Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) presents an exhibition of elegant sculptural forms by internationally renowned artists, Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana, in YSP’s refurbished 18th century Chapel. The Venice-based siblings are descendants of the Venini glassware dynasty, established by Paolo Venini on the island of Murano in 1921.
Laura and Alessandro learned and honed their skills at Venini during their early careers, and they have each gone on to develop distinctive practices that break with exacting technical traditions and geographical confines. Integral to the development of both artists has been the relinquishing of glass for practical use, so often inherent in the production of the material.
Despite the correlation in the direction of their journeys and a shared basic material, Laura and Alessandro’s visual vocabulary and techniques are radically different. Experimentation, risk-taking and innovation drive their work, fed by widespread travel and collaborations with glassmaking experts across the world. The nuances of texture, surface and colour in the remarkable objects they produce are heightened in the contemplative spaces and diffuse the natural light of the Chapel.
Collapsing the typical blown cylinder, folding it in on itself, is a technique often employed by Laura de Santillana to produce slab-like forms that are, in a sense, envelopes forever sealed by the making process. The artist refers to them as ‘glass books’, and they retain a powerful sense of seeming to contain knowledge held in suspension. In the Chapel, the artist shows a library of these forms, to which she returns habitually, in specially made bookshelves.
Colour is fundamental to Laura’s work, from subtle, misty opaque white and blue forms through to her strikingly intense yellow uranium glass pieces made in the Czech Republic, which have the luminous quality of neon. Laura’s Blue Notebooks were inspired by Franz Kafka’s blue octavo notebooks – eight diaries used by the writer between 1917 and 1919; as well as being smaller in size than his usual quarto notebooks, they are more lyrical, comprising a collection of aphorisms and fragments. When light penetrates the glass books they appear to glow darkly with deep blues, merging into green towards the edge. Within each book powders and pigments added to the open form whilst still pliable create shadows.
Alessandro’s passion and inspiration is water, which translates to the incredible treatment of the surface in his works, many of which have a strong, painterly quality. The YSP exhibition includes a series of wall and floor works by the artist with a complex, dark black yet mirrored patina, recalling the sense of looking into deep, reflecting pools. Using a technique applied for centuries in the production of handmade windows, a blown cylinder of glass is heated and cut, falling flat under its own weight. At this point, when the glass is typically flattened completely to remove imperfections, Alessandro works with the surface to add folds and subtle undulations. The resulting pieces have an evasive, ephemeral and fluid quality, neither mirror nor image. Unlike Laura’s more solid pieces, Alessandro works with glass that is only millimetres thick.
Peter Murray, YSP’s Founding and Executive Director, says: “Alessandro Diaz de Santillana and Laura de Santillana are siblings who have been creating impressing works of art for decades. Separately, they have fine-tuned shared experiences into different and distinctive visual languages. What they have in common is a shared passion for glass: the tradition, the craft and the endless possibilities of creating works of art from the magical and unpredictable qualities of this medium.”
The exhibition is in association with Le Stanze del Vetro, a joint initiative of Fondazione Giorgio Cini and Pentagram Stiftung.