Royal Oak Tribune
Chicago, D.C. artists bring nostalgia to glass gallery
That’s no moon — that Death Star is a mixed-media glass artwork.
Michael Janis and Tony Porto push the boundaries of expectation with their creations. From a “Star Wars” lunchbox mixed-media glass piece filled with action figures, to a vibrant My Little Pony scene, their new series “My Hero!” features large cast glass mixed-media works that evoke a sense of nostalgia.
“When we talked about this new series, we wanted to dive deep into pop culture,” Janis says. “Cartoons, old TV shows, graphic novels, video games — all the things that made us and shaped our outlook and identities. The things that offered us as kids a way to escape and understand the world.”
Janis lives in Washington D.C., and Porto in Chicago, but the longtime friends worked from a distance to put together their pieces, “Call Bruce Wayne!,” “(Super) Girl’s Night Out,” “BAM!,” “Lunch with Darth Vader,” “Say Your Prayers and Take Your Vitamins” and “Friendship is Magic.”
Most of the action figures used in the works were vintage, found online or in a store near Porto’s studio. But when he couldn’t find what he was looking for, Janis also made some of his own by casting clay and plastics.
The former college roommates both studied at Illinois Technical Institute — Porto in design, and Janis in architecture. Though they went their separate ways for their careers — Janis now serves as director of Washington Glass School and Porto founding Chicagobased graphic design firm 3CD — they’ve remained friends. Their first collaboration, a previous project, was acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago.
This time, though they wanted to work together in person, the pandemic halted their original plan. But Porto says their longtime friendship helped them “get in sync easily” for this series, despite the distance.
“In our artwork, we both are storytellers and like to focus on the essence of a subject,” Porto says.
They worked with a variety of materials to create storylines. “For this series, any and all materials were fair game,” Janis says. Included in their works were found and sourced action figures, cast glass, dichroic glass, LED electronics, mirrors, disco lights and anything that they “connected with emotionally.”
“My Hero!” is included in Habatat Galleries’ “Not Grandma’s Glass” virtual exhibit. The show lives up to its name, featuring new ideas that push the boundaries in glass art.
The idea to do the yearlong virtual show — with a new artist series shared each month — came to Habatat Gallery owner Aaron Schey last summer.
“Not Grandma’s Glass was a play on the dialogue I had with many of the clients of the gallery. Collectors would mention that the artwork in their home was referred to by the next generation as, ‘Oh that’s just grandma’s glass,’” Schey says. “The historic collections that many of our collectors have are not understood by the children of collectors.”
Artists exhibiting in the Royal Oak gallery hail from around the globe, from the United States to Czech Republic, Ghana, Belgium and the Netherlands. In addition to “My Hero!,” Morgan Peterson’s “White Privilege” and Matthew Eskuche’s “The Virus Seeded” are currently featured.
Schey says he’s looking forward to this show being an annual exhibition, with four of the current artists being asked to make another series for next year, and eight new creators chosen.
“The artists participating in this innovative exhibition/ competition create in such a new manner focused on the younger generation and what the next generation is likely to collect,” Schey says. “These works are probably not in grandma’s art collection … yet. The work in this online adventure exhibition would be glass celebrated for all generations, pushing far beyond the norm and all expectations. These artists are extremely innovative and I propose that they will all be important in the future of the glass medium.”