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steven easton :: essays :: Passengers | Kiln cast glass, 2010 | H 81" x W 14'6" x D 78"
Passengers | Kiln cast glass, 2010 | H 81
Kiln cast glass, 2010
H 81" x W 14'6" x D 78"

"Much of the "Passengers" exhibition's visual energy emanates from a single source: Providence glassmaker Steven Easton. In fact, it's hard to imagine a better location for Easton's latest project — a kind of miniature Greco-Roman temple complex, complete with dollhouse-size columns, capitals and monuments — than the one he's found at the Chazan Gallery.

"Dubbed "Solar City," this cast-glass metropolis has been set up in front of a series of large windows on the south side of the gallery. On a sunny afternoon, with the light shining through the windows, the effect is stunning — a shimmering urban landscape worthy of an ancient Sun King."

"Given the location, Easton probably could have achieved a reasonably dramatic effect using only clear, uncolored glass. Instead, he kicks things up a few notches by using an array of sun-friendly colors, ranging from cool plums and lavenders to warmer reds, yellows and ambers."

During a visit last week, for example, a shaft of late-afternoon sun was shining on a row of amethyst-hued columns, turning each one into a glowing band of color. Meanwhile, a small neo-classical statue at the center of the installation was a blaze of orange — this despite the fact that everything around it was still in shadow.

Even more stunning was a figure that Easton calls the "Solar Flare Goddess." One of the few pieces cast from uncolored glass, it's easy to see where this striking figure gets her name: her oversized head covering, dotted with flecks of gold leaf, sparkled like a diamond-studded tiara.

Granted, it's hard to go wrong when you put glass and sunlight together. And unlike some glassmakers, who forgo (or at least downplay) color in the hope that it will make their work appear more "serious," Easton isn't afraid to embrace the showier side of the spectrum. (In that, he resembles another local glassmaker who didn't mind adding a dash of color now and then: Dale Chihuly.)

Still, this is some of Easton's strongest work to date. Sure, it's great to look at, but there's also a sculptural and art-historical intelligence at work here that lifts it beyond the merely pretty. On a sunny day, "Solar City" is undeniably dazzling. Yet it also speaks to more serious concerns, including our relationship with the past and the continuing fascination with ancient cultures and civilizations.

Bill Van Siclen, The Providence Journal, January 21st, 2010