When light shimmers through the hand painted, airbrushed and etched glass artwork, “Elemental Endowment,” in the east wing of the Memorial Union, it takes viewers on a colorful journey. For glass and watercolor artist Alex Hirsch of Portland, she hopes those who see the piece will be transported both in their minds and hearts.
“I like my work to take people somewhere beyond what you’re seeing, and deeper into themsleves” she said.
Hirsch’s work was selected and purchased for Oregon State University through Oregon’s “Percent for Art” program, facilitated by the Oregon Arts Commission. The program requires that at least 1 percent of the direct construction funds of a new or remodeled state building with construction budget of $100,000 or more be set aside for the acquisition of art for the building.
While Hirsch has lived in Portland since 1995, her first trip to Corvallis was after she was invited to submit a proposal to a jury for the MU project. She observed the landscape, talked to students and gained a better appreciation for Oregon State University’s role in Oregon, as well as getting an idea of the space where her piece would be displayed.
As one of three finalists for the project, she designed a piece that spoke to OSU’s unique spot as one of only two public universities in the country that has the status as land, sea, space and sun grant. Her work was selected by a committee that included OSU students, as being the best representation of OSU’s mission. The final work is based on a watercolor and translated into glass enamels on glass that is tempered and laminated.
Hirsch’s work has appeared in a number of public buildings, including at Oregon Health & Sciences University, Southern Oregon University and MODA Health in Bend. She enjoys the challenges of a public art piece, which reaches a broader audience and can add broader benefits. She equally values the work she does for galleries and individuals, which pushes different boundaries and allows for more personal expression.
“They each feed each other and have their benefits and limitations,” she said of public versus private work. “When I developed my concept for OSU’s Memorial Union, I worked through multiple ideas before arriving on this conceptual and aesthetic direction.”
Hirsch said she was thrilled to work with a number of partners on the project, from the architects at OPSIS who are redesigning the east wing of the MU, to her fabricators Peters Glass in Germany, Andersen Construction, Culver Glass installers and Saralynn Hilde of the Oregon Arts Commission. Hilde is retiring and this is one of the last Percent for Art projects she’ll be overseeing.
Hilde said this project brought extra challenges because the glass panels are inserted in a wall separating two distinct rooms, a lounge and event space, which meant that sound barriers had to be created, since the panels acoustically compromised the walls. Finally, after much research the team determined to utilize a sound-reducing laminate between sheets of glass.
Another challenge, Hirsch said, was making a piece that read right to left in one room, and left to right in the other, as well as making the piece translucent without allowing viewers to see into the adjoining space.
She combined abstracted landscape imagery with abstract patterns, playing with color and texture to create a dreamy world of water and light. Each panel hints at the elements of a land, space, sea and sun grant, without being literal interpretations of those ideas.
“It’s not academic, it’s evocative,” she said.
To view “Elemental Endowment,” visit the new student lounge on the southeast side of the Memorial Union. For more about Alex Hirsch, http://alexhirschart.com/
~ Theresa Hogue