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    The Markham Group of Artists presents Charie Ginete-Ilon, who will be presenting Social..
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  • $550.00 Innovate Grants — Call for Artists + Photographers

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EARTH - Murrini Glasswork by Mel Munsen

By Robert Amos July 21, 2003

} EARTH - Murrini Glasswork by Mel Munsen Starfish Glassworks, 630 Yates Street, Victoria, B.C. ( 388-7827 ) until August 5, 2003 The other day I was watching clouds float by. In the empyrean blue, mare's tails and vapour trails were slowly stretched by the wind into flowing, three-dimensional patterns. I thought of murrini. Glass was developed in the middle of the third millennia B. C. in Mesopotamia, probably as an accidental offshoot of ceramics. In the beginning this glass was used to imitate precious stones, 'jewels that flowed' for inlay and beads. Because of the size of the furnaces, only tiny pieces of glass were possible. Bits of glass - murrini - were assembled and melted, fused together to form vessels in Egypt as early as the 360 BC. This type of 'glassmaking by assemblage' reached its climax in Rome and Alexandria during the two centuries around the birth of Christ. The introduction of the blowpipe eclipsed the assembled technique - blown glass (on the model of a bubble rather than a mosaic) can be made much faster. Mel Munsen Mosaic glass didn't reappear until the last quarter of the nineteenth century, on the island of Murano, the Italian glass center. This was prompted by archeological discoveries in Pompeii and Herculaneum which revealed some fine examples of early mosaic glass. The Italian glassmakers create canes of glass, dipping a hot core of glass into different colours, adding one thin layer at a time and then stretching the hot core into a cane. In cross section canes may take simple shapes like bull's eyes, and can be bundled to make 'millefiore' flowers. You've seen them inside paperweights. These bits of cane, when introduced into a gather of glass, carry patterns flowing into its three-dimensional form. At West End Gallery (1203 Broad St., 388-0009, www.westendgalleryltd.com) the annual summer glass exhibit has brought together some of the best glass artists in Canada. A perennial favourite is Edmonton's Jeff Holmwood. His 'electric koolaid punchbowls' are massive buckets of glass, through which schools of murrini swim in a psychedelic sway. Jeff Holmwood Electric Kool-Aid at West End Gallery, Victoria Down the street at Starfish Glassworks, Lisa Samphire makes a striking line of glass with murrini inclusions (630 Yates St., 388-7827, www.starfishglass.bc.ca/lisa.htm). My favourite are her sushi plates, in which wobbly murrini almost imitate rolls of seafood and rice. Meg Walker has written that Samphire's vases have an effect 'almost cellular, similar to a magnified cross-section of a plant or a tree....some of the patterns seem frantic like cells trying to stay out of a whirlpool.' Lisa Samphire butterfly series at Starfish Gallery, Victoria Of particular interest is Starfish's solo show by Mel Munsen of Esquimalt (until August 5). Munsen has made an international reputation for his eggshell-thin, fused and slumped murrini vessels. Meticulously, obsessively, Munsen positions murrini side by side and then gently melts them. 'Glass blowing came in because it could be done so much more cheaply than this,' he noted ruefully. Munsen does all his work locally but exhibits in New York, in Pittsburgh, in North Carolina and in at the Rossella Junck Gallery of Venice, which is devoted to the glass of Murano. The William Traver Gallery of Seattle, which recently hosted a second solo show of Munsen's sublime vessels, doesn't stint on the praise: 'Munsen's own murrini work shows that he is virtually without peer in his sense of design and technical perfection. Munsen somehow manages to present incredible detail with a flowing sense of rhythm.' Once the murrini have melted into a little puddle, Munsen lets them cool and then grinds the resultant slab to an unusual thinness on his lapidary wheel. 'This not only delivers a delicacy to the feel of the piece,' his gallery insists, 'but it effects a translucency rarely--if ever--found in fused and slumped glass.' Mel Munsen The thin sheet of mosaic glass is then gently melted into a metal mould to give it form. This firing may go on as many as twenty separate times to slowly form the glass to shape. Munsen's years as an antique 'picker' have trained his eye, and he chooses shapes with a subtle and unerring sense of 'modern' style. Originally inspired by Italian artists of the 1950's, Munsen offers dishes perfect for a banana split, and hemispherical bowls of uncompromising geometry. I was gazing into one of the largest of them, probably 50 cm in diameter, and admiring its delicately dimpled surface, the pulsing organic rythmn of the slightly melted forms, the crisp smooth rim of the bowl. Suddenly I began to sense that my eyes were playing tricks. Some of the tiny dark spaces between the murrini seemed to be glowing with a rich electric blue. As I moved my head, some lit up and others went dark. Colour and form were speaking to me from another world, it seemed. It is wonderful to encounter a work of art that sneaks up on you. Munsen avoids ascribing any 'meaning' to his work. But if intense beauty is a language that communicates to you, give his work your attention. Munsen resume www.vetriglass.com/artists/munsen_main.html Munsen in Venice www.rossellajunck.it Munsen in Seattle www.travergallery.com/artists/mm_main.html ___________________________________________ Copyright © 2003 Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B. C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at www.robertamos.com