Sassy Smirking Viper at The Carnegie

Focal Point

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Three gorgeous creatures have lighted at the Carnegie Visual and + Performing Arts Center, and SASSY SMIRKING VIPER is my favorite.

Although the pieces are in fact blown glass works by artist Stephen Rolfe Powell, they seem more like creatures than objects. A little-known branch of the guinea family, maybe, or cousin to the wild turkey? Powell himself sees something else.

"Sassy Smirking Viper" stands 40 1/2 inches high and is 24 inches broad at the greatest extent of its splendidly bulbous middle. A solid-looking clear glass cylinder perhaps 5 inches in diameter forms the unexpectedly slender base — whoops, suddenly the piece becomes a pregnant ballet dancer en pointe!

All right, let's get serious. How does Powell do it?

He makes small beads of colored glass by hand, arranging them on a steel plate in lines as carefully composed as those of any color field painter. The artist then transfers the beads onto a hot bubble of glass, which he manipulates into what becomes his finished product.

Do not try this at home. Powell himself has a 50 percent failure rate.

None of the colors here is primary. There's a rust-orange, a bluish purple, a yellow-green that comes into its own in the upward bend, that sinuous crook set to catch ... what? A fly? Someone's finger?

The neck of the vessel, as this elongated curve could more prosaically be called, is accented by lines of blue-purple, tracing out its trajectory. The piece is marvelously transparent, so you see, in effect, two sides at the same time.

Stephen Rolfe Powell and Centre College Alumni is on view through Nov. 30 at The Carnegie in Covington.

FOCAL POINT turns a critical lens on a singular work of art. Through Focal Point we slow down, reflect on one work and provide a longer look.

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