Beauty and wonder are notions inherent in the practice of Othoniel, who has made blown glass his favourite medium since 1993. He is interested in its various liquid and solid states—bringing to mind the transmutation of materials through the processes of alchemy—and its fragility. The transformation of this material through fire obliges the artist to delegate the act of creation itself to the glass-blower and play the role of orchestra conductor. Beads of blown and coloured glass strung on stainless steel structures have become his signature.
Flowers and their hidden meanings have been repeated subjects in Othoniel’s work from the early days of his career. During an artist’s residency at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the summer of 2011, Othoniel had access to its collections, in which gardens and flowers are recurring themes not only in paintings, but also in tapestries, metalwork, furniture, and architectural elements. The ubiquitous peony and its symbolism have been important throughout history and in many different cultures: in the West, from ancient times to the Middle Ages, for its curative powers, as well as in China, where it was also considered the flower of honours, riches, and love. The work’s initial title, Peony, the Knot of Shame, harbours another symbolic meaning of the peony, a flower seen as the “rose of the poor”—that of simple, humble people who remain in the shadows, according to the artist. He has since changed the work’s English title to The Peony Knot to reflect its French counterpart.