1. The energy of raw (unprocessed) matter
2. The spiritual quality of raw matter
3. The energy of gesture
4. The energy of the raw (natural) form
2. Rawness in Glass
1. The energy of the molten form
2. The energy of the raw surface
3. The energy of the flawed
4. The physicality of time
5. The potential of transmutation
4. Selected Bibliography
6. List of artists (in order of appearance)
Examination of the lexical definition of the term “raw” may help to delineate the semantic range within which “rawness” may reside as an art-critical concept in the survey that follows. The dictionary definition of the English adjective “raw” is coarse, crude; uncooked, unbaked, or tasteless; unprocessed, natural, untreated; devoid of diminution or concealment. Subsequently, when applied to persons it means – lacking training, thoughtless, immature, unprepared, inexperienced, or harsh; and when applied to artwork – something that has not undergone processes of refining and finishing; sketchy, incomplete, imperfect, devoid of elaboration; artless, graceless, inelegant, indelicate, unsophisticated. The Hebrew word for “raw” derives from the noun ‘גֹּלֶם’ (golem) occurring in the Bible (Psalms 139:16) and in Talmudic literature to signify an amorphous, incomplete substance connoting the unfinished human being before God’s eyes. The Mishnah uses the term for an uncultivated person: “Seven characteristics are in an uncultivated person, and seven in a learned one”, (שבעה דברים בגולם) (Pirkei Avot 5:6). In Jewish folklore, a “golem” is an animated anthropomorphic being, magically endowed with life from inanimate matter (usually clay or mud). In modern Hebrew, “golem” refers to the insect larva in the stage of metamorphosis, a shapeless body, or it is used as a metaphor for “ignorant.”
Every period casts its own aesthetic conceptualization of art in terms of matter, form, and intellectual content within its various disciplines. The ancient Greek word for “art” – τέχνη, literally skill, craft, cunning of hand, or trade, connoted “the making of things”. Art could thus be defined as craft, since artist-artisans (τεχνῖται) were subjected to a set of laws and rules, and a system or method of making or doing (“technique”) that did not involve the creative freedom attributed to them nowadays. Artworks fulfilled a certain function – cultic, ceremonial, decorative, architectural, or utilitarian. Ancient artists sought to cultivate their skills in order to fashion objects of high technical merit that would radiate prestige and sophistication; “civilized” objects valued and cherished because of their intricacy, beauty or symbolic function denoting their owners’ high social status and refined taste.
In his seminal essay, The Origin of the Work of Art11 Martin Heidegger, ... , Martin Heidegger contended that artworks are “things”, identifying three main modes defining the “thingly” character of things: substances to which various qualities are attached (“bearers of traits”); the unity of sensations that these substances provide (“the manifold of sense perceptions”); and “formed matter” – thus introducing the conceptual pairing of matter (ύλη – hule) and form (μορφή – morphe)22 Martin Heidegger, ... .
Contemporary artworks display qualities located beyond an aesthetic understanding of the material, technical complexity, or artistic skill. Artists seek always to alter past axioms, undermine existing values and aesthetic codes, initiating new modes of art viewing, experiencing, understanding, or assessing an artwork. Within a context of incessant change and evolution, the notion of “rawness” became the object of aesthetic and philosophical inquiries into the art object and its materiality. Works intentionally designed to appear “incomplete” investigate states of change, exploring the constructive, the deconstructive, and the destructive. Yet such an attribution may be misleading, since describing an artwork as “incomplete” implies that its current form is not the final one and presupposes a unidirectional trajectory – from “incompleteness” to “completion”, from “inadequacy” to “perfection”. These works, however, have their own internal logic – they are fully realized and the concepts behind them are fully developed and articulated. If, in the past, rawness connoted an inherent limitation and a backward or regressive characteristic of unsophisticated, crude, amateur work; nowadays, it is a recognizable and conscious design ingredient relating to something honest, genuine, pristine and essential.
1. The energy of raw (unprocessed) matter
Texture and materiality preoccupied many post-war French artists affiliated with the Art Informel33 Often dubbed as ... (French, “Unformed” Art), which rejected prevailing aesthetic standards and conventions, while sharing a tendency towards spontaneity and improvisation. Its most prominent exponent, Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), famous for his attacks on conformism and mainstream art and culture, was well known for the thick textured and gritty surfaces of his compositions that evoked raw unprocessed matter. Dubuffet experimented relentlessly with form, technique, and material in a vast range of art forms (painting, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture)44 Jean Dubuffet, Le ... . For instance, for the coarse textured surfaces of his landscape-like abstractions from the 1940s and early 1950s, Dubuffet used an impasto55 Deriving from the ... thickened by unorthodox materials (sand, gravel, slag, tar and putty, aluminum foil, butterfly wings, and sponges) often impressed with foliage or other organic material66 Jean Dubuffet, Sol ... , while he dedicated years to recording natural textures, inking every kind of surface imaginable (including human skin)77 Jean Dubuffet, ... .
Dubuffet was known also for founding the Art Brut (French, Raw/Rough Art) movement referencing outsider art created by individuals lacking formal training or living in isolation from society. Dubuffet saw in their works, “…pure, raw artistic operations, fully invented by people untouched by artistic culture… drawing everything – subjects, choice of materials, means of transposition, rhythms, etc., from their own depths based uniquely on their own impulses and not from clichés of academic or fashionable art”88 Jean Dubuffet, ... .
2. The spiritual quality of raw matter
American artist Jack Whitten (1939-2018) shared a similar approach – his keen technical and material explorations bridging gestural abstraction and process art. Initially aligned with the New York circle of abstract expressionists, active in the 1960s, Whitten gradually distanced himself from the movement’s aesthetic philosophy and formal concerns, focusing on the experimental aspects of process and technique. Although his earliest works combined figuration and abstraction, in the late 1960s he focused on the “material” nature of paint rather than the image it conveyed. Constantly inventing in the studio, Whitten built a tool he called developer (a 3.5 meter-long wooden rake used to move large amounts of acrylic paint to create his Slab paintings in a single gesture)99 Jack Whitten in his ... . In the 1980s, inspired by digital technology, Whitten developed a unique process for the production of small tesserae made of acrylic gels, varnishes, binders, and powder pigment, which, when adhered to the canvas, imparted an appearance of a highly sculptured relief. In that period, Whitten reintroduced the paintbrush in his work, returning thus to the gesture of the hand. In works like his Self Portrait II (2014), there is always a charged mass — colors lurking beneath the surface or a vortex of built-up, dried acrylic1010 Jack Whitten, ... . In the late 2000s, he created a series of collage-like reliefs from acrylic castings of objects and surfaces he scavenged from around the city (Site paintings). Talking about this process, Whitten stated: “I’m dealing now with paint as a collage, paint as sculpture… I don’t paint a painting; I make a painting”1111 Jack Whitten, ... . Although some parallels there can be drawn between Whitten’s and Dubuffet’s approach to matter, Whitten relates to it also a spiritual power: “We are familiar with things being either/or, abstract or representational, but there is a third order out there… an image that comes out of matter… I’m aware of something being caught in that matter… There is a relation here when I speak of spirit and matter… it is possible to direct something into that matter”1212 Richard Shiff, More ... .
3. The energy of gesture
Traces of a dynamic gestural movement behind a brushstroke evoke a tactile intensity and a pristine “raw” energy. The visual representations flooding our two-dimensional hyper-real visual world lack qualities like the ones captured in brushstrokes.
Renaissance painters used to soften the transition of colors and blend them seamlessly into one another without leaving any brush marks, using the sfumato technique (the term derived from the Italian word fumo, meaning “smoke”). Rendered in an illusionistic manner, the contours of the human figures were typically blurred and faded into the background, creating rich atmospheric effects. In stark contrast, the distinct features of the visible brush marks in impressionist paintings conveyed effectively the artists’ disposition. Van Gogh’s inimitable thick and vigorous brushstrokes, for instance, disclose his tempestuous and passionate nature, whereas the expansive and soft brushwork of Renoir reveals a subdued sensuality. American expressionists, influenced by eastern calligraphy, applied their brushstrokes even more robustly, whereas minimalist painters removed, in reaction, all trace of them. For instance, Mark Tobey’s White Writing series – an overlay of white or light-colored calligraphic symbols on an abstract field, composed of thousands of small interwoven brushstrokes, illustrate perfectly his painting style that was influenced by oriental brushwork and Japanese calligraphy.
On the other hand, after merging with the spirit of modernism, modern Japanese calligraphy distanced itself from traditional calligraphy giving birth to a contemporary art form. One of Japan’s most innovative and influential avant-garde movements, the Gutai (composed of two Japanese words: gu [tool] and tai [body] – means embodiment and concreteness), active between 1954 and 1972, stressed freedom of expression with innovative materials and techniques. Coming about during Japan’s postwar reconstruction, the Gutai challenged its members to discard traditional artistic practices and seek fresh means of expression with emphasis on the relationships between body, matter, time, and space (figs.1a-b). Experimentation with new materials involved different types of writing surfaces: often using the artist’s body as primary tool instead of brushes associated modern Japanese calligraphy with action and gesture painting.
4. Energy of the Raw (natural) Form
The anti-formalist Japanese art movement Mono-ha1313 Japan’s first ... (literally, School of Things) emerged in the mid-1960s as a reaction to what was considered as “ruthless development and industrialization”. Against the backdrop of the tumultuous post-war period in Japan, the Mono-ha focused on material perception and experimentation rather than on traditional representational art. Interested in the interactions between industrial materials (glass panes, sheet metal, light bulbs, wire, rope, paper and so forth) and “raw”, unprocessed natural materials (dirt, oil, rocks, stones, wood, cotton, water, etc.), the Mono-ha artists were sometimes criticized for lack of skill. Korean-born artist, art critic and leading theorist of the Mono-ha movement, Lee Ufan (b.1936), focused on the physical world in his natural, raw, unadulterated form – the world as it is.
His meditative minimalist paintings of the Correspondence series consist of one or two brushstrokes of a mixture of oil and crushed stone applied to large white surfaces. In his floor installation series, Relatum, Ufan explores material and spatial dialectics limiting his sculptural media to rocks, steel plates, and glass panes arranged in precise relationships1414 Lee Ufan, ... .
2. “Rawness” in Glass
The 20th century has been a century of huge diversity – ranging from traditional forms rooted in the craft’s origins to innovative visions linking glass to contemporary art. The novel concepts brought forth by the Studio Glass Movement freed glass from its traditional, historical, and technical limitations breaking with the impersonal design canon in favor of a more individualized design, expanding dramatically its aesthetic possibilities to include gesture and sculpturally expressive forms. Today, more than half a century later, we are witnessing an unprecedented freedom and diversification in a vast range of artistic practices and expressions.
1. The energy of the Molten Form
Maurice Marinot, André Thuret, Bernard Dejonghe, Batya Margalit
When, in 1912, French Fauvist painter Maurice Marinot (1882-1960) started to display his glass designs along with his paintings at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris – this was a decisive step towards narrowing the gap between artists and craftsmen. Trained in the fine arts and with no previous experience in glass, Marinot approached glass without preconceptions, considering it as creative and meaningful as painting or sculpture.
His glassworks were handmade, emphasizing form and the effects of light. Marinot’s unorthodox forms and processes underscored glass in its “raw” state – le verre en son état vivant (French, “glass in its living state”): thick trails of molten glass dripping over heavy organic forms simulating melting ice; air bubbles, metallic and opaque color inclusions entrapped in the transparent material conjuring up murky waters; deep carvings and etchings made with acid, evoking rocks1515 Maurice Marinot, ... . Determined to sculpt the molten medium, Marinot, followed by André Thuret (1898-1965)1616 André Thuret, ... , paved the way for a new perception of glass as a proper art medium.
Originally a ceramic artist, Bernard Dejonghe (b. 1942) started working with glass in 1984. Dejonghe considers his artistic media as constantly changing fields of energy – “fields of possibilities for experimentation and reflection”. Immersed in an intense technical research, studying the materials’ reactions, mastering complex technologies, and devising original recipes, Dejonghe has developed a unique visual language, while being led by a will not to intervene, but to “provoke and watch” in order to meet the “unexpected”. Commenting on his work Petite Ombre (Small Shadow), he wrote: “This is actually a work composed of light and shadow. Matter (glass) and form do exist, but without playing a dominant role. Glass produces light simply by its raw presence without any intentional interference by the artist. Glass is not there in order to give shape to some idea. Its ‘material’ presence is, rather a ‘mental’ one” (fig. 2a). Either static or dynamic, many of Dejonghe’s works display a “raw” quality through underscoring the material’s inherent properties enhanced by sensitive balances and unique material juxtapositions (figs. 2b-c).
By observing the characteristics of glass in its liquid state, Israeli glass artist Batya Margalit (b. 1963) managed to capture, in The Way Wild Things Flow (2014), the polarity of its physical states. Without adhering to a certain theme, scheme, or preconceived idea, these works appear more like accidental, improvisational shapes resulting from a series of random operations in free slumping, disclosing a tension between chance and control (fig. 3).
2. The energy of the raw surface
The technique of sand casting, used for centuries in metalworking, was first applied to glass in the 1980s by Swedish glass artist Bertil Vallien (b.1938) in order to produce large-scale glass sculptures. The sand-casting technique, with all its derivative effects, added a raw quality to the pure, shiny, and smooth material (fig. 4a). Pouring the hot glass into molded sand left a heavily textured surface and a gritty finish that lies like a thin dehydrated skin over the luminous glass mass (fig. 4b).
3. The energy of the Flawed & the aesthetic of Imperfection
Pavel Trnka; Yasuo Okuda; Nishinaka Yokito; Riikka Haapasaari; Anna Mlasowsky; Tamar Drozd; Brett Swenson
Embracing the flawed or the imperfect, the 400-year-old Japanese art of kintsugi or kintsukuroi (literally, golden repair, golden joinery) treated breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than as something to be disguised. When prized ceramics, especially those associated with chanoyu (the tea ceremony), were broken or damaged, they were artfully mended with lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, thus imparting them with additional value and prestige. The aesthetic of mended ceramics rooted in ancient Japanese aesthetic ideals can be summarized by two poetic terms: wabi (connoting poverty and humility) and sabi (suggesting seclusion, aging, and decay).
Repairing a broken vessel in a way that emphasizes its flaws expressed the acceptance of transience and imperfection1717 Ellen Avril, ... . Appraising its aesthetic and metaphorical potential, contemporary artists embrace the aesthetic of imperfection also as a means of dealing with concepts of loss, synthesis, destruction, death, and rebirth.
The deliberately fractured glass vessels of Pavel Trnka1818 Pavel Trnka (b. ... and of Yasuo Okuda1919 ... become expressive sculptural objects (fig. 5), whereas Nishinaka Yokito‘s intentionally broken and reassembled vessels reference the 400-year old Japanese tradition. Considering that imperfection yields new forms of beauty, Nishinaka joins back together his deliberately broken glass vessels using urushi lacquer mixed with gold dust, rendering the cracks ornamental elements (fig. 6).
Riikka Haapasaari‘s videowork, Rebuilding a Bubble (2015), presents a similar aesthetic. The impalpable crystalline bubble that is broken and then patched together with tape invokes the fragility of glass and the vulnerability of human existence (figs. 7). Other artists concentrate on the fragmentation of glass and the distinctive crack patterns developed on the fractured surface, attesting to the fracture event itself.
Anna Mlasowsky, in Atlas I-II (2012), focuses on controlling the breaking force and the resulting cracking patterns that actually reshape the material: “Born through destruction, these [patterns] add to the flat sheet of glass a new dimension and depth, while mapping crystalline landscapes of selective and careful violence” (figs. 8a-b)2020 Artist’s ... .
In her graduation project in Bezalel in 2015, Tamar Drozd concentrated on glass fractures and patterns and their singularity – just like fingerprints, and their latent expressive potential (figs. 9). Operating within an experimental framework, balancing action and re-action, intention and occurrence, Brett Swenson explores the fracture motif in two different works through applications of technical glass, video and performance. In Liquid Crystal Display (2011)2121 Brett Swenson, ... ).
a small torch emerges from behind the LCD screen to run its mark against the glass. As stress builds, a swell of color is visualized through polarized light – used industrially in the construction of LCDs and for identifying stress in transparent materials. Eventually, the flame stops, and stress dissipates until the tempered glass shatters to reveal a crack pattern rooted in the mark of the torch (figs. 10a-b). In Fractured (2011)2222 Fractured is a ... , ten participants simultaneously subject panels of tempered glass to a jet of heat from their torch. The glass serves as a permeable membrane, absorbing and transmitting stress.
The panels shatter at varied intervals to reveal the mark of the stress inflicted. This effect is caused by the tempered glass’ specialized design, exposing the vulnerabilities of a system engineered on tension (fig. 11).
4. The physicality of time
François Damien; Jon Chapman; Karina Malling; Yoshiaki Kojiro; Tomohiro Kano
The motif of decay may evoke issues of mortality and the transience of life. In Temps Passé (2012), François Damien proposes an interesting visualization of the passage of time and its impact on matter – three window panes originating in an old greenhouse on the west coast of Norway, subjected for half a century to harsh weather conditions, then stored for twenty years in a dusty and dry environment, embody the impact of natural elements and time on matter (fig. 12). In E.H.L. 973624 (2013), Jon Chapman draws a comparison between mechanical processes and human nature: a series of blown vessels hangs on a metal-plated wall while water, drawn by a pump behind the wall, drips into the vessels from tiny pipes at the top of the wall. As the water fills the vessels of the upper row, it overflows and spills to the level below. By adding iron oxide to the water, the artist fashioned a mutable work, which, as the rust gradually settles in the vessels, actually eradicates itself (fig. 13).
Karina Malling in Transcendence (2016) created a set of pitted, quasi-vitrified glassware by combining glass with sand and earth, to embody the physicality of time (fig. 14). In Hatate (2018), Yoshiaki Kojiro‘s kilned-formed foam glass sculptures, deliberately shrunk and fissured by a process of expansion and contraction of the molten glass, offer another visualization of the effects of time (fig. 15). Tomohiro Kano’s gritty monumental glass castings of his Physis series (2017), which incorporate clay, iron, earth, stone, sand, and wax, arouse a strong sense of raw materiality. Underscored by the shattering of glass, Kano’s forms conjure:
“…decaying remains and remnants of building materials, evoking fossilized cities, charred beams, oxidized metals, powdered salts, and fractalized lichen growth. It’s like a million-year-old cultural debris subsumed by natural degradation. Nothing lasts, not even steel. Elements collate and abate. Organic matter grows out of rock and becomes rock again”2323 Kent Wilson, ... (figs. 16).
5. The potential of transmutation
François Damien; Thomas Kuhn; Mare Saare; Hidenori Tsumori; Rubin Pantofaru; Johanne Jahncke; Anna Mlasowsky; Brett Swenson
Themes embedded in the medium’s transmutation properties resonate in a vast range of works. Intensely engaged with their chosen material, François Damien (figs.17a-b), Thomas Kuhn (fig. 18), Mare Saare (fig. 19), Hidenori Tsumori (figs. 20) and Rubin Pantofaru (figs. 21) explore its materiality and transformative potential. In an effort to discover new visual and conceptual possibilities, they mask its physical characteristics and simulate other substances, thus challenging the viewer’s visual perception and undermining fixed notions of glass. The glass studio is turned into a laboratory, where artists try to identify properties not known before in order to create something unexpectedly new. In Collection 49, Johanne Jahncke presents the results of 49 experimental batch recipes in small crucibles derived from the mineral residue of soils collected across the process (fig. 22).
Anna Mlasowsky treats glass as a soil-like sediment, exposing it to water and heat to create the earthen-like landscapes of her Alterations series (fig. 23). Brett Swenson explores the human presence within material processes and geological locations: spaces marked by entanglement. Juxtaposing natural and engineered elements, he creates the conditions for dissonant objects to merge. Through sculpture, video, and performative actions, his work functions as a measurement of exchange. Aiming to illustrate and contextualize phenomena that conjure human behavior, he gives form to allegories of time and mutability. The juxtaposition of manmade laboratory glass vessels and naturally formed volcanic glass (obsidian) in Standards of Measurement is not simply a physical experiment but a mental one, dealing with the origins of the glass material (fig. 24). Swenson’s initial idea was to take a instrument of measurement (Erlenmeyer flask) and completely alter its structure through a corresponding material expression:
“…The obsidian is for me elemental; it’s the stuff literally oozing out of the earth. The flask is this impermeable standard tool whose function is not supposed to be vulnerable to the material it contains. Categorically, the flask and the obsidian are the same material, so I liked the idea of fusing these physically similar materials but with totally opposite connotations. In a broader sense, these pieces question human systems and their stability or lack thereof… I originally wanted to try to melt obsidian, and instead I found it expanded – into an aerated, pumice-like material – to about three times its size. In this way, they are a kind of homage to the scientific process, with a rawness that relates back to the pursuits of alchemy…”2424 Correspondence with ... .
The above survey attempts to trace the “raw” aesthetic in art and its expression in contemporary glass – an aesthetic that has challenged artists of all fields and has proved to be particularly fertile in glass.
The “raw” aesthetic runs throughout the selected artworks, which outline its scope and range. The proposed readings and interpretations suggest a potential narrative, a model of making-and-thinking that seems to have initially emerged as part of a materially-engaged artistic inquiry, to be gradually crystallized into a conscious, intrinsic ingredient of the creative process.
Besides the rich visual and tactile qualities that it confers to the works, the raw aesthetic seems to have a non-physical and a more intuitive, conceptual dimension. Moving away from tradition and ideals of technical perfection and formal purism towards innovation and relentless material experimentation has furnished a wide gamut of creative practices that fuse process and concept, materiality and meaning.
List of artists (in order of appearance)
Jean Dubuffet ( 1901-1985, France)
Jack Whitten (1939-2018, USA)
Lee Ufan (b. 1936, South Korea,)
Takesada Matsutani (b. 1937, Japan)
Maurice Marinot (1882-1960, France)
André Thuret (1898-1965, France)
Bernard Dejonghe (b. 1942, France)
Batya Margalit (b. 1963, Canada/Israel)
Bertil Vallien (b. 1938, Sweden)
Yasuo Okuda (b. 1981, Japan)
Nishinaka Yokito (b. 1964, Japan)
Riikka Haapasaari (Finland)
Anna Mlasowsky (b. 1984, East Germany)
Tamar Drozd (Israel)
Brett Swenson (b. 1988, USA)
François Damien (b. 1973, Belgium)
Jon Chapman (USA)
Karina Malling (Denmark)
Kojiro Yoshiaki (b. 1968, Japan)
Tomohiro Kano (b. 1958, Japan)
Thomas Kuhn (b. 1986, Germany)
Mare Saare (b. 1955, Estonia)
Hidenori Tsumori (b. 1986, Japan)
Rubin Pantofaru (b. 1989, Israel)
Johanne Jahncke (b. 1990, Denmark)