by Nancy Kay Turner

(Jan Baum Gallery, West Hollywood) Since the end of the last century, when Japanese woodblock prints flooded the European markets, Western artists have been fascinated with the Japanese culture. It is a culture which combines elegance with brutality, a refined aesthetic sensibility with an extreme commitment to the group. It is a beautiful country, steeped in spirituality, where even the written language is composed of drawn symbols. Even today Japan can be an enigma to the Westerner--a country where each morning men dressed in western suits burn incese as they pray in front of temples on the street.

Sylvia Glass displays collages, four boxes, mixed-media paintings and four artist-made books inspired by her second trip to Japan. In this body of work, Glass weaves poetic narratives by combining scraps of papers, brushes and other gleanings onto canvas, muslin and paper surfaces. Many of these pieces are small in scale and extremely intimate. Indeed, Glass requests that guests to the exhibit be allowed, even encouraged, to touch the books and boxes.

It is clear that Glass is a sensualist whose prime interest is the surface. She layers thin pieces of muslin into which she tucks small dolls or parts of them. The surface, which is corroded, faded, decaying and mottled with age, becomes the vehicle used to express her view of art as archeological--literally, a sacred object that one might uncover in a burial mound.


"Japan Revisited #11," mixed
media, 12 x 10", 1997.


"Japan Revisited #4," mixed
media, 14 3/4 x 22 1/2", 1997.


"Japan Revisited #25," mixed
media, 9 3/4 x 7 1/2", 1997.

"Cacti #10," mixed media,
40 x 12", 1998.

Mixed-media art is often about the psychological relationship suggested by the juxtaposition of disparate images and objects in a visual equivalent of stream-of-consciousness writing. In Japan Revisited #11 the central image is reminiscent of the life-sized ceramic warriors found in the tomb of the Chinese Emperor Qin. Underneath is a photo which appears to be a battalion of human forms, each seemingly identical and anonymous. To the left is a swatch of calligraphic text. These images rubbing up against one another suggest thoughts about the role of the individual versus the group, especially the differences between our culture, which prides ifself on individualism, in contrast to the Japanese custom of venerating the group. Other standouts are Japan Revisited #25, with its strong, symmetrical composition and bold contrasts, and Japan Revisited #4 and #9, which are both geometrically shaped canvses.

Glass also is exhibiting a series of mixed-media works, The Cactus Series, which has nature as its theme. These delicate works are filled with organic shapes which look like jellyfish with tentacles floating in a muddy sea of earth colors. Fanlike shapes, resembling origami paper sculpture, are affixed to a fuzzy, soft background. These are quiet, meditative works, zen-like in their stillness.

In The Cactus Series there is an emphasis on circular or globular forms which are vaguely sexual. Many share a common composition, with the circular 'egg-like' forms floating like ova in a womb. Even Glass' color is reminiscent of dried blood. These small, mysterious, seemingly fragile works are a rumination on spirit and matter.