The most opulent of churches are known for their stained-glass art, especially of the crucifixion, but one man is reapplying the medium to make a point. "The connection between stained glass and religion is more to do with who was rich enough in the past to commission the subject matter for windows," points out artist Diego Tolomelli.
Tolomelli first started working with glass in his home town of Pavia, Italy, by taking "some simple Saturday afternoon lessons." Then that turned into training at John Hardman Studios, and for about 18 years he's been restoring stained glass for churches and all the while creating homoerotic stained glass art.
His glass work of young men, some embracing passionately, is part of an exhibit of his work at Galerie MooiMan in the Netherlands, going on until May 11. The show also includes the photography of Gonzalo Oroquín, whose work is also a direct challenge to the strictures of religion. In the edited interview below, Tolomelli talks about his love for stained glass and what he hopes people take away from seeing the men in his images.
Sandro Kortekaas of Galerie MooiMan: What is your fascination with glass?
Diego Tolomelli: I like the technique of stained glass because it includes many different skills like designing, glass-cutting, leading, and also painting on glass. Some of these skills are more artistic than others — which are more manual and craft-based. I consider myself a mix between artist and a craftsman.
I've been making erotic stained glass for about eight years. I had a man who commissioned two homoerotic works, a large Gothic window for a museum in Glasgow, a homoerotic door in Rome, and then I went on to sell some pieces to the erotic museum in Paris.
Do you think that there will ever be a church (in Italy) where your beautiful colored window The Kiss would fit in?
I don't only do church restorations but also new commissions from the church and private customers. I like stained glass and I put the same energy into an erotic project as I do for religious and secular works. I don't have the sort of relationship with any churches that would permit me to exhibit two boys kissing, but that's not what I'm looking for. I would prefer to see these sorts of windows displayed in a busy street, without any problems.
What do you think about the problems Gonzalo Orquín was having with the Vatican over his portraits of same-sex couples kissing in churches?
I think the problem that Gonzalo Orquín had with the Vatican was entirely predictable — he chose to challenge their stance and he got what he wanted. I think this is a very good way to protest and to raise awareness about a problem. I fully believe in direct action. But in truth, my work is not simply about being provocative toward religion. Sure, it's part of it, but the connection between stained glass and religion is more to do with who was rich enough in the past to commission the subject matter for windows, rather than stained-glass windows = religious imagery. My mission, if I could call it that, is to encourage the use of stained glass in other environments — public and private buildings, homes even.
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