Studio  September 16, 2022  Anna Claire Mauney

Pre-pandemic Coronal Glasswork: Can Art Autonomously Evolve?

Photo by Stanley Capps.

View from below one of Jonathan Michael Davis' seven nine-foot-long sculptures in Antinomies, 2022. Installed in the West clerestory of Concourse E at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

The visual virality of Jonathan Michael Davis’ blown-glass sculptures is impossible to unsee in 2022, especially as they are installed at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (CDIA). It is hard to believe that these coronal designs for Antinomies were born from an early 2019 commission and approved mere days before COVID-19 officially hit the United States.

Photo by Morgan Collini.

Davis installing part of the lighting system at CDIA.

Ironically, Davis has long been interested in misreadings.

In fact, the idea for this project was actually grounded in the concept of a viewer’s mistaken assumptions—from an established audience tendency to confuse Davis’ glass sculptures for plastic to the ease with which glass can be transformed by light.

Light in particular is used brilliantly in the final product. “The true color of the glass is only shown when the natural light of the space cascades through the windows,” Davis shared. “Programmed lighting sequences create color shifts on the glass pigments as well as shadows on the surrounding walls. Blue reads as purple, green becomes pink,” and so on.

The project’s working title, Antinomies, was intended to “describe the common reaction of the viewer as a contradiction between two beliefs or conclusions that are in themselves reasonable, a paradox.” In other words, he decided to ground the project in dichotomous irony, then set out to create work designed to spark harmless misunderstanding. It was supposed to be playful.

Close view of Antinomies, 2022 during the installation process in the West clerestory of Concourse E at CDIA. Photo by Morgan Collini.
Photo by Morgan Collini.

Close view of Antinomies, 2022 during the installation process in the East clerestory at CDIA.

Close view of Antinomies, 2022 installed in the East clerestory of Concourse E at CDIA. Photo by Morgan Collini.
Photo by Morgan Collini.

Davis's high-intensity colored luminaries at work in the East clerestory.

Installation view of Antinomies, 2022. East clerestory of Concourse E at CDIA. Photo by Stanley Capps.
Photo by Stanley Capps.

Installation view of Antinomies in the East clerestory with natural lighting.

Installation view of Antinomies, 2022. East clerestory of Concourse E at CDIA. Photo by Morgan Collini.
Photo by Morgan Collini.

Installation view of Antinomies in the East clerestory.

Davis installing Antinomies. Photo by Morgan Collini.
Photo by Morgan Collini. 

Davis installing Antinomies in the East clerestory.

“The geometry of the work almost always conjured feelings of familiarity and comfort,” said Davis, “with themes of aquatic life, atomic structures and flower[s].”

The unpredictable yet inevitable viral misreading of Antinomies that developed is not only fascinating—it’s poignant. In the artist’s own words, “What began as an initial attempt to find humor in playing with deceptive aesthetics and ambiguous shapes quickly turned into a dark irony.”

Installation view of Antinomies, 2022 in the West clerestory at CDIA. Photo by Stanley Capps.
Photo by Stanley Capps.

Installation view of Antinomies, 2022 in the West clerestory at CDIA. 

(Left) Hand-painted glass pieces in Davis' studio. (Right) Sculptures shown mid-assembly and taking over Davis' home. Courtesy of the artist.
Courtesy of the artist.

(Left) Hand-painted glass pieces in Davis' studio. (Right) Sculptures shown mid-assembly and taking over Davis' home. 

View of one of Davis' seven nine-foot-long sculptures installed in the West clerestory of Concourse E at CDIA. Photo by Stanley Capps.
Photo by Stanley Capps.

Side view of one of Jonathan Michael Davis' seven nine-foot-long sculptures in Antinomies, 2022. Installed in the West clerestory of Concourse E at CDIA.

View from below of another of the seven nine-foot-long sculptures in the West clerestory.
Photo by Stanley Capps.

View from below of another of the seven nine-foot-long sculptures in the West clerestory.

Davis's colored luminaries at work in an installation view of the West clerestory.
Photo by Morgan Collini.

Davis's colored luminaries at work in an installation view of the West clerestory.

On top of this, lockdown and supply-chain failures forced Davis to work from home and accept an unreliable and often snail-paced project schedule. “In all, over three thousand pieces of blown glass were carefully textured and hand-painted.” The pieces were assembled to create a total of twenty-nine kinetic sculptures responsive to air currents. The project took three years to complete.

The final result—with all its intentional and happenstance metaphorical resonances—seems more than worth it. It is the largest installation of Davis' career thus far.

Through September 23, 2022, Davis and an assembled team of creatives are fundraising on Kickstarter to support a documentary on the full story behind Antinomies. Please visit the link below to find out more.
About the Author

Anna Claire Mauney

Anna Claire Mauney is the former managing editor for Art & Object. A writer and artist living in North Carolina, she is interested in illustration, the 18th-century, and viceregal South America. She is also the co-host of An Obsessive Nature, a podcast about writing and pop culture.

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