Tuesday April 29 cont.
Domenico and I met Cesare and his wife Teresa at their house, and the four of us caught the vaporetto (boats in the Venetian lagoon that are the Venetian version of the city bus) that would take us from Murano to Venice. The trip takes about ten minutes, but from the dock we exited from, we had a long walk to get to the gallery and studio of flameworking artist, Igor Balbi.
We made what is typically a 30-minute walk in about 15 minutes. We were already running behind, and still had a dinner reservation to catch after this visit. As we got to the neighborhood of Igor’s gallery, Cesare gave him a call. Igor had to come out to meet us and show us the way through the last couple of alleyways to his gallery. I have to admit, I found it a bit satisfying to see that even the locals need some help finding their way around the alleys and canals of Venice.
Cesare had told me about Igor and his work on my previous trip to Venice and Murano in 2004. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to coordinate a visit with him back then. Igor had since moved his gallery and studio from Murano to Venice as he had found an incredible space in which to move. His new space is situated on a corner lot on a quiet campo near Ferrovia…the main train station and a major travel hub for Venice. As is the case with most buildings in Venice, the original building is several centuries old, but Igor had made some very thoughtful renovations to update the interior of the space while still paying respect to the history of the original building.
We began our tour in Igor’s gallery space. His work is centered around very colorful goblet forms, and he pointed out that he rarely repeats the same piece. Each and every goblet in his gallery was completely unique in both color and form. They were all stunning and obvious departures from traditional Venetian-style stemware.
Igor was very forthcoming in discussing his process, which is quite unique. He uses and combines many different glasses to achieve the results he desires. I’m not just referring to using colors from different manufacturers. He will actually combine glasses of greatly varied coefficients of expansion to accomplish the color patterns and textures he envisions. Each piece requires a great deal of foresight and planning. At any given point, he might use glasses varying from 80 COE to 104 COE. I know some other artists who will uses glasses that vary a bit in COE, and I realize scientific flameworkers often need to connect different glasses and other materials that do not easily fit in expansion rate. However, I had never met an artist who was brave enough to fit multiple compositions together on the same parts of the same vessel to achieve the patterns, textures, and forms Igor was accomplishing.
After a tour around his gallery and talking about his process, Igor led us beyond the gallery to his exquisite studio. We passed through a doorway to exit the gallery. The doorway opened to a hallway with very modern lighting, but the brickwork of the walls was clearly several centuries old. The hallway opened up to a studio with very modern equipment that again respected the heritage of the original building.
At the far end of the studio, beyond the torch stations, were a couple of large old doors. Igor reached to open the doors and allow more fresh air into the space…or so I thought. As he opened the doors my jaw must have fallen as I realized the next step out the doors dropped directly into one of the small canals for which Venice is so famous. As soon as I realized I was looking at a small canal beyond the doors, one of Venice’s trademark gondolas passed by with a singing gondolier rowing for a couple who probably thought they were having a private, romantic moment. It was an absolutely breathtaking and purely Venetian visage. We all joked that Igor must have planned the moment to occur just for our visit.
I quickly got the video camera set up to capture a very informative demo and interview with Igor. Similarly, to what Dario Frare had shown us a couple of hours earlier, Igor also used a small stainless steel blowpipe. However, that is where the similarities in their processes and works ended. Igor worked the glass with a very specific precision and cooler temperature that would allow him to achieve the technical, delicate cup form he was after, whereas Dario’s work required that the glass be worked extremely hot and quickly to allow for his style of color application and the organic flow of his squid form.
By the time we wrapped up the interview, Cesare informed us that we were more than 45 minutes late for our dinner reservation, and the restaurant was back near the original vaporetto stop at which we had arrived into Venice earlier in the evening. We ran back the other direction from which we had come earlier, and fortunately Vittorio and Graziella Costantini were there holding our table and ready to eat with us all.
Dinner was incredible, and the company was even better. It was after midnight by the time I arrived back at my hotel. I fell asleep while looking at some of the pictures I had shot through the course of the day. There was just enough time to catch a refreshing sleep and breakfast before another non-stop day of visits, demos, and interviews on Murano.