Profile: Art Nouveau Resurfaces in John Burton’s Postmodern Glassworks
British artist John Burton traces his interest in glass art back to a hobby from two decades ago, dealing ceramics and glass antiques. As he bought and sold items from the last century, he found himself increasingly drawn to works from the 1920s and ’30s- the era of Art Nouveau. Burton became particularly interested in how these glass pieces were made, turning to examine the techniques of well-known Art Nouveau glass artists such as René Lalique and Emile Gallé. He became familiar with these artists’ hot and cold glass processes, and upon returning to school for art, gained first-hand experience working first in a Norwegian glass factory and then for a British glass artist.
Burton’s own body of work shows strong hints of this initial interest in Art Nouveau—most works have a monochromatic, graphic sensibility and an emphasis on curvature that can be traced back to the movement. However, he also brings a conceptual sensibility to the table, focusing on the postmodern technique of fracturing form, deconstructing and reconstructing blown-glass pieces into dense, self-contained objects that seem to shift precariously as they capture light on their geometric, multi-layered surfaces. In addition, in recent work he has tapped into microbiological sciences and technologies, specifically an exploration of visual stimuli that can be seen under a microscope. In his new works such as Separation V (2014), spotted abstract forms cover the surfaces, in what Burton refers to as his “bacteria” texture, and shapes that suggest molecular structures can be found in Propagation (2014).
In producing his work, Burton has chosen to focus on cold glass-working processes, working alongside a team of skilled glassblowers and using part-recycled lead crystal glass. His carefully planned method involves both drawing and, often, 3D modeling. The range of processes used in creating a finished piece can be manifold, including cutting, sawing, grinding, sanding, masking, and polishing, to create contrasting shiny or matte surfaces, playing with texture, pattern, and refracted light, all in service of the exposing the potential of his chosen medium.