Sandoval Signpost
An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Featured Artist

Signpost featured artist: Lisa Chernoff

Glass artist Lisa Chernoff in her gallery
Photo credit: —Oli Robbins

c. Lisa Chernoff

Moonscape, 26” x 26” x 3” deep

c. Lisa Chernoff

Turquoise Twist, 21” x 3”deep

c. Lisa Chernoff

Power Bar, 48” x 7” x 2.5”deep

Signpost featured artist
To shape and forever discover:

Lisa Chernoff’s glass sculptures

—Oli Robbins

Art is frequently displayed in a way that prompts the viewer to look, but not feel. It appeals to the visual sense, less often to the remaining five senses. But some fine modern art invites the observer not only to see, but also to feel—literally and emotionally. It can awaken multiple senses simultaneously, as it presents a unified assembly of colors, textures, and forms. Such is the case with Placitas artist Lisa Chernoff’s three-dimensional glass sculptures, which offer a viewing experience that is both unexpected and rich. Their elegance suggests delicacy, though as the artist points out, the glass is strong and sturdy. Certain forms seem flexible and almost jelly-like, despite the fact that they’re solid, hardened glass. These dichotomies feature prominently within Chernoff’s pieces, making the viewing experience unexpected and rich.

Chernoff is a completely self-trained artist, making her virtuosity that much more impressive. But her non-traditional, experiential education works well for her instinctive mode of art making. Despite being drawn to the arts since childhood, and always being quite “crafty,” Chernoff followed an implicit rule that “you don’t go to college to be an artist.” As such, it was several years and many different jobs until a fortuitous event granted her an opportunity to embrace and commit to glasswork. About 17 years ago, Chernoff was part of a department-wide layoff at Presbyterian, where she worked in a rehab facility administering physical abilities tests. For many of Chernoff’s colleagues, the layoff was far from welcome. But Chernoff saw it as a new beginning—a moment to direct her own future. Presbyterian gave their employees a nine-month warning, in which time Chernoff’s excitement and courage grew.

Prior to taking the plunge into full-time art-making, Chernoff took just one jewelry workshop in an attempt to learn about glass. Since then, she’s allowed herself to be guided by her innate sense of design and composition. It was during the very first Placitas Studio Tour that Chernoff initially shared her work with the public. She opened the doors of her budding studio and experienced a wildly successful turnout. Thanks to that inaugural tour, Chernoff realized she actually had a shot at not only creating art, but also selling it. She soon moved toward larger-scale glass sculptures and tried her hand at fusing glass—employing a kiln to join multiple pieces in various shapes. Says Chernoff, “in general, glass is less controllable than a lot of things, so I get a lot of surprises.” She now enjoys these happy accidents, but when still a novice she found it easy to become frustrated.

Today, Chernoff accepts this unavoidable element of chance: “I now see it as an opportunity to experiment—and view the work from the perspective of a viewer outside of myself, more freshly.” Because there are so many unplanned—and sometimes hidden—areas within the sculptures, new visual facets continue to reveal themselves long after the firing. 

Chernoff explains that fusing glass is less immediate than a technique like blowing glass. She begins with a shape in mind, then cuts out pieces of that shape and layers the forms according to texture and depth—some pieces will appear to be surface level, while others recess deeply into the sculpture. This process is several hours long, so Chernoff has time to change her mind and discover which arrangements are most pleasing. Says Chernoff, “When something is starting to feel too symmetrical, I have to change it or it’s unsettling.” She works alongside the heat of the kiln to mold the glass into a composition that suits her vision. Chernoff professes to working from the gut: “It’s almost a feeling I think... You have to see what’s going to happen before you program the firing.” But once the setup is complete, she turns away from the kiln, goes to sleep, and releases the glass to the heat. The resulting pieces are colorful and complex, with an abundance of harmonious relationships between forms.

For hundreds of years, New Mexico has offered artists inspirational landscapes, skies, and quietude. And while many artists traveled across land and sea to arrive here, Chernoff is a born and raised New Mexican. From Alamogordo, she and her family moved for a period of time to the midwest, which Chernoff found “suffocating.” She missed the dryness of New Mexico and its liberating open spaces, so she moved back as soon as she was able. Says Chernoff, “I don’t see myself doing this anywhere else and I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

Chernoff owes much of her success to her husband, Mel—with whom she’s lived in Placitas for 23 years. Mel works with Chernoff, completing a great deal of the “grit” work involved in preparing her pieces for display. He also assumes all photographic responsibilities and primes her shelving. Chernoff’s work can be seen in her home studio gallery by making an appointment via phone (867-3330) or email Her sculptures are also exhibited at Arte de Placitas, Canyon Road’s La Mesa of Santa Fe, Matrix Fine Arts in Albuquerque, and Ranch at Taos in Taos. They will be highlighted this month at Matrix Fine Arts in the two-person show, “Freedom and Constraint.” The exhibition runs from August 7 to August 29, with a sneak preview from August 4 to August 6, and a reception on August 7, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.

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