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Bottled Scotch and Hardware Take Rare Twists and Turns

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My first thought upon viewing the pieces by Donald Lipski in his "Whiskey River" solo exhibition at Barbara Davis Gallery was, “what brand of whiskey?” His over-sized bottle creations, produced over the past year with the help of glass artisans and filled with the artist’s “drink of choice,” seem filled with the same amber hued fluid.

It’s an interesting exhibit, and some of the pieces are quite elegant, but the size of the bottles seems contradictory to the value of their contents. The volume calls for an economical Jim Beam Black or Wild Turkey, rather than a vintage Macallan or Glenfiddich. Incorporating the many colors in which whiskey is produced would have improved the exhibit – from the possible pale yellows to the deep browns of old barrel distillations – as would a quick wax dip on the caps to hide the black tape.

The majority of Lipski’s collection consists of hand blown glass, bent and twisted around hardware or tools. The exclusive aura of sitting around the country club with a cigar is preserved in Whiskey River No. 28, No. 32 and No. 25; the latter seeming to defy gravity with its optical illusion mid-bottle indentation. The introduction of pliers and clamps is a bit incongruous in No. 57 and No. 50, but the technical execution adds interest and appeal.

No. 56, which is bent into an L-shape, doesn’t incorporate any hardware at all. Its simple elegance draws attention to the clean and pure liquid trapped inside, and the challenge of pushing the glass to just below its breaking point. The only bottle with ridges, the oversized No. 58, appears to have been crushed by a heavy stainless steel dowel.

There are other pieces that veer from the formula – long, tubular shapes hanging from clamps and either ending in a point or tied into a knot. No. 46, with its slender curving, casts a nice shadow against the wall. The whiskey’s color fades towards the bottom until it becomes almost clear, then the eye is startled to find a dark residue of sediment at its base.

Three of the pieces contain blue or green tinted interiors – from the complexity of the knot-tied tips of No. 44 and No. 38 to the octopus-like tentacles of No. 63 – they bring a cool, nautical feeling to this difficult medium. The iron pickaxe head of No. 38 evokes images of a hammerhead shark.

Perhaps least favorite were No. 43, filled with sediment-covered nails and heavy with particulate matter, and the inordinately thick walls of No. 10, but they are nonetheless unique and a testament to this artist’s continued efforts to experiment with new forms. In the past, Lipski has worked with laboratory glass, fiberglass and isinglass, lenses and mirrors, crystal balls and eyeglasses. For this current exhibit, he worked with glass artisans at The Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA and Wheaton Arts in Millville, NJ, as well as in his Brooklyn studio.

Whiskey River continues through August 15, at Barbara Davis Gallery, 4411 Montrose, open Tuesday to Friday 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., 713-520-9200, barbaradavisgallery.com.

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