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Vanishing act: Katherine Gray’s explorations in glass and light

Vanishing act: Katherine Gray’s explorations in glass and light
"A Rainbow Like You" by Katherine Gray, 2015. Blown glass, acrylic, lighting. The piece is part of the artist's show at the Craft and Folk Art Museum. (Fredrik Nilsen / Katherine Gray and Heller Gallery)

Windows, eyeglasses, phones, windshields — we regularly peer through glass but barely see it. That deft disappearing act forms the nucleus of Los Angeles artist Katherine Gray’s conceptual installations.

Ten of Gray’s works are on view at the Craft and Folk Art Museum through Sept. 9. Many are dense groupings of blown-glass pitchers, cups and bowls –– ordinary objects that evoke nostalgia. Intensely lighted, they cast not only shadows but also emotion and story.

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"Lightwave" by Katherine Gray, 2015. Blown glass, steel and glass table, lighting.
"Lightwave" by Katherine Gray, 2015. Blown glass, steel and glass table, lighting. (Fredrik Nilsen)

The simple delight of blue bottles lining a sunny window comes to mind. But don’t be fooled. Gray dives deep, probing the polarities of glass’ “otherworldly perfection” and “mundane familiarity” — a material both “known and unknown” and “there but not there,” she has said.

“As Clear as the Experience” (also the title of the show) crowds 86 pieces of black domestic glassware on shelves in a greenhouse window frame. The inky stockpile renders the window box useless, deviously replicates on a second glance (or so it seems), and simply eats light.

"As Clear as the Experience" by Katherine Gray, 2017. Blown glass, steel and plate glass.
"As Clear as the Experience" by Katherine Gray, 2017. Blown glass, steel and plate glass. (Fredrik Nilsen)

The display becomes “a kind of cancer, a malevolent force; I was literally thinking about Trump’s candidacy for president when working on that piece,” said Gray, 53, a professor at Cal State San Bernardino.

More than 30 cut-crystal ice buckets are heaped on a down-lighted mirrored tabletop lending “Aglow” an ethereal luminescence. The stark work evokes hedonism, a “devil-may-care kind of revelry and partying,” Gray said in reference to rampant and unsustainable consumerism that depletes resources.

Seventy-two colored vessels arranged on an acrylic stand are up-lighted by theater spotlights that cast a color spectrum in “A Rainbow Like You.” Church stained glass informed the work, a response to “the patriarchy of religion,” said Gray, who reverses stained glass’ illumination source, the sun, instead directing light upward to demonstrate one’s innate value.

“The Hot Shop” immerses visitors in the sensory ambiance of a glassblowing studio and includes diffusers that emit four scents (such as hot tools lubricated with beeswax) that Gray commissioned a perfumer to create.

"The Break" by Katherine Gray, 2013. Blown glass, acrylic shelving.
"The Break" by Katherine Gray, 2013. Blown glass, acrylic shelving. (Fredrik Nilsen)
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