Thomas Patti and his work are an enigma to some, and the illustration of genius for many.
Born in Pittsfield in 1943 of Italian immigrant parents, Patti represents the ultimate self-made man and artist. His innate, unerring curiosity, his dedication to truth in art, and his seemingly endless intellectual stamina have helped to create a body of work considered revolutionary in the history of sculptural art glass.
He has received prestigious commissions for many large site-specific architectural glass installations, including installations at the Owens Corning World Headquarters in Toledo, Ohio, the Museum of Fine arts in Boston, the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, the General Electric Headquarters in Pittsfield, Mass., and most recently, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority.
To collectors, Patti is probably best known for his smaller works, begun in the 1970’s. So innovative was this work that the Metropolitan Museum of New York decided to open their contemporary glass collection by acquiring one of his early sculptures, an experimentation with glass as a study for his architectural theories using an expanded medium.
Our interview with Tom Patti takes place in the new conference area of his renovated studio, where clean, uncluttered space and line abound. Panels of colored glass are placed about the room, and some gather the afternoon sunlight into a point of vibrant orange color marking a spot on the wooden floor.
“Watch that spot of color”, Patti says. “By five o’clock it will move 20 feet across the floor, then ascend to the middle of the wall. I could look at that all day. that’s what (art’s) about; looking- observing – and perception.”
MC: I’ve heard that you started your experimentation with
expanded mediums by melting and trying to inflate plastic
How have things changed from there?
TP: It started before that. I had an interest in expanding
materials using a membrane shape or material that could
contain air and with which I could create forms seamlessly and
openly. It got more sophisticated as it went along, as do so
The main focus of my interest was using air pressure to
MC: How does your training in Industrial Design work with your
TP: I was fortunate (at the Pratt Institute) because I had
interests in both Fine Arts and Industrial Design. Against
(then) current taboos, I was allowed to go into the painting
department, as I had a lot of skill as a painter at that time.
So I took courses in the engineering school, classes in the
painting school, even though Industrial Design was my major. I
was looking at my education as a creative process, rather than
a specific professional discipline.
MC: How was glass introduced into your work?
TP: I’m interested in architecture; my studies and my work at
school were architecturally related to the field of defining
and building habitats for people. I had done projects that
involved work in South America, and third world countries were
interested in my work…….. there was the possibility of
developing housing for those countries, and using technology
combined with methods and principals I had developed. I began
to do these things in Pittsfield where I would design
architectonic objects and build them on a small scale.
They became very, very sculptural because I didn’t have a lot
My work became more personal, introverted, and eventually,
purely sculptural. This was after working 5, 10, 15 years this
I had worked with transparent, translucent materials. Most of
the work I did was with plastics. At a certain point I was
looking for a more durable material and I began to explore
glass. It could be transparent or opaque, sometimes in the
same conditions or materials. Eventually the work was only in
People started to see this work at the same time the glass
thing was beginning.
In a way though, I think of my work as 3-D painting, of having
the color of painting and the forms of sculpture. Most of my
efforts are in a form’s potential, and color is always an
MC: Even in the small, layered work we have in the gallery?
TP: They’re always about color. The more minimal they are,
especially the block forms, -those are all about color and
form. It’s very subtle. As a series it’s fairly resolved, but
it’s the color in those that have evolved over the last ten
MC: Our “Staff Pick” in this month’s newsletter is from the
“Compacted Solarized” series. What can you tell us about that
TP: My work is always a process of evolution, so you can see
the relationship between one object and the next; there’s a
lineage. (With that piece) I lifted it off the base because I
was compressing all those planes, looking at it as compressing
areas of light.. I thought if I could get the bottom of the
object close enough to the surface yet seemingly not touch it,
the space would replicate the space in the glass above
I drew a relationship between glass and void. Once one sees
the space, the mind goes back and forth to grasp the
relationship; the bottom is absolutely curved to form a
balance – a seamless contour.
That may be one of the more interesting pieces from that
group. It still intrigues me, because at a certain point it
becomes opaque, then you see these values of grey and then it
compresses the light and color inside and just traps you in
that space. The bubble pushing out is a force that in a sense
is still moving…….I try to strip it bare, take away, and
get to what is essential.
You have some of my favorite early works down there now-all
those pieces are from my collection -works that I kept.
MC: How does your small work relate to your larger
TP: Originally, my small works were all models: theoretical
architectural studies. They were more spontaneous in a way
because I didn’t have the resources for larger work. I was not
encumbered by size and weight – I could manipulate the
material, I could express ideas more immediately and
The larger works are more of a layered process, a stretching
over the larger frame. I’m just beginning now to have them
speak more comfortably, be more fluid.
MC: Do you work on a small scale anymore?
TP: Yes. My models and sketches are less permanent now. I get
to draw more-I’m very connected to the gesture of the pencil
MC: It’s a beautiful tool, isn’t it?
TP: It’s very expressive; it connects ideas and thoughts very
spontaneously. This building (the studio) is like that. I move
things around- everything’s expressive. I like that.
Initially – before my work became small – everything was very
large. It just got smaller because of my life situation.
The space I needed to work large I couldn’t afford at the
time. My life became compressed, and my work illustrated that.
I could have been struggling; doing things the way I had been,
building large structures outdoors, but my work would have
suffered. I was able to keep my mind and my ideas fresh, I had
to make changes. They weren’t really conscious, they just
Just like this happened…it’s not a business plan.
MC: You don’t have one major project lurking in your mind that
you’re dying to get to?
TP: No, I’m interested in so many things. That would change
constantly. There are so many opportunities that I didn’t have
a year ago. I’m doing a lot of collaboration now – with some
of the most brilliant and independent thinkers of our time.
MC: With Other artists?
TP: With other artists, with clients-in the course of this, so
many interesting ideas come up.
The dialogue in the large scale work interests me. My work has
been so introverted for so long. There is no growth without
My earlier work was connected to architectural history and
theory, with technology. I was fortunate to work with
scientists and engineers. The medical field intrigued me.. I
had done early research on the artificial heart.
MC: How did that happen?
TP: Because of a system I had worked on developing
architectural spaces and worked with plastics that had
application in the medical field – so I explored that for a
couple of years.
I think the art component is in the “art world”. For me,
directions and definitions aren’t assumed.. In the Modern, my
work was in the Architecture and Design Collection in ’78. At
the Met, it’s in the Twentieth Century Decorative Arts
MC: What projects are you working on now?
TP: I’m working on a synagogue in New Jersey. And I received a
large commission for the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New
York. There will be a team of people involved in my work now.
Because I developed this bomb-blast resistant work that
started in the ’80s with my commission at GE, the current
security climate has brought a sudden interest in my work from
I’m working on three homes. Plus finishing a wall in my own
MC: If there were one direction your creative passion was
going now, where would that be?
TP: What I’m doing at the moment. I don’t look t far ahead or
anticipate. If I need to define too much what I’m going to do,
then there’s really no need to do it.
MC: How would you like the total value of your life and work
TP: I have no idea- I look at what I’ve made the day before,
reflect on what I’ve made in the past and how it relates to
what’s happening now. My work is my resource.
I guess (that I’ve had the) ability to take the risk, to do
that and find a life career without fitting into any specific
Tom Patti and his wife and partner Marilyn Holtz Patti have worked together since 1967. Tom holds Bachelor and Masters’ degrees in Industrial Design from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Marilyn is pursuing an advanced degree in Design from Harvard University.
Patti’s work is in major private and public collections world-wide.
Visit the Tom Patti page on our website to see many beautiful works currently available at the gallery.
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