July 31, 2009

Glass through glass: Therman Statom unveils new work in RAM's window gallery

Therman Statom talks with a member of the Racine Art Museum staff Thursday while installing his work, "Outside the Box," in the museum's Windows on Fifth Street gallery.

Therman Statom's art is displayed around the world and he's known as a leading figure in the contemporary-glass movement. But Thursday the 56-year-old artist was thinking about Menard's.

Statom is in Racine this week building his remarkable new installation "Outside the Box" in the Racine Art Museum's "Windows on Fifth Street Gallery." Statom designed and built much of the installation in his Omaha, Neb. gallery, but assembling the final piece in RAM's window was its own creative process. He painted windows, shaped and polished leaves, positioned sculptures and taped neon tubes to walls in preparation for Saturday's unveiling.

"Outside the Box" is the sixth installation in RAM's window gallery. Statom's work replaces Arline Fisch's "Creatures from the Deep," which was installed in 2008.

Statom's installation is a collection of glass sculptures and paintings. The sculptures include a house, ladder and chair - three standard objects Statom works with. Each of the objects comes with layers of meanings, he said. Here's a summary of his work as described with a 1993 sculpture in Los Angeles:
His work incorporates simple forms which, when combined with other shapes, tell a story or establish a theme. Over each form Statom adds a layer of brushed paint, bringing the artist’s hand back into the creative process.
The three major sculptures in the RAM installation are linked together with smaller sculptures, paintings on glass, neon tubes and the hanging leaves.

"It's one big painting, essentially," Statom said of the work.

Statom uses mirrors to bring the viewer, and the surroundings outside of the window, into the installation. He described the mirrors as "temporal."

"It takes what's outside and brings it in," said Statom, who is the first artist to use mirrors in the RAM window gallery.

Statom's glass house sculpture in RAM's window.

Statom and a member of the RAM staff hang a leaf in the window gallery.
The Johnson Bank building is reflected in the gallery's exterior glass.

Statom designed "Outside the Box" in his studio in Omaha, Nebraska. Having lived in Washington, D.C., he moved to Omaha five years ago because it's centrally located in the country.

"People say the coasts are the center of the art world, but the Midwest is a great place to create," he said.

Statom taped out the RAM window space in his studio and created the various pieces over several months. He described using "intuitive treatments" in his work designed to deeply connect with people.

"The decision process doesn't have a linear structure," Statom said. "It's more emotionally based." He added intuitive perception underlies all creativity, be it in fields as diverse as art, education or science.

"So many decisions are intuitive," Statom said. "Even hard sciences come from intuition. This is about that perception."

But while he relies on his intuition, Statom is an expert craftsman with 25 years of formal training and practice at creating art. His works are on display in museums in Paris, Lausanne, Switzerland, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Detroit and San Jose. He also has many sculptures and paintings for sale in galleries around the world.

"It's not subjective where you can do anything you want and justify it," he said about his creative process. "I couldn't just come here and paint everything pink because I like pink."

Instead, Statom described a variety of elements that influenced the final piece being installed at RAM. Natural and artificial lighting, weather, trees the shape of the space, the lake, and people he's met in the city are some of the influences he cited in the RAM installations.

Searching for a word to describe Racine, Statom finally said: "The city is just 'multi.'"

Back in April, Statom taught art classes to 200 elementary students. He said teaching is increasingly important to his career and turned him from an introspective studio artist into someone trying to reach out into communities.

"I consider education art, just like this," Statom said.

Along with the Racine installation, Statom has a new work on display in Orlando. "Stories from a New World" is a 6,000 square-foot collection of glass art based around explorer Ponce de Leon's pursuit of the Fountain of Youth in Florida. Statom said Europeans' migration to America changed the world by giving people an escape from monarchies and a new freedom to live and create.

"It really affected everything," he said.

By comparison, the RAM installation isn't political, Statom said. Instead, he created an abstract piece designed to connect with the viewer on a "primary, intuitive sense that exists in everyone."

"I wanted it to be inviting," he said.

Statom (back left) and members of the Racine Art Museum staff lift the base of Statom's giant chair sculpture into place on Thursday afternoon. The back of the chair still had to be added to the piece.

In person, Statom comes across as a humble, warm man who easily slips between art theory and chatting with museum staff. He's also very trusting. It's RAM staff members who assembled and even placed parts of Statom's work in the windows. While Statom created the larger pieces in his studio, he still had painting and metal polishing to do Thursday.

Executive Director Bruce Pepich played a role in the piece when he allowed Statom to paint on the glass wall that creates a backdrop for the Windows on Fifth Street gallery while separating the interior of the museum from the street traffic. Statom is the first artist to paint on the panels.

"It fits beautifully with the piece," Pepich said.

"Appreciate you allowed me to do it," Statom said. "I didn't expect you to say yes."

Statom and RAM Executive Director Bruce Pepich (right)

The paint in the background is the first time an artist has painted on RAM's glass wall that separates the gallery from Fifth St. The sculpture in front is not Statom's piece.

Statom's piece will change throughout the year. In six months he'll return to Racine to switch in new sculptures and paintings. The space's connection to the outside world - as opposed to a controlled interior museum space - brings a seasonal aspect to the installation, he said.

All together, the installation offers a new way of seeing. With the difficult times, Statom said, the combination of sculpted glass, paint and light offered an abstract glimpse of Racine's future.

"It shows what the city can become," he said.

Statom's glass ladder blends in with reflections in the Fifth Street window.


  1. If sculpted glass, paint and light are a glimpse of our Dumbbell City's future, we're in big trouble. This terrible town needs social programs, jobs which pay a living wage and a school district whose students' test scores meet or exceed state standards. Although Mrs. Boyd and her helpers may have good intentions, our poverty-ridden people require practical assistance, not a plutocratic playpen jammed with yuppies' toys. By the way, none of what I've written is an attack on the dear souls who've been forced by our economic system to serve a certain cash-cadging clan. The well-meaning folks at RAM are just victims doing what they must in order to survive.

  2. anon12:20 - You are very small minded. The arts play a very important role in a community and in addition it create jobs and revenue as many people throughout the U.S. and worldwide come to the RAM. The RAM is a very respected art museum and its guests bring revenue into the city. In addition we have enough entitlement programs. Even though we have unemployment of about 16% - that means that 84% of the city is working. Of that 16% there are probably 6% or more that do not want to work, so that leaves the number close to 10%. I'm tired of government shaking everything up for 10% of the population.

  3. I can't wait to see the new exhibit. The Racine Art Museum is one place anyone can enjoy, rich or poor. They have free admission during First Fridays and the window gallery is free to enjoy from outside any time. I wish they would have a "free to Racine residents day" once a week.

  4. Just stopped by to see the new exhibit. Worth the trip downtown, one of the top 5 window exhibits to date. Perfect night for a walk around and we made s special stop to see this. Very impressive and proud to see this type of art in our city.

  5. Just stopped by to see the new exhibit. Worth the trip downtown, one of the top 5 window exhibits to date. Perfect night for a walk around and we made s special stop to see this. Very impressive and proud to see this type of art in our city.

  6. Anonymous 12:20 - it's people like you that make it hard for Racine to move forward. Your small-minded and distorted views help no one. The arts do play a significant role in making Racine a better place. There are many different aspects that play a part in what will become of this area. Arts, jobs, recreation, good schools, good health facilities, low crime, etc. There are far too many people in this area that are small-minded and passive. They are only good for complaining and bring people and projects down - they never try to better the community themselves.

  7. You're Sooooo Sneaky....DUH!!8/01/2009 11:20 AM

    Anon 1:00 & Brianna = Same person.


  8. I haven't seen the new glass exhibit yet so I can't remark on it. But, in this time of very difficult financial strife, if it didn't cost the city any additional tax dollars and remains within RAM's budget to exhibit, what's the beef?

    The museum is there, its employees need to keep (and do) their jobs and if they keep their operations within their means, why complain about it Anon 12:20?

    Now, if the city had expended more tax dollars to this project that could have been used wiser elsewhere, then you'd have something to complain about and I'd be right behind you. But if no waste of city resources has occured, why are you so negative about this?

  9. You're Sooooo Sneaky....DUH!! said... I'm not Anon 1:00 PM, if I have something to say I will sign it with my name. Racine does have it's share of small-minded, ignorant people like you. LYAO all you want. That's the only thing you have going for you.

  10. No they are not the same, but nicely said Brianna I am Anon 1:00 and I totally agree.