Jolley has great appreciation for the hand techniques used for making glass objects that traces back to the Romans, but says “there are technical accomplishments I use to create my sculptures that though related to this long tradition of glassmaking, are in a world apart. I was at the Corning Museum in New York recently and when I spoke with a fine glassblower, well his eyes rolled into the back of his head when I started talking about things like ‘additive sculptural techniques.’”
When Jolley began working with glass in the early 1970’s. he knew he had discovered his muse. “There is a seduction with glass. It is such a beautiful material. I was trying to use non-traditional materials for art and at that time Jackson Pollack was using industrial painting techniques and developments were happening in plastics. It’s not a stretch to say sculpting glass is as non-traditional as any of these media.”
In the early 60s a number of fine arts glass programs were created, with the first established at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1962, followed by others including the Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle, Washington which became the fore of the American studio glass movement. Jolley, who grew up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, decided to stay in the region and study glassmaking at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. The influences on Jolley’s work are a complex amalgam of not only where he studied, but where he grew up, the social fabric of the times, and sheer serendipity. “I grew up in scientific research town. My father was a research scientist so I was exposed to scientific, technical conversations. But I felt the abstraction in science was almost too pure in a conceptual way--physics, isotopes, separations—than the abstraction in art. Artists address the human condition. This was the late 60s, so I wanted to humanize the world—I was shaped by the times in that regard.”
Though Jolley’s works, which include glass, sculptures, lithographs, and mixed media, are both figurative and abstract, he sees little need to make the distinction. “Growing up I was exposed to more figurative art than abstract art. But in later years when I traveled to the Dordogne in France and saw the cave paintings, I realized that in ancient times there was little difference between the figurative Ibis on the wall and abstract markings-- they were done by the same artist. Most artists do not want to be limited to one niche.”
Some of Jolleys’sculptures, in particular ‘Extravagant,” are classic with a modern connection. “This female bust with a garland is so classic it could easily be in a church in Annapolis,” says Jolley. Other works, such as those in the “Totem Series,” are large scale sculptures of stacked forms including human heads, birds, and sculptural elements that form totemic statements on the human condition. “Torso,” a pensive cobalt-blue man yawning, showcases Jolley’s mastery of subtle color and expression.
Jolley starts from scratch to create his glass sculptures. He mixes a granular formula of two-thirds sand and one-third “flux and stabilizers” and adds a small percentage of metallic oxides for colors that will not burn out in the furnace. Then Jolley leads a team of three or five assistants/artists, sometimes for several hours in the intense heat of his studio, through the steps of furnace glass sculpting. “We mix, melt, make, anneal and finish with acid etching,” says Jolley. “The server might set up an arm to get just the right shape, then another person opens the furnace door while a third turns the blowpipe that has the molten glass on it. It is a well-choreographed process.” Jolley says that his team might tool and reheat a piece 100 times over a few hours to get it right. “The amount of time to tool the glass depends on how thick the glass is. It is a matter of physics --a larger piece means more heat mass.”
Even though he is a skilled master at various techniques for creating glass sculptures, Jolley says he hopes to disguise the techniques used in the finished works. “I want the work to feel free, not labored over. I want it to not reflect the tedium of life.”