Udo Zembok was born in 1951 in Braunschweig, Germany.From 1972 to 1976 he studied graphic arts and painting in Braunschweig and Bonn, soon afterwards concentrating solely on working with glass, attracted by the resonant qualities of light and the way it metamorphoses in glass, the only material capable of showing the full depth of color:
“While a student I discovered transparent color, the color of watercolors that gives the illusion of being light. By ‘tearing up the opaque screen’, in other words the artist’s canvas, and replacing it with glass, my search for the transparency of light and color took shape naturally.”
After living in Amsterdam for two years, he moved to France in 1978, first to Saint-Menoux near Moulins and then settling in Alsace in 1991.He met Pascale Zembok in 1998. Today they live in Menton, on the French Riviera, where together they conceive the artistic concepts used in their public-art projects.
Author of a large number of works commissioned for public and privately owned religious and civil buildings in the Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and France, he has developed and applied new techniques from industry that use very large sheets of colored glass using pigments, fused together and thermoformed in large kilns.
He explores the possibilities opened up by these innovative techniques that aim to redefine the relationship that stained-glass art has with architecture by making it possible to produce large monolithic windows that do not require a lead structure.
He uses these techniques to create walls that continue to play with the light in different ways, always trying to create a large area, a wall where the language of color can express itself to the full, making the conventional term stained-glass window inappropriate.Working to create walls freed of the fragmentation of traditional stained-glass
windows, he also creates another effect when light passes through colored
As early as 1999 his work led him to observe: “Traditionally, the stained-glass window is revealed by light passing through it. My current work is aimed at broadening this concept. A second light source lights it up from in front, resulting in a different interpretation that complements the first one.One naturally imposes itself on the viewer and the other calls for active
participation by the viewer.
Held out between these two qualities of light, my walls, made up of several layers of glass fused together, appear like spaces half way between transparency and opacity, between matter and void, between stained-glass and painting.
They give off light that opens up an inner space, revealing layers of superimposed images, which the viewer synthesizes into a composition.Each of these layers is treated to give it texture, or by adding enamels and grisailles, or by incorporating powdered glass.Similar to “pâte de verre”, using this technique one can develop a broad
range of aesthetic languages.”
ln parallel, using similar techniques he creates glass objects that are independent of the structure of a building, producing works such as the series entitled Hommage à Rothko (2000-2002), Complémentaires 1 (2003), Colourfields (2005-2008) and Contrastes simultanés (2004-2006). His most recent research features monochrome compositions.
Udo Zembok has been invited to take part in many collective exhibitions organized in France, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Poland. A number of personal exhibitions all over Europe and in the United States have helped raising the profile of his work and research.
He has been awarded several important distinctions, including notably:
The Liliane Bettencourt Prize, Paris, 2001; the Grand Prix Art+Crafts, France, 2003; and the Coburg Glass Prize for contemporary glass art in Europe, 2006.
The two sides to his work, his monumental commissions and his independent works lead Udo Zembok to define himself as a sculptor and glass artist. He works in his own studio when creating his personal and smaller pieces, collaborating with master stained-glass artists’ studios for his most monumental commissions that require more space, bigger furnaces and additional qualified people.Thus, the painter Udo Zembok has moved on from superimposed material colors that reflect light to colored light that transmits visible light.
He has become a glass artist who paints with light, making it visible in space and modulating it by revealing the volume of which the glass work forms a part.
Since-his first commission in 1976 in Amsterdam, where he tried out his first rudimentary experimental work using colored glass between two sheets of wired glass, Udo Zembok has never stopped experimenting and evolving, using the projects he has completed over the past thirty years to develop a range of techniques and architectural approaches, all of which have been developed using the major theme of the experience of color; expressed through monolithic glass works, obtained by superimposing several layers of colored glass like layers of glaze.
He now experiments with the “third dimension of color” leading him to work alongside his commissioned projects for specific buildings on various series of small independent pieces, two mutually enriching and complementary aspects of his work that enable him to reveal the optical powers of color treated in this way.
“These more intimate and personal works are a laboratory of aesthetic and formal ideas. Technically, I have always refined the processes used to give a profound meaning to the material. I take on the third dimension not as a sculptor but as a painter: My field of research remains color and the expressiveness of colors a subject and not as an attribute. The language created by color is not conceptual but immediately felt. I remove all reference to a narrative interpretation by emphasizing monochrome and bichrome compositions. The work is expressed in way the colors encounter each other: It is this that tells a story.My approach aims to detach the colored, optical phenomenon from its material medium in order to get closer to the immaterial origins of color.”
In his sculptures, Udo Zembok attaches great importance to using layers of glass. By arranging color inside the material itself, between the fused layers of glass, color and light produce a phenomenon of resonance that emanates from his sculptures.
What’s more, Udo Zembok’s colors are produced by placing several colors together. To obtain a red for example he superimposes purple, orange and mauve in the same way a painter would do with glazes.
In Udo Zembok’s work, in a small piece there is always the essence of a large one. Conversely, by moving closer to the material in his monumental glass works and fragmenting them visually to discover the mystery of their depth, the viewer can make out a number of potential smaller pieces.