CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Glassy eyed: Three artists' refracted visions

When you hear "glass artist," you probably imagine two possibilities: someone carefully seaming together bits of stained glass or someone blowing a hot molten blob into a fragile vessel. If so, the three artists exhibiting work at Migration: A Gallery have a few things to make clear (ba dum bum!).

Michael Janis, Tim Tate, and Erwin Timmers, co-directors of the Washington Glass School, use innovative techniques and unexpected materials to expand glass's sculptural range, carrying it beyond craft into the realm of content-driven art. 

Janis fuses tinted glass powder– resembling graphite or conté crayon– to transparent plates to create drawings, which he then complements with small found objects and the repeated conceit of a cast-glass face. His pieces run the gamut from life-size nude portraits to small containers, although the majority are memory box-like works of clear glass with multiple layers and internal compartments. Unfortunately, what Janis hopes to evoke with his combined elements is elusive. (And I personally found the odd proportions of many of his figures, with too-long torsos and too-short legs, distracting.)

While Janis works primarily with clear glass, Timmers is a "green artist" who recycles materials to create often colorful illuminated abstracts. His concern for the environment may be serious, but his pieces frequently have a humorous aspect. In the cast glass "One that Got Away," Christmas-ornament bubbles flash in varying colors beneath a cloudy square of glass, while a single spherical cavity gapes open on the surface. Particularly beautiful are Timmers' "Parting I" and "Parting II," in which white light illuminates streaks of lacy red coursing across a porous frosted surface, calling to mind both internal biological tissue and falling leaves.

Although Janis and Timmers dominate the Migration show, the three pieces contributed by Tate are the most magical. Tate places tiny digital screens that continually run video loops inside blown glass decanters crowned by cast glass stoppers. The effect is like a "genie in a bottle." Adding to the impact, each screen appears black until the viewer is directly in front of the piece. In "I Hear the Siren Song," a belly dancer's torso, hips and hands perpetually undulate inside a sensually curved glass container topped by a stopper resembling an amber hand holding a red apple.

Tate alone is worth the trip to Migration, but together these three artists may just shatter how you think about glass. 

The glass art of Michael Janis, Tim Tate, and Erwin Timmers is on view at Migration: A Gallery through April 29. 119 Fifth St. SE. 293-2200.