“It looks like a bomb went off in my studio,” says Jeff Zimmerman in the wake of preparations for his exhibition at R & Company. The show (on view through December 21) fills the lower Manhattan gallery with Zimmerman’s blown-glass creations. Some are suspended from the ceiling; others hang on walls; still others rest on pedestals. They range from 12-inch candlesticks to more-than-six-foot-tall towers of mirrored-glass “river rocks.”
“You think it’s going to fall over, which makes it intriguing, but it doesn’t,” Zesty Meyers notes of one such tower. Meyers, a partner with Evan Snyderman in R & Company, has been showing Zimmerman for 18 years. “Jeff is a superstar,” he states. “He fills a void in people’s homes and offices that the architecture, interior design or art collection have not filled. His work completes the picture.”
Zimmerman’s pieces explore ideas he has been developing since he took up glassblowing, at age 19. As an apprentice to Venetian masters, he sought to absorb classical methods. And then, like a painter who learns to draw the human figure before graduating to abstraction, he began modifying the perfect forms he had been trained to make. Zimmerman says his collaborators are heat, gravity and centrifugal force; he lets them have their way with his blown works.
Surrendering to nature, he explains, “is not new in art — think of paint being allowed to drip on canvases.” Asked to name his favorite artists, Zimmerman (who grew up at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, in Colorado, where his mother was a painter and his stepfather a sculptor)points not to other glassblowers but to Matthew Barney, for his ability to create quirky, “not easily definable” objects; to James Turrell, “who uses light in incredible ways”; and to David Lynch, for his surreal effects.
“An exhibition of Jeff’s work is important, so people can see how effective and how sensual it is,” Meyers says. “But we take it for granted that pieces will end up being customized for particular spaces.”
Each design, he adds, “is talked about and drawn, samples are made. There are a lot of steps to executing a commission. But it’s not how quickly you can get a piece to a client — it’s about getting the right piece to a client.”
Before checking out Zimmerman’s latest creations at R & Company’s new White Street space, or commissioning a unique piece of your own, take a look at a few seminal pieces from throughout his career.
Most artists, after blowing a glass sphere, “try keeping it from crumpling,” says Zimmerman. “I let it do what it naturally wants to do.” The process, he adds, “is about first having control — it wouldn’t work if I didn’t have the perfect sphere to begin with — and then giving up control, letting it do a very beautiful thing.” Once a sphere has crumpled and cooled, Zimmerman says, “I take it to a guy who does traditional mirror-izing techniques. He coats the inside in a liquid silver, which bonds to the glass and creates interesting reflections.”
“He’s been making these serpent candlesticks for a very long time,” says Meyers. “It’s about trying to get better with the material. Every time he pulls the serpent part, it’s different, and he learns something. No two pieces are the same — they can’t be.” Meyers notes that customers tend to buy the candlesticks “in odd numbers — three or five. Some people buy 21. They interlock, and you can move them around. It’s endless fun.”
“It’s a wall drawing in relief,” Zimmerman says of Splash, a sculpture comprising 12 pieces of white hand-blown mirrored glass. First, he blows the 12 components, then he cuts their backs off with a diamond saw. Once cut open, the pieces are easy to mirror-ize inside. Finally, he adds cleats so they can be hung separately. Zimmerman’s goal is to capture the motion he associates with glass in its liquid state.
“In this series of works,” says Meyers, “he’s looking at nature, biology, the cosmos. It’s about ‘How do we exist?’ ” The “crystals” are made of glass blown by Zimmerman into wooden molds. “These gradually burn away at their edges, so the pieces get softer over time,” Meyers says, explaining the variations between crystals. After blowing them, Zimmerman takes them to his studio, a “cold shop” in Brooklyn, where he cuts and polishes the glass and assembles the chandeliers.
Over the three decades he has worked with glass, Zimmerman’s pieces have become “less decorative and more sculptural. And since glass naturally reacts to light, it was natural to move into lighting,” Zimmerman says, adding that in recent years, “the work has grown in scale.”
His illuminated Snow Crystal sculpture comprises 36 hand-blown globes. “The goal is to make each one different,” says Zimmerman.
When creating the globes, he coats a layer of glass in a baking soda solution, then adds another layer. The baking soda, trapped between layers, “blows little bubbles,” creating the effect of spheres within a sphere.
Zimmerman has been making stacks of mirrored-glass river rocks for decades, and “every single one has sold,” says Meyers. They range in height from about one foot to more than six feet.
“It’s form on top of form. There’s a simple beauty to them,” Meyers says, adding, “At first you may think it’s not really glass. But glass is the right material. It pulls you in. You don’t realize you’re seeing depth. Your mind’s trying to figure it out.”