It was Emilie Galle who first recognised the lyrical potential of glass in his verreries parlantes, complex multi-layered vitrified poems that evoke the mysteries of nature, interlaced with fragments of Symbolist verse. In her latest work Rachael Woodman achieves a similar pitch of emotional intensity, although her expression is lateral rather than literal, abstract rather than representational, and the driving force is her Christian faith.
The new work is directly inspired by Psalms 130 and 131, which Woodman describes as ‘beautiful psalms speaking of forgiveness and stillness before God.’ Psalm 130, which prompted the Out of the Depths and Watchman series, expresses the longing to communicate with God and the keen sense of anticipation – ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord…/ My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for morning.’ In these pieces Woodman exploits the device of the vessel within a vessel to suggest the relationship of the spirit to God. The outer layer is dreamy and sensual, with shifting bands of transparent colour. The inner core is composed and self-contained, indicated by the use of opaque glass. The inner vessel is completely enveloped within the outer membrane, but detached from it, in splendid isolation, softened and transfused by the glow from without.
Psalm 131 reflects on God’s omniscience, and the sense of calm, intimacy and humility in the presence of God: ‘I have stilled and quietened my soul; / like a weaned child with its mother; / like a weaned child is my soul / within me.’ The verse inspired Woodman’s third series, My Heart is not proud, in which a cluster of ‘souls’ nestle quietly in the well of a large nebulous free-blown vessel rippled with movement like a shimmering soap bubble, highlighting the contrast between firmness and fluidity, indecision and resolve.
Varying degrees of transparency, translucency and opacity – subtle qualities which only glass can embody – evoke the mysterious, tantalising, tangibility and intangibility of spiritual faith. ‘The vocabulary is familiar,’ says Woodman, ‘but I feel that with the4se pieces I have something worth saying.’
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