From the 15th of December till the 8th of January, Pitanga gallery showed Hans Isler's work with kiln-fused formed glass. Beautiful objects made from glass like decorative bowls, ornamental glassware; simple stands made in glass etc. were on display, along with some watercolors. The technique employed by Isler in his watercolours is simple: plain washes in grays and primary colors defining flowing forms, and swans and lotuses and calm women caught in the curly, cascading drapes of flat colour with just a hint of modeling. Hans Isler, the painter, has a flair for making warm colours appear cool – almost cold. But his glass pieces felt warmer to my aesthetic sensitivity – the blues, greens and golds were so limpid, that I simply had to know how he did it. Hans Isler's glasswork is colourful – like Marc Chagall in 3D.
Hans has been living in Auroville since the seventies. Everything about him has a quality of quietness: the community ‘Agni' where he lives, his gait, the tone of voice, and even the place where he works – Matrimandir. He has worked at Matrimandir since his arrival here. So quiet is he that you barely notice him. Hans has worked in close association with Michael Bonke on the various experiments that were carried out at Matrimandir. His involvement in finding the ultimate solution to the problem of covering the entire globe of the Matrimandir is noteworthy.
I wanted to meet this reticent man. I called. Hans agreed.
Upon entering his studio I experienced being inside a giant kaleidoscope. A deluge of uninhibited colour teased the white clarity of light. Cluttered disarray of tiny glass objects gives his studio that prismatic look. Glass is everywhere – on top of the table, below it, on the chair and under, between books, on the wall, the windows – plain and coloured.
I took some pictures. Hans cleared a small stool for me to sit on. Questions came easily, for there was so much I wanted to know about this fascinating medium.
The fusing technique Hans uses is not new. It is five thousand years old, and was prevalent in ancient Egypt and Rome. “It was valued like gold,” Hans told me. A gold leaf sandwiched between two glass pieces found on an excavation site in Afghanistan suggests that this technique which has been used for the Matrimandir discs, wasn't unknown in Asia. It was mostly used to make objects of religious and ‘mystical' use. It disappeared almost totally about two thousand years ago, although other techniques like sand-blasting, blowing, smelting and stained glass continued to thrive.
I asked Hans about the process. Ordinarily, this technique is about re-melting plain or coloured sheet glass. Another piece of formed glass is fused with it. The result is pellucid, like stained glass, but unlike stained glass where pieces are held together with the aid of glaring lead outlines, this technique of glass fusion allows endless possibilities for experimentation in varying the surface and colour within one piece of glass.
The fusion of two distinct shades leaves no room for outlines, and
colours blend harmoniously resulting in one compatible piece of glass.
Depending on the design, various coloured glass pieces are arranged on top of a reasonably thick sheet-glass base placed on a flat heat resistant plate. The whole is then ‘fired' in a specially designed kiln from 550° C (melting point ) up to 900° C (molten state of glass).
Within these temperature limits, glass can be manipulated in many ways. The surface may be kept smooth and even may be undulated, twisted, layered or bubbled up.
Hans's recent exhibition in Pitanga hall was received enthusiastically by all those who went to see it. A comment in the visitors' book read, ‘Finally we have an artist in Auroville.'