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Interview: Intricately Cut and Layered Glass Silhouettes Reveal 3D Human Forms

At the intersection of art, science, and technology, Jed Malitz creates life-size glass sculptures of human figures within architectural forms. The New Orleans-based artist describes his works as “4D sculptures of cut glass and refracted light,” illustrating how each subject is defined both physically and non-physically through glass silhouettes and their refracted light. The silhouettes, which are based on live-subject 3D photography, suggest the physical outlines of people through holes cut into architectural glass panels. What's even more amazing, however, is the alternative perspective of the subject that's revealed when viewing the sculpture from a slightly different angle. Redirected ambient light from the silhouettes projects an additional human form on the outer edges of the glass panels, creating a ghostly twin that appears even more detailed and realistic than the solid silhouette.

Malitz, who has an extensive background in math and science, dubs these one-of-a-kind sculptures “windows into souls” for their ability to expose concealed dimensions. He says, “These forms are made entirely of redirected light, do not physically exist, and reveal otherwise hidden perspectives of their subjects. The entire subjects in cut glass thus project their entire hidden selves as pure light, in essence, revealing their souls.”

We had the chance to ask the artist some questions about his fascinating creative process. Check out that exclusive interview, below.

Above: Siren. Cut glass, aluminum, stainless steel; 6 ft. tall.

The outer figures projected in your sculptures appear to be solid, but they don't physically exist. Can you explain how light is refracted to create these projections?

I am using flat float glass, which has very useful optical qualities. As light enters the straight outer edges of each panel (nearest to the light source), it travels internally within the panel, moving away from the light source. Some of this internal light illuminates the translucent edges of holes that have been cut through the panel. These edges disrupt the trajectory of the light, radiating it in all directions (refraction). Some of the radiated light escapes from the panel, presenting the physical silhouettes of subject. However, some of the radiated light is also kept within the panel and continues on a trajectory to the far edges of the panel, furthest from the light source. Here the light exits the panel edges in all directions (refraction again), presenting the non-physical, yet solid looking human forms of pure light.

Ascent Through the Glass Ceiling. Cut glass, aluminum, stainless steel; 8 ft. tall. Photos by Grant Therkildsen.

Can you explain your use of the term “4D” in describing your artwork?

My glass sculptures depict their 3D human subjects directly through the collective edges of 2D or 3D holes in layers of cut glass. With these layers aligned and spaced properly, the (physical) 3D subjects appear in proper proportion. Intuitively, the 3D subjects offer different perspectives as one changes their viewing angle.

Additional perspectives of the 3D subjects are projected (refracted as light) to the outer straight edges of the glass panels. These (non-physical) projections appear spatially separated from the 3D subjects and offer distinct views of the subjects that are not otherwise directly visible when looking at the 3D art. Unlike the 3D art, the refracted perspectives are fixed and do not change with different viewing angles. It is for these hidden perspectives revealed only through refracted light, that I call these works “Windows Into Souls.” It also for this feature that I use the term “4D” (with quotes as acknowledgement of the alternate definitions of 4D in science, etc.).

Each sculpture is thus a pairing of physical art and refracted light. Intuitively, the physical art does not excessively change with changes in lighting. However, the refracted art changes substantially depending on the lighting. For example, if the sculpture is flooded with natural light, the refracted art vanishes and only the 3D art remains visible. Conversely, in controlled lighting, the refracted art becomes the prominent aspect, appearing to be brighter than the 3D art itself.

The Hidden Face of God (The Crucifixion). Cut glass, ash, aluminum, stainless steel, iron, brass; 10 ft. tall. Photos by Chip Kennedy.

Can you walk us through your creation process, from conceptualization to realization?

There are four steps: Study, Capture, Artwork & Design, and Build.

Study: I love science and technology, and I enjoy staying current on available technologies and emerging ones. This includes keeping up to date on fabrication machines and processes, and their limitations and capabilities. After I learn enough about a particular technology or machine, I feel comfortable using it as my paintbrush: my sculptures are specifically designed to be made by such technologies and machines.

Capture: I begin with 3D photography of the subject in carefully planned poses.

Artwork & Design: For each pose, the results of the photography are a virtually featureless digital maquette and detailed digital 3D pieces of a 3D puzzle that will be assembled onto the surface of the maquette. Once assembled, these 3D pieces are seamlessly joined and smoothed into an overall 3D form that is then adjusted for aesthetics. I then consider many different possibilities for how to digitally plane the subject, taking into consideration many variables such as the overall size of the sculpture and the amount of subject detail to preserve.

For 2D cut glass sculptures like Siren, the digital glass planing results in contours of the subject that are then adjusted for aesthetics, machinability and structural feasibility. I digitally model flat glass panels with these contours cut out and removed from them. I can then inspect the digital glass sculpture from every angle and make adjustments accordingly.

For 3D cut glass sculptures like Ascent Through the Glass Ceiling, digital contours are created in pairs and then adjusted for aesthetics, machinability and structural feasibility. Each contour pair is joined with a set of straight lines that are also adjusted for aesthetics and machinability. The contour pairs and straight lines that join them are modeled as holes in digital flat glass panels and evaluated from every angle.

Much of the process of artwork and design is iterative; I frequently return to prior steps in order to refine the input to subsequent steps. For every change that I make to the digital 3D subject, I must also consider the resulting effect on the figurative refracted light. I can also adjust features of the refracted light by subtly changing the edges of the holes in the digital glass. After the digital glass work is done, I design the stands and hardware components to complement the glass art and to hold it securely.

Build: The build phase begins with the various digitally designed 2D or 3D shapes physically being cut from flat glass panels. All glass and stand components are physically created at industrial fabrication facilities, where expert technicians and engineers program machines to shape my artwork and stand designs from glass, metal, or wood, and to exacting specifications. These fabricators are not ateliers; none of the components are made by artisan hands. The entire concept is based on the technology, capabilities, machining and engineering at high end fabricators.

Serenity. Cut acrylic, composite wood, aluminum, stainless steel; 6 ft. tall.

How did you first come up with the idea of creating sculptures in this way, using cut-outs and refracted light?

My original vision was that of human forms made of floating ribbons. For a pristine presentation, I wanted to avoid visible supports in direct contact with the ribbonlike art. The edge forms of refracted light were a secondary consideration that turned out surprisingly well (the refracted edge forms were brighter and more clear than I had planned, due to better glass optics than I had assumed).

For The Crucifixion sculpture, I was inspired in part by historic works where both Christ and His halo/rays of light were depicted. Instead, I wanted to depict Christ using light itself and thus the refracted light perspective became the focal point. Because there were many new variables in this sculpture, I built Ascent Through the Glass Ceiling as a proof of concept for 3D glass cutting, object embedment within the glass, and stand and hardware design, all of which would be similarly approached in my depiction of The Crucifixion.

Vixen. Cut glass, ash, aluminum, stainless steel; 6 ft. 3 in. tall.

Jed Malitz: Website | Jed Malitz V2 Gallery's Facebook page | LinkedIn

My Modern Met granted permission to use images by Jed Malitz.

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