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Review: Ben Johnson, Crossing Smoothness 

****
click to enlarge Ben Johnson, "Lines into Shapes II"
  • Ben Johnson, "Lines into Shapes II"

In "Twisted Blue Venetian," a blown glass vase that's part of Ben Johnson's show at Carmel's ArtSplash Gallery, a blue line rises on clear glass like a road winding its way up a mountain. Johnson, who works out of Cicero, Ind., mastered many of his glass-making techniques in Italy - hence the title of the aforementioned work. Johnson seems happy to make work like this - vases that you can appreciate for their decorative qualities and masterful craftsmanship - but his work is most engaging when he creates with conceptual elements in mind.

His vessel "Lines into Shapes II" bears multiple X-shaped motifs that look like graffiti tagging by an alien species. Johnson demonstrates with the piece that his work can carry conceptual weight and be as colorful as any painter's canvas. Other works abandon any pretense of functionality - not that anyone would want to use even one of his functional vases for any old flowers - and journey into the world of glass sculpture. "Ascension into the Unknown" is such a work. It suggests a boat, perhaps, crossing into the celestial realm, and was realized through a variety of hot and cold glass-working techniques. But my favorite work here, the phenomenal "Moonfield," maintains a vessel form even as it suggests the spherical shape of the earth's closest celestial companion. This work of sandblasted, blown glass approximates, if such a thing is possible, a lunar mirror turned upon Hoosier corn country in the dead of winter.

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