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Jack Wax, glass artist

Why he works with glass: “I use glass because it’s a transformational material, because it can look like air, stone, water, flesh, ice, and I don’t know any other material that can do that,” he says. Wax came to glass through an interest in pre-20th-century activities. He thought glass work was an activity that doesn’t make sense in our modern world. “When I first saw Coke in a plastic bottle, I thought, well, that’s the end of glass.” But when Wax started working with glass, he says he realized it was a very modern material and that few artists were working with it.

Meaning in his work: Wax says he thinks of his work’s meaning as fluid. “It’s a field not a line. People say, ‘What is your work about?’ I don’t think it’s about something, I think it is. It’s not about my childhood but it comes from me.” His piece “Fugitive” at Reynolds is made up of 15 pieces of twisting, jointed pieces coming out of the wall and marked with black streaks. Waxs’ mother died recently, and he says the piece represents the cancer that invaded her body. “We have fugitive ideas, fugitive moments. The illness itself I sort of personified as a fugitive visitor.”

How he makes his art: Wax refers to it as a team sport. “You need an extra set of hands that don’t think,” he says, to bring the artist more glass to add to the pieces already shaped. “Choking on Words,” one of the pieces at Reynolds, is made of three long pieces of glass, twisted and knotted, each hanging separately from steel wire. Wax says it looks like a very simple piece, but it took months to make. He used steel tools to get the glass out of the furnace, shape and stretch it into a long snake, then folded it into a knot, being careful not to touch the hot pieces together because they would stick, but also making sure the pieces didn’t get too cold because then they would crack. He says each took many attempts at two-and-a-half hours each. Most versions would fall on the floor and crack.

Misconceptions of glass: Only one piece in Wax’s two shows is made of blown glass. “People have a very clear idea of what they think glass is … but 6,000 years ago people worked with glass and it wasn’t clear.”

On teaching: Wax is head of the glass program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he’s been for a year and a half. He says he could teach students to make cups, but “I try to teach students to make something that never existed before.” — Carrie Nieman

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