Pamela Sabroso, 2018. Photo courtesy of Emma Scully Gallery and Pamela Sabroso

What’s next for you?

Besides making art, I will continue to be a part-time glass fabricator and full-time flâneur. I have a couple lighting projects soon to be manifested.

 

 

THADDEUS WOLFE

Thaddeus Wolfe at work. Friedman Benda director Carole Hochman tells us, “The gallery’s roster is focused on creatives who innovate in terms of materials, expressions, and narratives, and Thaddeus certainly fits this criterion. He approaches his medium in a totally unique way, creating sculptures and lighting—at times brutalist and other times playful—that challenge traditional blown glass’s reliance on transparency and fluidity.” Photos courtesy of Friedman Benda and Thaddeus Wolfe

In an essay on A New Realism, the group show he curated last year at Friedman Benda, the illustrious Glenn Adamson encapsulated Thaddeus Wolfe’s Brooklyn-based glassmaking practice in this way: “Wolfe brings an entirely different, disruptive energy to the discipline. At every step—the collaging of the form, the hot and liquid painterly composition, and the final finishing, or coldwork—Wolfe works spontaneously, reacting to what’s already in front of him.”

Wolfe’s remarkable affinity for glassmaking runs deep. Born and raised in Toledo—aka “the glass capital of the world” and the birthplace of Americas Studio Glass movement—he studied glass at the Cleveland Institute of Art before apprenticing with renowned glass artists like Jeff Zimmerman and Josiah McElheny.

Since establishing his studio in 2009, Wolfe has earned a reputation for innovation, blending casting and blowing techniques to sculpt uniquely architectural, highly textured forms. Institutional recognition has taken off in recent years, from the Corning Museum of Glasss Rakow Commission awarded to Wolfe in 2016, to the three new museum acquisitions (including the Chrysler Museum of Art) that followed Wolfes show at Friedman Benda this past summer. Wolfe shares more details of his creative trajectory in the interview below…

Untitled works by Thaddeus Wolfe, 2021-22. Photos by Joe Kramm; courtesy of Friedman Benda and Thaddeus Wolfe

What drew you to glassmaking, and what aspects of the medium do you most enjoy exploring?

Seeing someone blow glass at the Toledo Museum when I was young first put the idea in my mind to try this material. But I never planned to work in glass [professionally] until I was hooked by a course during my second year of college. Glass’s capacity to appear transparent, translucent, or opaque, and to take on any range of coloration, has always been appealing.

How do the forms you create reflect your way of seeing the world around you?

The forms I work with, though made up, seem to come from my urban environment. I take inspiration from architecture as well as from textures and details from the natural world. Ideas seep in from seeing almost anything. Inventing forms and structures for casting glass is a way for me to process all of this.

Untitled Sconces by Thaddeus Wolfe for Friedman Benda, 2022. Photo by Daniel Kukla; courtesy of Friedman Benda and Thaddeus Wolfe

Tell us more about your glassmaking process.

Generally I make molds from forms that I have designed. Working in facilities in Brooklyn and New Jersey, I blow multi-colored glass into these molds to make a cast of the object. Continuously experimenting throughout the glassblowing process, I use a variety of simple techniques to layer and combine colors. Many of my works are finished by grinding away the outer layers of color to reveal underlying elements.

How do you think about your glasswork in relation to the medium’s long history?

There is a long history behind my process of blowing glass into molds, starting with the Romans. But I take more inspiration from modern and contemporary examples, like Carlo Scarpa, Yoichi Ohira, Ettore Sottsass, Fontana Arte, and certain Czech glassworks from the 1950s and ’60s.

Mattias Sellden | Thaddeus Wolfe, a joint solo exhibition mounted at Friedman Benda in summer 2022. Photo by Daniel Kukla; courtesy of Friedman Benda, Mattias Sellden, and Thaddeus Wolfe

What’s next for you?

I have a show this November at Volume Gallery in Chicago. I am also working on two new ceiling lamp designs for Friedman Benda, where I just had a solo exhibition in July. In the coming year, I plan to experiment more with kiln formed glass and the pâte de verre technique. ◆

 

Glassworks by these artists are available in the Design Miami/ Shop, with Sébastien Léon represented by Twentieth Gallery, Pamela Sabroso represented by Emma Scully Gallery, and Thaddeus Wolfe represented by Friedman Benda.

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