Glass Art Society Journal Biographical Statement, 2014
Illustrating With a Glass Pallette — Page 3
Most of the time I am illustrating a title when I begin to draw. I keep a list of words and phrases that I have read or heard that trigger an image in my mind. The drawing is formed by these thoughts and I record the image on paper. This process has produced many works that are not part of a series, but just a thought that I was compelled to invest the time and effort in with glass and metal because I wanted to make it real. Drawing is the first step in realizing an idea. I have kept sketchbooks since the early 1970’s, which are a visual diary of my thinking. They are a resource as well as a record, because there are many more ideas drawn than objects I could build. Not that they are all worth making. Often I will draw something a dozen times and select the one I feel is most successful, then draw it again from multiple points of view to work out the dimensional balance, then proceed to a model in foam or wood before committing to glass and metal. There are often technical drawings and template drawings, which help me to communicate with assistants or machine shops or anyone who may be making one part of a complicated assembly. I also draw in my sketchbooks at a small scale for blown glass works. These drawings become references for the full-scale graphite drawings or watercolor drawings we work from in the glassblowing studio. There, everyone can look at the drawing and think in advance about their part in the coordinated work to produce the piece. Punctuating the sketchbook drawings of works to be made in 3D are drawings of whatever thought or feeling emerges as an image in my mind, or in response to places I have observed when traveling for work or pleasure. I make some of these drawings again on high quality paper and frame them for exhibition.
Perhaps the process of glassblowing instigated my penchant for working in series, but I have taken this approach with many different ways of building works of art. I often have multiple ideas for ways to approach a basic concept, and a series allows me to explore and re-visit a format while expressing a new thought.
The vase as a format for expression captured me for many years. When I began blowing glass, I could make simple vase forms, which I would wrap with rubber and draw on to create a mask for sandblasting. The sandblasted vases were acid polished, a process that produces a finish I have been hooked on since about 1976. In some series vitreous enamels were applied to emphasize the graphic contrast of the image. With the Face Vase series, I began to explore classic vase forms from several cultures, and recombine various elements of the contours. These vase series were in a way blanks for my drawings, where I would work out variations on a theme.
Early in my exploration of glass as a medium for sculptural statement, I made several series that depart from an historic decorative approach. The Tripod Vessels, Distorted Vessels, Rat Trap Vases, Nail Vases, and Wire Glass Vases, were all attempts to create something new in the history of the glass vessel. My goal was entirely personal, with motives of “What if ?” guiding each group of works. These pieces represent a way of thinking that came partly from my association with the MIT CAVS, and from the urge to break away from normal expectations of beautiful glass. They are also less faithful to the drawings made in advance, because the process affected the form to a certain degree in each experiment.
Another approach toward the vase as format came to me because of the character of hot glass. Through several series, the Character Heads, Animal Vases, Mythology series and Abstract Heads I worked in a sculptural manner with the vessel. The vessel form remains, but the functional aspect is not of consequence. However, in the Animal Vase series I put a high contrast colored rim at the opening of each piece to visually state the fact that it is a vase, even if it is an animal. The hot glass additions on all of these series are used to draw on the glass rather loosely, allowing the way hot glass moves to determine the form of the added part in some way. A streak is pulled out the way hot glass likes to move, and additions cut with scissors are left somewhat raw to reveal the cut edges even if softened by reheating. In contrast to the vase series, which are most tightly controlled and made with small details, these series were all very expressive through the way I use glass. The Abstract Heads were a direct response to Cubist paintings. The deconstruction of facial elements and their abstraction through the qualities of liquid glass guided my drawings for the heads, and the blown forms are developed as representations of each title.
The Circus Vase series has been the most complex of vase forms in my art. There is an exploration of classic form throughout the series, and many types of color application have been used according to the attributes of figures each vase carries or the subject matter addressed. The figures were inspired first by the theme of the Circus; which I consider to be a theater of the absurd, foolish, and stupendous. A second inspiration for the series was Etruscan bronzes, with vessel handles that are often human and animal forms. Some of the Circus Vases have figures posed to exaggerate a gesture, with activated characters moving symmetrically. Some of the characters are large: three feet tall, mounted on a five foot tall vase which has become a kind of pedestal for the figurative sculpture. There is a multil-level application of detail, so the viewer is rewarded when time is taken to look closely at the piece. The vases are also intended to be seen across a room so the form is considered for its profile before determining elements of detail. The blown glass color often changes from top to bottom with the cast glass elements in the bronze figures colored to harmonize.
In 1980 I began to work with a group of friends in Seattle to blow glass in Ben Moore’s studio, and I continue to work there. Over these years Ben, Rich Royal, Dante Marioni, Preston Singletary, Paul Cunningham, Sam McMillen, Sean O’Neil, Granite Calimpong, Robbie Miller, Michael Fox, and many others have helped to make the pieces. Their expertise has helped me to achieve the qualities of each piece I pursue in hot glass. The experience is extraordinary because the assembled team is so dedicated to excellent results, and they have such an intimate understanding of glassblowing techniques and the vision I have for each piece. The pieces are shipped back to my New Hampshire studio where we continue the work of cutting, grinding, sandblasting, and some diamond hand work in preparation for acid polishing. These processes have enabled me to create many blown glass works, and parts for sculpture and illuminated works.
Many forms of illuminated art have occupied my thoughts since I first began to work with glass. I have made wall sconces and chandeliers as sculpture that provides light for residences and corporate offices, and some larger scale chandeliers for public spaces. The quality of light emitted from these works has been an important consideration, as well as maintenance of the light sources by the owners of these pieces. Once I have installed a piece I don’t want to be traveling across the USA to do maintenance works, so a lot of time is invested in the planning and design of the work, even if we have built something similar before. Over the past few years we have used LED illumination more frequently, which brings a new set of problems to the mix of elements in the composition, but has interesting potential.