Thomas Glassford's constructions, sculpture, painting and public projects explore intricate and often impossible intersections of design, architecture, technology, community, and the natural world. No place exemplifies the range of his material interests better than his studio in Mexico City. All under the towering two-story ficus tree bisected by yellowing plastic roof littered with leaves and held by a metal structure, Glassford’s Mexico City studio brims with acorn tops, gourd cups and halved coconuts shells, palm fronds, giant mahogany seeds, tree fern stumps, bracket fungi, volcanic stone, cactus skeletons, and cantera stone. These natural materials are fused with building materials – plunged into seas of polyurethane foam, dangling from fluted rebar, and precisely inserted into MDF panels. Uneasy hybrids are then coated with the fetish finishes of high art and design – lacquer, gold leaf, perfectly polished plaster. The reverse also happens, imaginary organic forms, leaves, organs, and pods are shaped out of foam, plaster or bright plastic. In this struggle for dominance neither nature nor culture are on top, as they often push at the fine line between garish and gorgeous
In a new body of work featured along with these kinds of constructions, Glassford even posits rational geometry as its opposite – something potentially organic, intuitive and gestural. His process starts with drawings made with a stylus on a tablet. He limits the effects of the drawings with the single parameter that whatever kind of line he makes will result in 90-degree angles. As he draws on the screen, he sees only track marks. The image doesn’t fully appear until he picks up the stylus off of the screen. He describes the process as a type of “blind contour drawings” not unlike the exercises he did during live-drawing classes in while studying sculpture in college. Blind contour drawings are done by directly looking at the model while one draws, and not at the paper. Details are exaggerated and lines do not always connect. And like these drawings, one does not see what you have until you are done. The emergent image is the result of gesture and discovery, contrary to rules and regulations of concrete geometric abstraction. There are bits that dangle and float, that aren’t quite right. These virtual drawing are then translated into three dimensional, precisely made objects. MDF is cut using a router connected to computer, pieces are lacquered in vibrant colors, and pieced back together. Interested in the confluence and contradiction of things, Glassford’s material lexicon and conceptual approach have become increasingly complex, but always in service to exploring the relationships we have with history, science and our understanding of the world, and those blind spots all disciplines contain.
Beverly Adams. Curator of Latin American Art. Blanton Museum of Art.