Stained Glass Evokes Life and Loss in Interface Gallery’s ‘Tissue’

Installation view of Jeremy Ehling's 'Tissue' at Interface, 2020. (Courtesy of the artist and Interface)

In 2017, fire swept through Jeremy Ehling’s home, studio and experimental exhibition space in east Santa Rosa, destroying everything. Like so many North Bay residents displaced by the fires, Ehling and his partner found themselves in a situation few plan for: suddenly they had to start over, acclimate to a new home and rebuild a sense of comfort and security with donated things. Now, in a compelling coda to that story, Ehling is showing artwork made with the help of heat and fire.

Tissue, on view at Oakland’s Interface gallery, is a show of just two sculptures, both named after artist Jeremy Ehling’s former cats. That naming device speaks more to the personal nature of the work than its stature, since Aida Mio and Osiris are human-sized, both just around six feet tall. In that stat there’s more personal significance: this is also Ehling’s height.

Inside Interface’s snug floor plan, the sculptures, made of lead, glass, steel and oak, face each other from opposite sides of the all-white space (the gallery’s signature brick wall got a fresh coat of paint for Tissue). Despite their three-dimensionality, the sculptures have distinct fronts and backs, in part because the conglomerations of irregular, multicolored (and textured) glass shapes, ribbons of lead and solder are relatively flat in profile.

Supported by steel poles anchored in oak bases (from a tree on Ehling’s Forestville property), these sculptures borrow from the materials of a cathedral window to become something else entirely. Imagine abstract expressionist paintings made from the glass shards left behind in a stained glass conservation workshop. Another personal touch: Ehling worked in just such a place.

Jeremy Ehling, 'Osiris' (detail), 2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Interface)

In person, Aida Mio and Osiris shapeshift, as do the multiple meanings of “tissue” (connective stuff or flimsy paper?). The sculptures look like wooden ships with patchy, translucent sails. They look like people lugging around their meager possessions. Or the bodily representation of past experiences.

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Accompanying Tissue is a short piece of writing by artist McIntyre Parker, which offers more of a poetic conversation between the two artists than a descriptive or critical take on Ehling’s work. The connective tissue here seems to be a long friendship and a kitchen table, driven across the country by Parker and given to Ehling. The text concludes with the most open-ended ending possible: “The freedom in loss.”

In addition to demonstrating an admirable resourcefulness and accurately representing the cobbled-together-ness that is a life marked by loss and change, Ehling’s sculptures are fundamentally beautiful. And beauty is a generative, connection-building thing. In the late afternoon, the sunlight entering Interface creates a third piece, an illuminated wall drawing facilitated by Osiris’ fragmented panes. It’s an accidental addition, all the more lovely because it was unplanned.

'Tissue' is on view at Oakland's Interface (Temescal Alley, 486 49th St.) through Feb. 18. Details here.