In a new body of sculpture created exclusively for the exhibition “Veiled Monuments,” Sturgeon Bay artist Jeremy Popelka is displaying his compelling artworks at Milwaukee’s Tory Folliard Gallery. His eight pieces play with scale and proportion to consciously “blow up” or explode images inspired by the delicate microorganisms and forms that delineate the beginnings of life on the molecular level.
Popelka is stretching his creative boundaries with an exhibition that for the first time casts his sculptures in two colors and handcrafted steel frames he then paints glossy black. His assembled glass pieces contain the possibility of attaining fresh forms and directions, since the metal frames containing the glass may be assembled into any shape he can imagine.
As one example, see Popelka’ s sculpture Collider, in which he demonstrates how the use of the steel stand allows ample artistic freedom. Without the metal frame, the assemblage of glass pieces couldn’t stand alone. Inside the metal frame, the metallic, gold and silver tinged glass resembles a brilliant shaft of light piercing the atmosphere. Scientifically speaking, a collider can be defined as “an accelerator in which two beams of particles are made to collide.” Popelka aesthetically integrates the beauty of these minute molecules so they actively participate in a “collider.”
Another sculpture, titled Core, implants a golden circular-shaped object within a red headstone that resembles a memorial. When one envisions a core, various inferences may come to mind. A core can be the central or fleshy part of a fruit, the blazing hot center of the planet, or the region of a nuclear reactor where the molecular reaction happens.
These phenomena require energy, which Popelka illustrates in the colors chosen for his textured glass, held in the sacred position of the “core” shape and cradled tightly within the frame. The core represents a tender spot where this very primal source of energy can renew life — for instance, the core of a fruit sustains the seeds to be planted for rebirth.
In a sculpture with a slightly ambiguous tone, the elegant Vector imbeds a seed-shaped object in a textured background, similar to submerging a seed in a liquid or into the ground, where the thin, yellow interior is surrounded by a multitude of orange flecks, or in Jeremy’s world, molecules. When viewed from the artist’s world, the object embodies ominous intentions, because biologically speaking, vectors refer to a typically biting organism on a microscopic level, an insect or tick that “transmits a disease or parasite from one animal to another.”
The contrast of an appealing surface and expert technique with bright color comingles with the danger inherent in the title. You might think of this mesmerizing artwork as representing the inner being of a tick, although the viewer can be comforted in knowing the vector is contained within the steel frame and thus unable to carry parasites or harmful cells to another being!
One last piece in the exhibition displays an entirely different technique, the piercing of sand-cast glass. The amorphously shaped, watery blue glass — still textured from the sand it was cast in — is titled Key and may resemble the basic molecular structure to life, a shard from a strand of DNA. Under and outside the microscopic eye, DNA represents the building block to all life, and when the strands lock, or key, into these spaces of each other, life comes forth. DNA holds the mysteries, the untold secrets to aging, disease, procreation, the entire workings of the biological world at a molecular level, and this intriguing perspective entices the viewer to consider new possibilities to science, and on an individual level, themselves, within their own DNA.
A viewer’s journey into the exhibition “Veiled Monuments” begins with fascination in the visual, delighting in the assembled pieces of glass, carefully blown and crafted into these amazing sculptures. But Popelka’s accomplished technique in the process of sand-cast glass, color and texture application, and patience in piecing the structures together creates an exhibition to be appreciated on more than one level.
When delving further into the playful colors, forms and finished pieces, a viewer is seduced into Popelka’s inventive molecular world. While some viewers may reject the idea of peering into a microscope, Popelka’ s art invites them to stretch, imagine organisms and places lurking within their own bodies or the biological world they inhabit. Mysterious hidden and often unknown micro-organic worlds are unraveled by the artist in translucent hues of glass that offer a tribute to the structures necessary to life and yet invisible to the naked eye.
Milwaukee’s Tory Folliard Gallery presents “Veiled Monuments” through February 1. For more images of Popelka’s glass sculptures, visit www.toryfolliardgallery.com