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Simon Klenell: Coloring a Dream

April 12 - June 17, 2023

Crystal evokes precision and clarity, to the extent that a common turn of phrase, "crystal clear", intuitively means something is unambiguous and easily understood. In contrast, Simon Klenell uses cut crystal, a traditional specialty of Sweden, to create work that is confoundingly unusual and mysterious. The artist’s signature technique begins with the traditional, if exaggerated, cutting of deep and bold patterns on crisp geometric shapes, this becomes the raw material for the second step; reheating the cut elements to distort and join them, often with globs of molten glass. Prodding at convention while embracing tradition is Simon’s central strategy, and in 'Coloring a Dream' he takes his task into new territory, with the addition of layers of color, obliterating what remains of traditional associations with the material and technique.

Simon's new body of work was created in partnership with the most renowned names in Swedish glass, Orrefors Kosta Boda. Inspired by this association, Simon has cunningly referenced and combined the two techniques most closely connected to the company’s illustrious history; the color overlay and cut crystal. At the heart of this project is a probing of, and a challenge to conventional notions of ‘purity’ and by extension, Swedish identity itself.

In tradition-bound Swedish glass, overlays and cutting are rarely combined, and for this very reason, they are at the heart of the work in "Coloring A Dream". The overlay, which can be executed in several ways (including the classic 'Swedish Overlay'), is a procedure for layering different colors of hot blown glass and is often used at Kosta to create special color effects. By contrast, cut crystal, of which Orrefors and Kosta are both noteworthy historical leaders, is traditionally colorless in order to capture light effect and maximize sparkle. Simon’s new vessels have opaque or translucent outer layers over richly colored transparent inner cores that are revealed only by deep cutting of an all-over graphic grid pattern that delineates and contours the forms with the relentlessly rational effect that only a grid may achieve. Gone is Simon’s typical interpretation of elaborate traditional cut glass patterns whose historical goal was to sparkle in ostentatious display. Instead of using cutting to distract and embellish, the goal of Simon’s grid is to describe and lay bare the form. This visual plotting of the form draws attention to it and begs the questions 'how' and 'why' it is the shape it is.

As a super-cooled liquid, glass has no 'natural' or inherent form, left to its own devices it describes the location gravity brought it to at the moment it cooled. The shape of glass is thus always a record of time and process – and it is a temporary one that may be reheated and reshaped. The shaping of glass is a choreography of sorts, a dance that requires sustained speed and coordinated dexterity to defy gravity’s pull. These criteria describe a framework, or rules, that determine what may be made and how. In this manner, it is a metaphor for society, a microcosm of collaborative social action.

To maintain focus on form as an outcome of processes, Simon has restricted the shapes he uses to the most classical and fundamental; the square and round cylinder, the disk, and the cuboid. Individually, these basic forms are easily comprehended, but combined, their interaction creates complexity and exponential possibilities. To avoid unnecessary compositional elaborations, Simon relies on a process to constrain and translate his work; he draws each piece crudely on the computer, shuffling and scaling basic shapes on the screen. This approach is very different from his typical procedure, in fact, it is the greatest innovation in this new work.

When working independently, Simon’s typical design process is relatively free, and open to improvisation. The act of making work is an important refuge for Simon who enjoys being physically engaged in every step. Working for the first time with Kosta Boda’s team of professional glassblowers, who are accustomed to a fast-paced production environment, Simon describes his new objects as the least hands-on work that he has so far produced. Simon’s elemental forms, simple composition, restricted 2D design process, and didactic grid-cut, are all part of a strategy to retain control and to avoid the distractions and dilutions introduced by the collaborative fabrication process. He is limiting process variables in exchange for creative control, while also expanding material options (the colored glass) for dramatic effect.

For the first time, Simon has introduced color to his signature cut glass work, which he usually renders in classical clear crystal. Simon uses color as a symbolic tool, inspired not only by Kosta’s historic use of overlays, but by classical Greco-Roman statuary. Since the Renaissance, this statuary has been associated with pure white marble, which is now known to have been often covered in a vibrant layer of painted colors. Where the myth of whiteness was used as a symbolic representation of the apotheosis of classical Greco-Roman culture and the foundations of Western culture, the revelation of it’s chromatic origin has been received by many ‘traditionalists’ as barbarism and corruption. Simon’s polychromy displaces simplistic ideas of ‘purity’, recognizing it as a subjective and ever-changing social construct, be it in colorless crystal or classical statuary. Instead, he celebrates the differentiation provided by mixing colors, leveraging their combination as a tool to reinforce the core characteristic, form.

Simon confronts us with bold and contrived geometric compositions in layered, oddly colored glass, traced with grids to reveal the material and emphasize the form. His materials and his process are closely associated with Swedish cultural tradition and history, yet his unconventional configuration of them proposes that our understanding of our identity and values may be revisited and altered, strengthening them without compromising them.

- Damon Crain


The work in this exhibition was produced with the support of The Ulrica Hydman Vallien Foundation. As the 2021 recipient of the foundation’s annual award, Simon Klenell received financial support and an invitation to develop new and experimental work in partnership with Orrefors Kosta Boda at the glassworks in Kosta. We are proud to present the body of work in this exhibition, which was the product of the award and partnership.