Favorite Things: Present by Nicole Chesney

Present by Nicole Chesney is a favorite of Chuck Burch, Security Officer/Gallery Attendant.

Inspiration that comes while viewing a work of art seems to be the inverse of the creative process that inspired the artist initially, but can be equally as rewarding. I was reminded of this after viewing Nicole Chesney’s Present piece in the Ben W. Heineman Sr. Family Gallery of Contemporary Glass.

Present by Nicole Chesney

Present, Nicole Chesney (American, b. 1971), United States, Cranston, Rhode Island, 2005. Sandblasted mirror, oil paint. H. 172.8 cm, W. 203.2 cm, D. 5.1 cm (2005.4.162, the 20th Rakow Commission).

While making my security rounds in the evening, I often spend some quality time with one or two of the Museum’s pieces. I had walked by Present many times but, until recently, I had not stopped to read the description. It is a sandblasted mirror upon which oil paint has been applied and rubbed onto the surface.

Chesney tells of how she was inspired by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, who talked about a cloudless, empty sky, a sky that he called an “unsilvered mirror”— referring both to the exterior sky and the “interior skies of dreams.”

This was way too intriguing not to investigate further. I Googled Bachelard and was amazed by his writings.

After my research, I stood in front of this rectangular piece of glass to discover that it inspired a very meditative mood. I have the luxury of being able to enjoy this phenomenon all alone in the gallery late in the day, which is why I love my job.

There is no way you can fully appreciate this piece by looking at a photograph of it, or even by simply walking by it—you absolutely must physically stand in front of it and lean ever-so-slightly over the railing.

You’ll see the subtlest, ghostly reflection of yourself floating in the wispy clouds that Chesney has feathered on the glass surface. If this isn’t the stuff of dreams…

Chuck Burch, Security Officer/Gallery Attendant