NB: this essay was originally published May 25, 2023 via Pucker Gallery’s Thursday Treasures newsletter. Images + text are used with permission of the publisher and photographer.
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Over espresso and conversations with Andrea Dezsö in her home and studio, Rusty Herbert and I selected a series of recently completed artworks that we are so glad to feature in conjunction with this summer’s Fine Choices at Pucker Gallery. Within the selection are use-marked batik block-like wood reliefs, finely detailed hand and laser-cut paper tunnel books, ethereal watercolors, and—what captured my fascination most—Andrea’s truly unique use of pyrovitreography.
A pyrovitreograph (pie-ro-vit-tree-o-graff) is made using a technique where raised surfaces on the broadside of nearly molten glass cylinders are rolled and impressed, burning images onto a receiving medium, generally paper. The scorching 2000° F heat carbonizes the surface as it is rolled, branding its image onto the receiving surface. Due to the physical properties of the hot, viscous glass, the mass of the cylinder itself deforms the print-face with subsequent passes, in time and use making the surface generally unusable.
These pyrovitreographic cylinders, even after they are nearly all flattened out, may exist in a more fixed form if they can survive a metamorphosis. Once coated with a layer of clear glass, these molten objects can be blown, spun, and transmuted into graal glass sculpture or vessels. The final trial, where all are subject to an uncertain probability of survival, is the annealing process where the hot glass is permitted to cool very slowly in a kiln. The goal is to have the work temper to a much more hospitable temperature, and thereby transition back from dynamic to static. Not all works survive this process, cracking or even exploding from the thermodynamic stress from the many physical variables that can only be so considered, e.g.: pressure, density, chemistry, temperature, time.
It is of my own opinion that glass making is an order of magnitude more magical than ceramics, though the two are closely related in their chemistry and physics. Anatomically modern humans likely first encountered glass as either fulgurites or obsidian, both having profoundly primordial origins via lightning, volcanic or meteoritic activity. Imagine having the daring bravery to poke around where the Heavens had smashed down or where the Earth Herself had spilled out— perhaps the loudest, brightest, hottest, or most terrifying event you or your tribe had survived to pass on as stories and artifacts to future generations.
Physical evidence of glassmaking (so far) appears in the archaeological record as early as 3,600 years ago in the Levantine regions, with production evidence in areas of today’s Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. The rolling of cylinders as meant for mark-making also, coincidentally, can be traced to ancient Mesopotamia. These we call cylinder seals, in their own ancient Sumerian, kishib, or if you are better with ancient Akkadian, kunukku. These much smaller cylinders were made from semi-precious stone or metal and can be found as far back as the late Neolithic period, some 7,000 years ago.
These rediscovered seals are arrestingly beautiful. Intricately intaglio-carved with figures, animals, plants, and cuneiform scripts carved into gold, amethyst, lapis lazuli, perhaps serving as decoration or status markers, very likely worn or carried upon the body. As objects, their appearance belies their primary use as impression stamps rolled into and across workable clay; marking property, transference of goods or receipt, functioning as an authenticating signature for the owner. Since they were not easy to create in the first place this therefore discouraged forgeries or reproduction, something like printing plates for today’s paper currency. Additionally it is thought that these seals served as extensions of oath and affirmation understandably making them preciously dear to their holders.
There is confluence where these thematic rivers of history and archaeology meet up over the course of their legacy to the artistic watershed of Andrea Dezsö: in her collaboration with experts as how to best utilize pyrovitreography for her art making. During residencies at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA and the Pilchuck School of Glass in Stanwood, WA, Dezsö worked firsthand with master glassmakers Ben Cobb and Dante Marioni, together with their own teams creating these fiery rolling seals. Andrea has shared these moments in her Instagram Stories for viewing and comprehension.
While we were shown her work, stratified and layered upon the worktable before us, I asked Andrea if she had ever seen the similar though smaller treasures of ancient Sumerian cylinder seals and we were both so excited to learn of our shared interest. It is in that spirit of exchange, the transmission of wonder, that I am so glad to invite you to better know one of these shining sparks in the human experience. The materials we work with were forged by the world around us, leveraged by people past, present, and future. Artmaking is a wonder, and may be one the deepest of the human legacy.
Thank you Andrea for doing this work and for sharing it with us all.
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