My work is born out of a sustained exploration of human nature and the conflicts that exist between our inner reality and the world we occupy. I often emphasize decadence and grandiosity to illuminate the superfluous nature of accumulated luxury when faced with our own impermanence. I am also interested in engaging the viewer’s gaze, drawing the participant into a state of reflection, literally and philosophically, about the essence of human existence and ideas related to growth, emotionality, aspiration and mortality.
Glass is my chosen medium and I am drawn to its contrasting qualities–transparent yet solid, it simultaneously reveals yet barricades. In recent works I use cast glass as a lens to magnify residual formations of objects within. On occasion these negative spaces are mirrored, enlivening static surfaces in my pursuit to reflect the viewer and the environment that the work inhabits. Incorporating the audience’s gaze, whether it is distorted or clear, centralizes the viewer within the work itself, facilitating a stronger connection between observer and object.
Joanna Manousis is a British–American artist working in glass and mixed media. Her work has been recognized with nominations for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award and a Bombay Sapphire Award Nomination for 'Excellence in Glass' as well as the Margaret M. Mead Award and the Hans Godo Frabel Award. Manousis has received support from internationally recognized residency programs including the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio; the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; the Corning Museum of Glass, New York; and Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris, France. Her work has been exhibited at Design Miami and Art Basel, Basel, Switzerland; FOG Art + Design, San Francisco; the Glasmuseet Ebeltoft, Ebeltoft, Denmark; and the British Glass Biennale, Stourbridge, England.
She holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Alfred University, New York, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art–Glass from The University of Wolverhampton, England. Manousis has worked, studied and taught in Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.
Introduction by Eve Kahn
Joanna Manousis mines her life experiences while exploring broader themes—materialism, memory, domesticity, vanity, iridescence—in acclaimed sculptures that mingle glass with wheat husks and taxidermied birds. Viewers may find themselves reflecting on the transience of existence while seeing themselves literally and metaphorically mirrored in her works.
A native of Shropshire, she was an only child, raised by her mother and maternal grandmother. From her earliest recollections, she says, “I was a homebody and would love drawing and painting for hours on end.” Glass played a role in her childhood, too. She admired her grandmother’s stashes of jars full of pickles and buttons, and when Joanna sometimes gazed intently into mirrors, it seemed that “the person staring back at me would become detached like an empty vacant shell, my spirit floating above in disbelief.”
In college, she set out at first to become a painter, and she earned a diploma in art and design at Yale College in Wales (now part of Coleg Cambria). But the canvas plane gave her a kind of artist’s block: “I couldn't think beyond the photorealistic portrait—I felt, well, what more can I bring to the canvas?” She enrolled at Wolverhampton University, for a bachelor of fine art-glass degree, and during a year abroad, she studied neon and glass casting and blowing at Alfred University in western New York. In 2008, she earned her MFA at Alfred, and by then she had met her future husband, the Maine-born glass artist Zac Weinberg. (Their daughter Esme was born in 2017.)
Joanna has since traveled the world to teach, exhibit, and make artworks, while winning awards and grants and continually analyzing the alchemical transformations and paradoxes of glass. The raw material can evolve from stiff opaque powder through molten stages and then harden into transparency. It can serve as protective containers for delicate, perishable, or hazardous substances, yet it shatters into dangerous shards. Mirrored rooms, Joanna says, tantalize with “a fraudulent sense of reality beyond the wall.” An underlying commentary in her artworks is “the superfluous nature of accumulated luxury when faced with our own impermanence.”
In her feats of trompe-l’oeil, glass looks like Mylar balloons pierced by bronze arrows, lace canopies in petal and scrollwork patterns, and pomegranate seeds spilling from half-peeled fruit. She has projected animations of her handwriting in motion on glass simulations of crumpled notebook paper. Her portraits of 1950s housewives, trapped inside spray bottles, amount to what she calls “an ironic play on the perfect woman in a bottle.” Her clear decanters with embedded milky silhouettes of pears resemble upscale engraved tableware made at West Midlands glass factories, as early as the 17thcentury. The segments of her rose windows are partly filled with the negative spaces of wheat kernels—there are hollows within hollows. The forms bring to mind the possibly agnostic medieval glassworkers who built early rose windows, clambering along church steeples and earning wages from farmworkers’ tithes. Joanna’s taxidermy magpie peers at its reflection within a solid crystal mason jar. The bird personifies the collector and the human urge to impress one’s peers while amassing collections of shiny things.
A single component in her sculptures can require months of sculpting, molding, grinding, and polishing. She experiments and calculates in pursuit of effects that “I don’t even know if it’s physically possible to achieve—it’s as if the material keeps luring me in.”
As of fall 2018, Joanna lives with her family near Toledo, Ohio, and carries out her practice at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion. Her current obsessions include diamond-shaped chunks of creamy marble that ornament a Victorian chapel at Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds. The stones were carved with pearls and foliage for the tomb of Katherine Parr (1512-1548), Henry VIII’s widow. Katherine was interested in glass; among her prize possessions was a book about how mirrors reveal a soul’s sins (the volume was a gift from her stepdaughter, the future Elizabeth I). Joanna is creating faceted glass iterations of the tomb panels, and she is enameling internal details that simulate eroding marble. The artwork, she says, will “allude to the embellished marble façade beautifying the decay that lays beyond it.” There will be emotional and spiritual resonances available to anyone who sees the piece—whether they learn about Joanna’s techniques, inspirations, and intentions, or whether they just bask in her glass’s sheer beauty.
Eve Kahn is a freelance writer specializing in Architecture, Design and Preservation, and was Antiques Columnist at The New York Times, 2008-2016.