American artist Kit Paulson’s preferred medium is borosilicate glass – the same type of glass used for kitchenware, namely Pyrex. The fact that it has a low coefficient of expansion means that, when heated and cooled, it does not expand and contract very much. The risk of cracking is therefore slight. This has enabled Paulson to build large structures with confidence, like her striking wearable glass sculptures or detailed three-dimensional renderings of the human anatomy.
“I can work on small parts of the structure without having to constantly heat the whole structure,” she says. “I often start with scale drawings for the basic structures of my pieces and then improvise a bit more once I have built a framework from the drawings. The biggest challenge is that it is a slow process.”
Paulson recalls digging up clay while in elementary school, making animals and objects and firing them in small bonfires, but it was while she was studying Fine Art at Alfred University in New York that she started her love affair with glass. She is primarily inspired by historical objects and the way in which the natural world has been observed differently throughout history.
“It is my intention to produce work that does not inhabit a particular era – work that comes from the past but not a specific past,” she says. “Craft and discovering the boundaries of materials is also important in my work. I use glass for its delicacy, its ability to mimic other materials in a non-convincing but mysterious way, and for its ability to hold very fine detail.”
Although a lot of her work focuses on wearable items for women – like enormous bonnets or masks – she insists her work isn’t specifically a comment on women’s identity and place in history. “All humans have a peculiar ability to have an inner life that is quite separate to outward appearances,” she says. “The way that this inner life is mostly hidden but sometimes made visible is what’s interesting to me.”
There is an interesting tension in Paulson’s work – a dialogue between clinical observation and emotional drama, time moving or standing still, and what can be revealed through what is hidden. The ceaseless duality produces some of the frisson one feels when viewing her work.
“I'm both repelled and fascinated by human anatomy and the way our very animal bodies and biological processes are in constant competition with what we like to believe are our independent minds,” she explains of her delicate yet life-sized anatomical studies.
Restlessly creative, Paulson is always designing something that will help her to understand the world a little better.
“I struggle all the time with what design means,” she says. “Sometimes it appears benevolent: identifying human problems and trying to find beautiful solutions. Sometimes it seems a little less benevolent: inventing problems in order to sell solutions. Sometimes it seems to work in harmony with art and craft, but sometimes it seems like a bitter enemy. On the whole, I don't expect to ever come up with an answer, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it a lot.”
Paulson’s work has been exhibited widely – most recently, a piece was acquired by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum.
Credits: Kit Paulson