Parables in Glass
The Stained Glass Artwork of Judith Schaechter
Judith Schaechter has lived and worked in Philadelphia since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1983. She has exhibited widely, including in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, the Netherlands, Germany, and Korea. She is the recipient of many grants, including two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Fine Art Museum of San Francisco, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the Corning Museum of Glass, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and numerous private collections. Judith has taught at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, Rhode Island School of Design, the University of the Arts, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts.
Judith on her life and artwork: My parents, not artists themselves, accidentally made me an artist by ascribing genius to every scribble I made. My mother kept and labeled everything. Looking through this stuff in college, I was surprised to find out what a case of arrested development I was. I drew dead lions, crying kitties, and Winston Churchill in his coffin.
I never thought of myself as an artist. The real reason I went to art school was to eliminate phys ed and math from my life.
My involvement with stained glass dates back to whenever it was I got my Lite-Brite toy. Later, I made those melt in the oven suncatchers. I guess it can all be chalked up to phototropism. I took stained glass as an elective in art school (I was a painting major at the time) and haven't quit yet.
I guess the most appealing thing for me is the tedium factor. I don't have too many worthy and profound ideas, so each piece needs to take a certain amount of time. This keeps my hands busy and in sync with my head.
Ironically, I find my "artistic voice" is liberated only by the severest of technical restrictions. The more monotonous and difficult a process, the more exciting I find it. Incidentally, for this reason I've always found the process of painting intolerable. Nothing is more horrible than a blank canvas and nothing more easily filled with meaningless, arty brush strokes. I went through a phase as a painter when I would gesso over all the superfluous elements. I would always end up staring at a white rectangle again.
Another major reason I stick with stained glass is because I think the raw material is pretty. The uncut sheets of colored glass are really seductive, awesome, and unarguably lovely things. Naturally, the temptation to cut and damage all that pristine beauty is too much for me to resist.
Finally, my atheist upbringing accounts for my attraction to the spiritual aspect of transmitted light. Some medieval guy said it best when he said stained glass is enlightenment embodied.
The creative process is weird, elusive, and ultimately unknowable. When things go right, I have no grasp of the mechanisms that make inspiration fall in step with the formal elements of art. At those times I feel "guided by the hands of God." (So much for atheism...) Similarly, in the case of abject failure, it's as though I am "guided by the band of Bozo."
Sometimes ideas occur suddenly and sometimes they've lingered for years and years. Ideas are inspired by current events in my life or in the world or by something I see somewhere and wish I'd thought of. The technical process itself generates irresistible challenges, like depicting fire, water, or garbage. Often I let my hands do the thinking. Doodling is an intuitive process, and the more distracted I am the better. Radio, television, lectures, and telephone conversations all serve to improve my work. Nothing is more inhibiting than the pressure to come up with some Brilliant Artistic Idea. The ideas I get drawing are almost always the best stuff. They tend to override any concepts that sounded good. No matter how much I love an idea, I'll sacrifice it for the look of the piece. I believe that in visual art the bottom line "conceptually" is always the aesthetic.
In short, the idea is a combination of many ideas and inspirations that are of overwhelming interest to me. I say that because the effort, labor, cost, and health hazards of stained glass are great.
So what is the work about? I really have no point of view on life that I can't be argued out of in, say, five minutes. I certainly have never heard a philosophy or intellectual concept so compelling that it merited illustration.
I guess I have no intentions when approaching a project--meaning is assigned to the work way after it's completed. Meaning is what happens when it is looked at. My interpretations have no more importance than yours. If I claim otherwise, then I'm stealing from the audience.
I think I'm a fairly normal human specimen. My interests are not particular to me and my thoughts about them not necessarily original (until, hopefully, they become stained glass panels!). My main interests are sex and death, with romance and violence the obvious runners up. I'm trying to be as cliche, sentimental, and decorative as possible--not as a strategy for ironic commentary about bow stupid sentimentality and cliches are, but because this is the stuff, that time and time again, I am obsessed with, in love with, and that I have faith in.
-- Judith Schaechter