5 Artists Using Glitter to Create Dazzling and Complex Artworks
As an art material, glitter offers easy seduction. Basic biology mandates that sparkling surfaces lure even the most sophisticated viewer’s eye. “We are drawn to shiny things in the same wild way our ancestors were overcome by a compulsion to forage for honey,” New York Times writer Caity Weaver wrote last winter in a much-loved article about her visit to a New Jersey glitter factory.
Beyond its eye-catching quality, glitter evokes youthful craft making; refracts light to create dynamic, shifting perspectives; and straddles the line between glamour and camp. It’s no wonder that artists and curators alike are intrigued by the material. A current exhibition at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College, “Serious Sparkle,” celebrates contemporary artists who use glitter in their practice. “Glitter is often considered a ‘low’ art material, so bringing it into the space of a museum or gallery calls attention to the associations that come with it,” said Molly Channon, a curatorial assistant at the Tang.
Below, we examine the practices of five artists—three of them featured at the Tang—who use glitter to address race, identity, gender, and craft in their dazzling work.
Ann Veronica Janssens
Ann Veronica Janssens, Untitled (White Glitter), 2016. Image © Peter Cox, De Pont Museum, Tilburg (NL). Courtesy of the artist and Bortolami, New York.
Ann Veronica Janssens is fascinated by light. She’s made hanging blinds, a wall-mounted aluminum sculpture called Moonlight (2015), and glass rings that refract colored beams on the gallery floor. Incorporating glitter into her work was a natural step. Janssens recalls that she began working with it “in order to experiment with the ‘ungraspable.’” She found a bottle of the material by chance, then decided to “experiment with its lightness and brilliance.” Most of all, she was drawn to glitter’s ability to reveal “luminous colors” depending on the viewer’s angle.
In 2015, Janssens collaborated with artist Michel François on a multi-part installation called Philaetchouri at La Verrière-Hermès in Brussels. To make one of the component pieces, the artists kicked a cone-shaped pile of black glitter on the ground. Walking around such iridescent puddles created shifting configurations of light and shadow. Janssens was hooked.
The artist has modified her technique over time. Now, she tosses shining pools—in hues such as sky blue, pearly white, and millennial pink—onto gallery floors during her exhibitions. The artworks create lush and delicate obstacles, susceptible to accidents: One strong draft or errant step, and her pieces are damaged. “Sometimes we are able to restore it,” Janssens said, “but sometimes we have to sweep it away and start over.”
Chris Martin’s large-scale, glitter-coated canvases groove like psychedelic dreams. A 2018 painting, Untitled (Moon TAZ), features bumpy, sparkling swaths of glitter against a dark blue background. They evoke clouds against the night sky once you spot the off-center crescent. Another painting, Double Frog Afternoon (2017), depicts the titular amphibians as collaged, black-and-white elements set against a field of green glitter. Other collaged elements—images of trees, a laptop, and a glowing celestial body, for example—float nearby, outlined in pink glitter and yellow paint.
Such land- and sky-scapes revel in associative and semiotic games: The viewer questions what exactly makes a shape look like a cloud, or what the relationship between a frog and a laptop may be. Yet the shimmering, fantastical surfaces keep the canvases from becoming didactic. They’re good fun to look at.
It’s no surprise that Martin doesn’t take himself too seriously either. He began working with glitter in 1992, when he was an art therapist in Harlem. His clients loved using the material, so he tried it out for himself. Martin considers it “another kind of paint” that has gradually taught him about light, color, and depth of field. He believes he can “really draw with glitter and control it”—to a point. “One big challenge is to keep glitter out of the food I’m eating,” he quipped.
Alisa Sikelianos-Carter’s inkjet prints transform pictures of hair into vibrant and suggestive new shapes. The artist finds photographs of braids, cornrows, and twists on the internet and in catalogues, then scans them into Photoshop and arranges them into striking new compositions. The manipulated images suggest portraits, crafts, and plantlife. After she prints her arrangements onto archival paper, Sikelianos-Carter glues glitter to the surface. In the finished works, her source material takes on mystical new dimensions in a celebration of blackness.
The artist started using the material to accentuate her work without overpowering it; she notes that one doesn’t need a lot of glitter to make a statement. “You can’t help but look at it,” she said. “It’s striking, distracting, and intoxicating. My work has similar qualities, so it was an obvious pairing. I love how it instantly adds magic, glamour, and an air of luxury.” Sikelianos-Carter also notes environmental concerns: The microplastics in glitter are terrible for the Earth and our bodies. Now, she’s seeking a comparable material that’s more sustainable.
Ebony G. Patterson
Ebony G. Patterson uses glitter as a visual trap. She lures viewers with lush decoration, then asks them to confront serious, disconcerting themes. The opulent surfaces of her works on paper belie the dark histories they reference. Dead Tree in a Forest (2013), for example, looks at first glance like a glittering green landscape with purple flowers and leopard print stalks. Peer closer, and a dark, fallen body appears amid the plants, with shadows lurking nearby. The artist connects the quiet secrecy of the woods—if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?—to the way society has concealed systemic violence against black bodies.
Patterson first used glitter in 2008, when she was working on her “Gangstas for Life” series. The artist explained that she was interested in the way that “bling, or the wearing of bling, carves presence” for men in her native Jamaica. Her doctored portraits merge masculine faces with elements of (traditionally) feminine ornamentation—sparkling sunglasses, red lips, and rhinestones. Patterson compares her methodology to the way medieval iconographic painting employs gold leaf. Glitter, she said, “cuts and flattens the surface and pushes the most central figures forward, holding them in a band of light.”
As a child, Chitra Ganesh began using glitter for costumes and celebrations. As a young artist, she said the material took on “a queer sensibility, as a way to perform, mark, or alter gender expressions.” She reacquainted herself with glitter while working with children as an art educator. The material, she explained, helped her channel the kids’ “elasticity and imagination” in transforming simple materials into meaningful artworks. For nearly two decades, she’s been using glitter throughout vibrant prints, dreamlike paintings, and myth-inspired murals.
Ganesh’s figurative compositions still evidence a youthful approach. Power Girl (2015), for example, plays on superhero tropes to transform a young, non-white woman with a sparkling nose ring into a potent and formidable character—a Powerpuff Girl, but edgier. Ganesh’s oeuvre, as a whole, maintains this cartoonish, feminist edge. Glitter amplifies its otherworldliness and playful exuberance.
Alina Cohen is a Staff Writer at Artsy.