The Cave of Glass Wonders

The Cave of Glass Wonders: Lino Tagliapietra at the Sandra Ainsley Gallery in Toronto

by Sebastiano Bazzichetto

TORONTO – Ironically, his last name means “stone carver”. But Maestro Lino Tagliapietra, internationally renowned for his eclectic vision and stunning artworks, deals with a much more fragile medium: glass. Born on the island of Murano, Lino has been able to marry the Venetian tradition with the ideas coming from the New World over the course of his artistic output. He arrived in the States in the 70’s, where he spends about six months of the year in his Seattle studio.
As an exclusive preview, we met with Lino Tagliapietra at the Sandra Ainsley Gallery a few days before the opening of his exhibition to ask him a few questions about his works and career.

Maestro, you once said: «Glass is a wonderful material because it is alive. Even when it is cool, it is still moving. It is connected with fire, it is connected with water, it is so natural. Glass is my life». However, the expression “a life made of glass” sounds bleak, evoking the idea of fragility and coldness. What do you love about glass?
It is commonly believed that glass signifies fragility. However, historically there are numerous objects found and rescued at archaelogical sites that are perfectly preserved, showing a unique resilience. In a museum one can find glass artifacts that are 2000 years old. Glass is to be preserved with a peculiar care and religiosity. It is an extraordinary material. Of course, if you drop a crystal goblet, it will break. But also an iron cube submerged in water will get rusty and eventually crumble.

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Have you ever thought to use any other material for your works?
I have recently thought to create objects in metal. But I eventually go back to my first and only love. I was born and raised in Murano, where life was and is “made of glass”. We used to “speak glass“, to “eat bread and glass“, I would say. Those who could afford a school education were exotic beasts. We used to live for working.

Could we say that you had a glass childhood then?
We used to go to work almost as a game. Since I was little, I felt fascinated by glass. Glass is related to art, culture and daily life at the same time. It is a material that can be understood by an architect as well as by a poet. Glass is worked together with other materials. You need strength and gentleness, a burning fire and cool water. Glass epitomizes so many different elements and concepts.



How does your creative process happen?
First of all, I am spellbound by the idea of working. I consider myself a hard worker. Before I start a new project, I do not even sleep at night. You need a mental preparation. Glass making means to attempt to give shape to unspoken dreams; dreams that, sometimes, you haven’t got the time or resources (technical and monetary) to achieve. But you never stop dreaming. At the Kentucky Derby & Oaks this year there was a horse named“Always dreaming”: I would have bet on that horse, you see. Human activities are bound to nature, as glass is. The freedom you have to work it is unique. In my mind I can picture a bizarre piece, that will or will not be realized. To me glass is freedom and reverence.

You met and worked with many glass artists, including Dale Chihuly. What is your relationship with the Venetian tradition? What do you think of the American masters?
I think I moved away from the Venetian stereotype, even though I am ultimately bound to a very Venetian tradition. Even Chihuly, for instance, has a very ancient idea of Venice. He has less bonds with the tradition. We must remember that in Europe there are so many diverse cultures. For Chihuly the relation with the natives’ culture is crucial. He can think like a European but with more freedom. Once there was a Venetian influence in American glassworks, now I daresay that Venice draws inspiration from America.
Traditions mean respecting rules too. I had to gain my own freedom: I’ve always been recalcitrant to rules. But I had to spend years to learn the principles, for example, how to blow the glass. A job forces you to create what you must create, a specific object rather than another one. In the end, I stopped thinking about the factory and the furnace in the old way. You see, I designed so much for glass factories, but those objects were to become repetitive. We had to design based on the techniques. There are different techniques to each maestro: one is specialized in birds, one in fishes, vases and so forth. Therefore, you have to design an object keeping in mind the maestro’s abilities. As an artist, one has a great privilege: you have just one client. He is your correspondent: eager, smart, open to new perspectives.

What is the difference between art and a craft?
I believe that every object needs a cultural background, a technical expression of labour. Glass is a piece of art with its own energy, a very poetic material that makes an object a “super object”. In the 1960’s US, the concept was more important than the technique. Without A doubt, you always have to think about the object you want to create. An artwork can be a “goto” [small wine glass for every-day meal], but it has to communicate beauty, even if it is small. Rubens himself used to communicate feelings through his very technical ability. Art is the outcome of technique and ideas.

Let’s talk about installations: how do they change the idea of art?
I think that installations are somehow more commercial. They are a design product, and sometimes can be even tacky. At the same time, installations epitomize a more complex project. They are replacing the frescoes or large-scale artworks. Installations need representativeness, as if they were sculptures or paintings, they become something more. They are like reproducing an image on a larger scale. Installations are chromatic and geometric expressions. I am intrigued by the process of creating an installation.

In this exhibition, which piece represents you best?
It is hard to condense everything in one piece. Honestly, I wouldn’t know. There are several “Linos” here on display. An exhibition is a long process made of life experiences. Lino has always experimented: I change my ideas more often than I change my shirts. Every object represents something I would like to be, like a tree that has many roots. It is crucial to recognize Lino – the tree – in each object.

You could not work without your collaborators…
That’s very true, and important to mention. I’ve worked with some people for over 20 years. I would not be who I am if I had not gained great collaborators. I know what being a good assistant means. I had and still have very good ones. A skilled assistant simplifies your job. If he does not work well, the glass artifact turns out to be less beautiful.

The context: the Sandra Ainsley Gallery

Within an anonymous context, the Sandra Ainsley Gallery is housed in an industrial warehouse.  But don’t be tricked by the external appearance. As soon as you step in, you cannot but be enchanted by the high ceilings, the dramatic lighting, the shapes of the artworks and the overall sense of magic. Thanks to the beautiful and coulourful pieces of art glass that are shown, the gallery ultimately resembles a cave of wonders. The wise guardian of this precious treasure ark has now for many years been dame Sandra Ainsley.

Established in 1984, this Toronto-based gallery is the leading contemporary glass art gallery in Canada, representing world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. Prior to setting up in the current location, the Sandra Ainsley Gallery has seen many homes: Hazelton Lanes in Yorkville (1984-91), in the financial district’s Exchange Tower (1989-2004), and in the Distillery (2002-08). The new location enables Sandra to spend quality time with her clients and artists. Her principle is to step back and to let her clients behold, admire and muse on the glasswork that is on display. As she said, to be a good art dealer you have to know artworks, and people too. Since she established her first gallery in the 80’s, Sandra Ainsley has developed and nurtured her passion for glass into a thriving and successful business, and a stimulating adventure for us all.

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A portrait of Sandra Ainsley

For the first time, Lino Tagliapietra exhibits here some of his most iconic pieces of art, from the series Hopi, Africa, Fenice, Spirals, Dinosaurs and two mind-blowing panels, real canvases made of coloured glass.

[The exhibition runs until July 3, 2017]

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