EVA MOOSBRUGGER – EXPLORATIONS IN LIGHT AND COLOR by URSULA ILSE-NEUMAN,
curator Museum of Arts and Design, freelance curator and author, NY, USA
Over the course of her prodigious career, Eva Moosbrugger has sought media that would best communicate her close affinity with nature and her deep commitment to the creative process. She has absorbed significant influences from her immediate surroundings in Dornbirn, in Austria’s Vorarlberg region, and from travels to far-flung locales. She has employed a wealth of materials to cross physical and conceptual borders. A true citizen of the world, she has bridged the artificial separations between art, craft, and design with objects ranging from functional vessels to abstract sculpture and from the whimsical to the spiritual.
Since 1996, Moosbrugger’s medium of choice has been glass – a material with virtually unlimited versatility and expressive potential that allows her to convey her evolving artistic concepts. Added to her love of color, a leitmotif that has buoyed her imagination through more than a decade’s work in glass, is her passion for biomorphic forms inspired by nature.
Moosbrugger began as a painter in the 1980s, portraying the wonder of nature’s orchestration of light and color. These early canvases illustrate her fascination with light presaging her attraction to glass. This is evident in the 1987 triptych So It Was Written … Where?, a landscape seen from behind fence posts, but illuminated by an ethereal moon so that the „real world“ shows through a mysterious, translucent veil. As Moosbrugger’s canvases in acrylics, oils, and watercolors became increasingly abstract, her predelection for irregularly shaped, smooth stones and rocks also intensified, culminating in sketches of geologial formations such as Untitled, a 1989 watercolor of a landscape in Castile, Spain.
Moosbrugger works in series, exploring an idea, image, or allegorical reference through a number of related pieces that provide differing approaches. A continuing theme is the close connection to nature, often through abstraction or the radical reduction of the idea. By 1984, she had moved to three-dimensional expression in sculpture and installations in wood, iron, concrete, ceramic, stone, and metal. She considers herself a „materialist“, meaning that the materials she chooses and the techniques she uses are essential to her work. Moosbrugger carefully selects the elements in her compositions, feeling their characteristics with all her senses, in order to make them true messengers of her ideas. Stone held an early and enduring attraction for her, lending itself to physical involvement in carving and polishing with her own hand, which has remained a signature of her creative output. She also invoked a narrative framework, as in low-relief works resembling Greek stelae that use language as symbols to recall things past, things that have been forgotten. Her forms are extracted from nature, but are replete with symbols and allegories of nature.
During this period the artist also worked in translucent alabaster, which in many ways foreshadowed her turn to glass. It underscores her abiding interest in luminosity, which for centuries has been an important attribute of beauty, commonly described as ‚lucid‘, ‚luminous‘, and ‚clear‘. These experiments with alabaster and a host of natural materials including granite, diabase, basalt, and marble taught her to use varying densities, hardness, porosity, and other physical porperties of materials to obtain interesting surface qualities. Her surface treatments in stone and clay featured changes from rough to smooth, transitions that would later enliven her work in glass.
1996 – 1999 EARLY EXPLORATIONS IN GLASS
Eva Moosbrugger adopted glass as her principal material in 1996, following a path taken by many aspiring glass artists to the legendary island of Murano in Venice where she clarified and refined her artistic direction. Instinctively she understood that glass, with its enormous range and intriguing paradoxes ( it is at once fragile and massive, opaque and transparent, reflective and absorptive, cold and hot), would allow her to combine the subtlety of painting with spatial modeling.
She was especially drawn to the choreography of glass production, and the movement of reflected and refracted light, the perception of timeless images, and the subjective emotion and awareness through which the artist reaches out to the viewer.
It is important to note the degree to which the relation of light to glass influences Moosbrugger. Although the translucence of stained glass once symbolized transcendence, spirituality, or divine wisdom in Gothic cathedrals, contemporary imagery reflects more secular, more private and personal attitudes. In essence, glass represents for Moosbrugger an extension of her quotidian world that is of her own making.
With her greater understanding of techniques, Moosbrugger began pushing the limits with increasingly complex layering and coloration. She learned to handle up to twelve layers and to produce larger pieces. Eager to cold-work the glass in her own studio she used sandblasting, cutting, and polishing to create textures and windowlike effects through which interior realms can be glimpsed. In her 1999 sculptures, she smoothed entire surfaces by hand, often devising a delicate veil that softens the perception of the inner layers and increases the textural complexity so characteristic of her work.
GLASS FROM 1999 – ONWARD
In her output from 1999, the artist continues to reframe nature in a nonfigural mode. Although she does not blow her own glass, she collaborates close with glassmakers in Murano, directing their efforts to elicit her desired layered forms and colors. She then takes the pieces back to her studio where she coldworks the surface through cutting and grinding to reach the final appearance. This process can be seen in the Haptoglyph series begun in 2000. These works represent microcosms – worlds unto themselves. Moosbrugger adopts the name ‚Haptoglyph‘ that combines the Greek words hapto meaning to touch or contact and the Egyptian word glyph standing for term, indicating her urge to unite past and present and to make her work accessible through a sense of her touch which entices the viewer’s touch.
These closed solid forms are elegant in their balance and purity, without extraneous ornament or superfluous lines. From piece to piece, colors span the entire sprectrum and often achieve an inner life through interior layers that seem to emit light through refined surface texture and patterning.
Two examples are Red Haptoglyph with Insight (2001) and Blue Haptoglyph with Insight (2001) in which colored glass is overlaid with crystal on which she sculpted a window with chisel and hammer and then laboriously handpolished it to extraordinary effect.
A year later, her Three Women (2002) calls on red glass with multiple amber overlays to achieve a more complex interior life, relinquishing smooth boundaries to gain a more lyrical >haptoglyphic< surface. The texture and carving add complexity and tactility to the pure forms she designs, suggestive of the elemental forces that alter our landscapes. Some of the color effects recall canvases of Jules Olitski and Larry Poons, for example. Prominent surface treatments result from the physical act of grinding patterns into the glass, a key component of the artist’s practice. For Moosbrugger, the process is a transformational experience involving mind and body, which becomes manifest in her art through the creative energy frozen in time on the surface and preserved long after the piece has left her studio.
Throughout her explorations of glass, Moosbrugger has maintained her allegiance to natural stones and the forces of nature recorded in their structure, such as in glacial erratics carried tens or hundreds of kilometers from their origins by glacial advances and retreats. In her oeuvre, there are no more poetic objects than the EQUIVALENTS, a series of diptychs begun in 2002 that play the qualities of glass against granite stones. Moosbrugger spent countless hours scouring Vorarlberg‘s hills, rivers, and rock formations to find unblemished stones with perfect form, because she did not want to interfere with nature. Out of hundreds, there were perhaps only two or three she could use, polishing them to bring out variations. She designs the glass partner with a similar shape, but emphasizes the differences in these ‚equivalents‘, using contrasting tones and transparency in marked counterpoint.
Moosbrugger accents the history of the material very consciously to augment the forcefulness and intensity of her art. EQIVALENT #II, 2003, sets a handpolished granite stone against an opaque crystal created by multiple overlays with deeply engraved lines and curves. The exploration of the contrasting natures of stone and glass is extended in EQUIVALENT #IV in which sharp demarcations separate the stone into polished and rough components, a demarcation that is repeated on the opaque component and the smooth, polished surfaces of the glass counterpart. The chameleon-like quality of glass in the hands of a highly imaginative artist is remarkable, and part of the great appeal of Moosbrugger’s oeuvre is the door she opens to the infinite possibilities of this most versatile of media.
For Eva Moosbrugger, the stones‘ long journeys make them ideal metaphors for human existence. Paired with glowing glass objects that catch the light, these harmonious works of art allow the viewer to read part of his or her own history. In these pairings, the glacial erratic blocks and corrresponding pieces in glass can seem to be engrossed in a tender communication.
Eva Moosbrugger has indicated her regard for Goethe‘s color theories. More philosophy than science, they postulate that colors originate, not in the physical universe, but within each person’s perception. This connection between color, artistic expression, and emotional response is inherent in Moosbrugger‘s work as she chooses her colors for symbolic as well as chromatic reasons. In Goethe’s scheme, yellow has a serene and softly exciting character; orange possesses the highest energy; blue connotes remoteness and cold; and while purple is a restless color, green is soothing. It is interesting to reflect on the relationships when viewing Moosbrugger’s MEMORY OBJECTS, but the works do not need Goethe’s map to have an impact.
The hightened effect from grouping the figures was reprised in the wellreceived wall installations entitled Impacts (note E. M.: since 2010 Friendly Thoughts) that Moosbrugger began in 2006. …These one-of-a-kind wall installations highlight a single colored glass object among a phalanx of matching black objects, a relationship that viewers react to according to their own perceptions. In 2007, her wall installations have been elaborated using multiple offsets of monochrome objects.
In her art, Eva Moosbruggr rearranges the boundaries of the glass medium beyond all expectations. Ingenious surface textures tempt the viewer to touch and give the sculptures their characteristic haptic appeal. Fresh impressions come on subsequent viewings, formed by the viewer’s observation, relationship, distance, and mood. Juxtapositions of tone, form, and light typify Moosbrugger’s ability to instill in her work the balances and contrasts from the natural world.
She was well grounded in the tranquility of the Austrian Alps and their geomorphology and geological history when her excursions to India and Australia profided an adrenaline rush resulting in a profusion of works of immediate appeal. Over time, those influences, both visual (color and light) and tactile (touch, temperature, and space) became part of an expanded vocabulary that lies at the heart of Moosbrugger’s artistic achievements.
To use a geologic analogy, highly appropriate for this artist, writing about Moosbrugger’s creative output at this stage in her career is akin to describing a landscape while it is still being formed. Her numerous series of works are a significant achievement, yet they can also be seen as markers, milestones on a journey proceeding at full speed. It is exciting to go along on this ride, anticipating what new things are just around the next artistic corner.
Excerpt: Ursula Ilse-Neuman in: Eva Moosbrugger – PURE. Monograph. ISBN 978-3-902612-02-8, pp 65 – 71