Matt Wittmeyer photo:  Metal sculptor Albert Paley is seen in 2015 during a demonstration at the Corning Museum of Glass.
The Leader, Corning NY
By Stephen Borgna

Posted Mar. 27, 2016 at 3:21 PM 

Albert Paley is a renowned metal sculptor and artist who specializes in metallic materials and architecturally-inspired designs. His portfolio ranges from complex sculptures and maquettes to towering monolith structures that serve as the centerpoint of plazas and public squares. In Sept. 2014, Corning Museum of Glass announced that Paley was invited into Corning Inc.’s residency program. Paley took metallic materials and fused them with specialty Corning glass to create uniquely hybrid pieces, finishing his residency last year. The Leader caught up with Paley last week to discuss his work and reflect on his time with Corning.
Your work focuses on building metal structures and fusing architecture.
What made you want to become an artist and work with metal materials?
Basically, I did formal art school training. I went to Tyler School of Art, part of Temple University, and I did my undergraduate and graduate work there. I graduated in sculpture, and I focused specifically on metal technology. Because with metal, you have the greatest flexibility. As far as material you can deal with very, very small; very minute, or large architectural projects. And aesthetically, there’s so much available that the vocabulary you have is kind of unlimited. So I’ve been involved for approximately 40 years, 45 years specifically on metal sculpture.
How long was it before you could work with these materials confidently? What was the learning curve like?
I was exhibiting internationally when I was in graduate school, so the work was venerated at that point. You know the work has evolved, and the types of tools and technology. I think as an artist it’s the aesthetics that drive it, not necessarily the technique. But what we do at the studio is quite sophisticated as far as technology is concerned. But the aesthetics is what drives it. So it’s a combination of aesthetic research and technological research. For instance, one of the things - and this kind of relates to glass - one of the things I was always drawn to with metal is that everyone thinks metal is a hard, resistant, inorganic structural material. When you work it with heat, it becomes the opposite. It becomes very plastic, very fluid, deals with organic form … addresses a whole range of associations that people don’t necessarily have with metal. Most of the work I do stresses that aspect of plasticity and kind of the organic context of metal work.
When did you open your own studio?
I think it was 1963.
When were you a resident at the Museum of Glass?
Actually it was the industrial division of Corning, it wasn’t the museum. The museum set up this artist and residency program, and I actually was the first one to be invited. So basically Corning Inc. has all these specialty glasses. So I was invited in; they showed me the various characteristics of the glasses ... and I did several sessions where I developed a lot of glass pieces that dealt with the specific aspects of these specialty glasses. Some of them are independent pieces in their own - actually the Corning Museum did purchase one for their collection, which was part of the residency. The other pieces, I would bring them back to our studio, and then I would use them as an element in some sculptures.
Since your work focuses on metal, what drew you to work with glass?
Well actually, because I came out of the university system in the early 60s, there was a forum for artists at that time that were dealing with various materials. There would be conferences where there would be a metal worker there, there would be somebody that dealt with wood, somebody that dealt with ceramics, and Harvey Littleton had just started the glass program in Wisconsin, and so he would deal with glass. I became friends with Harvey, and I was very well aware of the whole evolution of studio glass from the 60s. And I think it was 1999, 1998, I was invited to Pilchuck, they have an artist-in-residence program where they invite professionals outside of the glass field that had not worked with glass to go and experience that. So I developed a body of work at that time, and I really like the color and transparency, and so I started incorporating these glass elements that I had done at Pilchuck into sculpture. I wanted to develop that further.
You focused primarily on using ‘Corning Code 7056’ glass. Can you explain that material a little and why you chose to work with it?
Even though glass as a material is quite different from metal, the one thing that is the same is that its forms and shapes that are derived from heat … the form development is the same. So therefore there’s a sympathy between these seemingly dissimilar things. With the specialty glass I was working with in Corning, I could literally combine the two pieces physically. The Kovar expands and contracts the same as the glass. And therefore, you could dip, you could embed, you could wrap, you could blow into and fuse the glass to the Kovar surface. This took what I was doing aesthetically and pushed it even further.
So this glass was very similar to working with metal?
The metal forms that I would develop and the glass forms were sympathetic, but they were visually combined, not physically combined. With the Kovar, you could physically fuse the glass and the metal together. So that was a development in what I was doing, but also it created a whole other dimension … it was taking all of my visual research into another level. And then also the Kovar and the glass had never been worked to the extreme that we did in the workshop. It was done for scientific reasons, radio tubes and other things like that, it was never worked on the scale that we worked on at Corning Inc. It’s really a fantastic body of work that was developed.
Was it a challenge to work with different materials than you’re used to?
Well, no because I’ve worked with glass before and I’ve worked with metal before. So here it was combining it. The challenge - not necessarily challenge - it’s more of a perceptual thing of giving this new connection of how these go together; what were the qualities that happened with this integration and how could they be explored … it was very exciting; it was purely research. And I think because it was so unique - all the skill of the team and the people that were there - it was really a dynamic interchange.
What is your favorite piece you created while with Corning?
Well some of them haven’t been developed yet, but actually the star of the group was the one that was purchased by the museum. I think it was titled ‘Memory’s Paradox.’
What do you think is the most important skill or attribute needed to become a successful artist who works with glass or metal?
Well the thing is, that obviously the greater one’s skill level is, the greater diversity you have on what you can do. If people are very limited in the skill level they can only do certain things. The greater skill, the more vocabulary you can have. So besides the technical, obviously the creativity in how you apply those things. But one of the main things - for any artist - is having an opportunity. An opportunity to show an exhibit and develop the work. All of that goes hand-in-hand. Ultimately it’s the quality of the work and the consistency that one puts into it - a lot of work and a lot of tenacity.
What advice would you offer to any aspiring artists out there?
I guess probably the most important thing is not to be discouraged. The art field is extremely competitive in all aspects, and the main thing is for the individual to create his or her own vision, and to find their voice and to follow that voice. You’re not a manufacturer - you’re really trying to develop a personalization, and an understanding and a perspective that allows you to be as authentic as one possibly can.
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