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Cortada depicted several forms of marine life at this South Miami public art commission—the project is titled Neptune’s Realm. Like his other works, they remind viewers about their connection to nature.
Xavier Cortada, “Sea Star Light” & “Sawfish (design)” mixed media on glass, 2014 & ceramic, 2013
A public art project at South Miami Plaza (Miami-Dade Housing Authority), Miami, FL
As a child I attended Gesu Catholic school in downtown Miami. I was mesmerized by its gorgeous stained glass windows. I saw the skylight in the South Miami lobby as an extraordinary opportunity to create pieces that worked with light. So, I created sea stars on glass panels and installed them on the ceiling below the opening. They are lit from above, almost as though lit from the surface of the water. We walk underneath them, immersed. In the water. Alive.
Beneath the waves.
Sea stars sit. Looking upwards.
They have no eyes.
But they can sense the light as it filters through.
They have no way of thinking
But they know.
There is a universe that separates these sea stars from the stars in the night sky, but both capture our imagination:
One rolls in with the tide, the other is churned out by galaxies. Neither is on land.
One fits in our hand. The other hardly fits in our head.
One swims in alongside us. The other died long before we saw its light.
But the life-giving stars above – like those along a seashore – remind us how interconnected we are.
For millennia voyageurs used the stars in the sky to navigate to foreign shores. They took refuge in their guidance. Befriended them. Named them.
Although neither lives on land, they ground us. Through them we can connect with those who came before us.
The Skylight becomes a place of refuge, a place to sit and share stories.
In creating a piece that captures these broad philosophical themes, I wanted the medium to help convey these ideas. In Western culture there has been a centuries-long a tradition of using stained glass to communicate spiritual ideals.
The stained glass windows at Gesu Catholic Church, where I was an altar boy, had a strong impact on me as a child. As an elementary school student next door, I would often visit this church. I remember its exceptional beauty. During my formative years, I was immersed in that cultural beauty, in that aesthetic field of color and light. At different times of the day the light would come penetrate the stained glass panels and change the appearance of the biblical paintings.
I am particularly proud of this piece because it is the first time that I’ve worked directly on translucent glass. I have created glass mosaic murals before, but they are always adhered to a wall. This is my first experience dealing with light coming through both sides. I applied a dye sublimation print of my digital art onto layers of tempered glass to add a 3 dimensional effect and capture the feel of the thick, traditional stained glass.
As the viewer sits in the lobby, she will see horseshoe crabs marching one way, a small tooth sawfish moving in another direction and a starfish floating above her.
Beneath the waves.
She sits. Looking upwards
She sees light as it filters through.