East Passyunk resident Justin Tyner often sifts through broken bottles scattered around FDR Skatepark.
In a perpetual pursuit for materials, the artist gravitates toward abandoned glass to compose his creations.
Tyner, who has worked with glass for two decades, has recently translated his street art projects to a gallery exhibition, as “Light as Memory,” a collection of stained glass sculptures, prints and other projects, is showcasing at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens through Sept. 8.
The exhibition, a polychromatic concoction of shape and shimmer, embodies a timeline of Tyner’s recent works, including building a psychedelic stained glass kaleidoscope along the Schuylkill River in 2012. The project, which caught the attention of two French filmmakers, eventually led to an appearance in a foreign travel documentary, a showcase at the Philadelphia Airport and now his exhibition at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.
For Tyner, who grew up in Kunkletown, Monroe County, before relocating to Philly in the mid-1990s to study at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, stained glass serves as a “psychedelic experience” fused with “poetic vision.”
“My vision is to use reclaimed pieces of stained glass and discarded shards of bottle glass to reveal the hidden aspects of these materials,” Tyner said. “They have the potential to transform. I search for new ways to narrate the traditional themes of light and color. Using references from nature, poetry and psychedelia and examining new ways to delve into self-reflection. Creativity is at the forefront to explore and advance the confines of this age-old craft.”
After spending time designing band posters, Tyner was hired at the Beyer Studio Inc. in Germantown almost 20 years ago, when he unearthed a passion for stained glass.
The studio, where Tyner still works, offers stained glass services, including the fabrication of new windows and the restoration of existing windows.
Working heavily in defunct churches, Tyner began perceiving the antique stained glass through a new lens. Like pieces found at FDR Skatepark, the deserted windows would come to serve as a source of components for his own stained glass projects.
He says this is a practice to not only resurrect the memory of the churches but pay respect to the materials.
“I’ve come to realize that light shining through glass is very effective,” Tyner said. “It affects people physically and mentally…it’s just a comforting feeling that you can’t get through any other medium. It’s associated with churches, of course. So, that feeling that’s reserved for churches – I’m kind of bringing that out to a different point of view as not a religious point of view but as a more connected to spirituality or whatever type of effect the light has on you.”
Through an opportunity with Art in the Open Philadelphia, Tyner manifested a kaleidoscope along the Schuylkill River in 2012 over the course of three days. The project led to his feature on Streetosphere, a series of 26-minute documentary films directed by French filmmakers Tanguy Malibert and Quentin Largouët and produced by La Compagnie des Taxi-Brousse for the French channel Voyage.
The film follows Tyner as he weaves stained glass into the metal fences of Capitolo Playground.
His feature in Streetosphere was followed by an exhibition at the Philadelphia International Airport from July 2016 to February 2017.
Whether at a playground or airport, Tyner continued to use reimagined glass throughout his projects.
“Glass has that effect – no matter if it’s a discarded bottle or broken piece of church glass,” he said. “When you repurpose it, it changes the point of view or changes the dynamic of it.”
“Light as Memory,” which opened at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens this summer, features work from these projects as well as various new stained glass pieces.
Cultivating an innovative approach to this medium, the exhibition features a video of a dancer Julia Davis, whose movement is captured through the projection of light through stained glass.
The performance photography, which is also featured in the exhibition, was filmed through a kaleidoscope built by Tyner.
Tyner says this synthesis of light, movement and videography taps into unconventional possibilities created with stained glass.
“It’s kind of like another way to express the traditional scenes of light and color in stained glass in a new experimental way,” Tyner said. “I’m into busting out of the stereotypes of traditional stained glass.”
In September, Tyner says he’ll be further fostering his stained glass expertise at the Chateau d’Orquevau artist residency program in France, which has been housing artists since the 1700s.
Here in Philly, though, Tyner says he values how the Philadelphia’s Magic Garden has elevated his vision.
He hopes audiences of “Light as Memory” will develop their own personal experiences with light – just like Tyner.
“The light itself is a memory,” he said. “It leaves the sun and travels through space…But also, the material that I use – the memory of the material itself and the light shining through it – activate those memories for me. So, it’s a very personal title.”