Excited to Explore Gambiarra in Brazil
With support from a Fulbright, glass artist Gayle Forman 14 GL is looking forward to a nine-month research venture in São Paulo.
As a student, Gayle Forman 14 GL spent hours in the Fleet Library at RISD researching artists and designers from around the world whose work inspired her own studio practice. As she was preparing to apply for a Fulbright fellowship a few years later, she suddenly remembered an article she had photocopied about Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana. The memory struck her “like a lightning bolt.”
As the Virginia-based glass artist explains, she has always enjoyed “stretching and spinning materials to do unexpected things.” So when she read about the Campana brothers’ take on the Brazilian concept of gambiarra—utilizing materials in surprising and resourceful ways—everything came together in her mind.
“In Brazil this spontaneous and makeshift style of problem solving has transcended socioeconomic boundaries and … seeped into the [broader] cultural identity,” she notes in her Fulbright proposal.
Forman recently learned that her proposal made the final cut, meaning she’ll travel to Brazil this year for nine months of research. She plans to combine formal study at the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo with research at the nonprofit Instituto Campana, founded in 2009 by the brothers who inspired the trip.
Forman was supported throughout the Fulbright process by Lisa Cramer, RISD's Fulbright program adviser at the Career Center. “It was amazing to work with Lisa,” Forman notes. “The Fulbright application process is complicated, and her perspective and feedback on each draft was so valuable.”
“Transformation is what really speaks to me,” Forman says. “In addition to glass—which can take on so many forms—I’m drawn to other materials that melt, freeze, wiggle or otherwise change shape and take on life, like rubber and concrete.”
Forman’s creative process is grounded in pushing material boundaries and turning familiar concepts on their heads. “Approaching a problem from a humorous or absurd point of view allows you to ask questions that lead to new ideas,” she explains—“to learn about an object by flipping things around.”
She says that she developed this point of view at RISD, with the support of the tight-knit community in Glass. “RISD taught me to see myself as an artist—to understand how my ideas can contribute to what already exists in the world,” she explains.
Forman speaks glowingly of Glass department faculty and singles out Associate Professor Jocelyne Prince MFA 94 GL as particularly inspiring. “I did a research trip with her in the Czech Republic during my senior year,” she recalls, “and I’ll never forget her incredible energy and willingness to go along with crazy ideas!”
Recognizing the value RISD’s collaborative studio environment, Forman went on to join glass-focused creative communities after graduation, landing a job at the Chrysler Museum Glass Studio (managed at the time by fellow alum Charlotte Potter MFA 10 GL) in Norfolk, VA and a subsidized studio space as part of the (since disbanded) Glass Wheel artist residency program.
“Learning how others see your work helps you grow in any field,” she says. “You just don’t ask the same questions of yourself that other people are going to come up with.”
At Chrysler, Forman has continued to rely on and learn from peers and colleagues. And she’s still making connections with other RISD alums all the time. This summer she’s assistant-teaching a class at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, ME in support of fellow alumna and close friend Suzanne Peck MFA 09 GL. “Suzanne’s class is about using experimental blow molds and mixing in other materials to achieve textures outside of the norm,” Forman explains.
“It’s tough to figure out how to keep working when you’re out of school and don’t have someone else imposing projects and deadlines,” she adds. “I find signing up for shows and other opportunities to be really helpful in creating deadlines for myself. Setting goals makes it easier to keep getting ideas out there.”
A look at how the department teaches students to take risks, cross disciplinary divides and write their own stories as professional artists.
Recent graduate Anna Riley 14 GL speaks about the value of grants and residencies in moving her practice forward.
Glass artist Toots Zynsky 73 GL collects the 2015 Smithsonian Visionary Award and is as busy as every preparing for three new shows.