What do we make of glass?

Kirstie Rea's class and the influence of environment

Home>glass>books & education>Kirstie Rea’s “What Do We Make of Glass?” class

Just finished taking this class from Australian glass artist Kirstie Rea, had some very interesting exercises that made me think. Wasn’t really taking it for the coldworking opportunities–which were legion–but greatly enjoyed the opportunity to share space with some good glass artists. We group-dined at a marvelous but expensive Italian restaurant on the SE side of Portland, Nostrana’s, where I had one of the better capreses I’ve had in awhile.

Most interesting exercise was Kirstie’s version of the gossip game (you know, the one where the first guy whispers something into the second guy’s ear, he whispers what he heard into the third guy’s ear…and by the time everyone in the room has had a go it’s radically different from what was actually said…).

Kirstie asked us to write an artist’s statement–4-5 lines–describing a piece of art we planned to make, and what we were trying to say with it, without putting any identifying information into it.

She gathered our statements up, shuffled them around and handed one to a different classmate, asking them to read through the statement, and quickly sketch how it should be made up in glass.

Then she took the sketches, again anonymous, and handed them out to yet other classmates. She gave us a couple of hours to make up the sketch in glass, any technique, no more than 3 layers. When we were done, she grouped the projects together and let us compare statement, sketch, and art.

The results were fascinating and here’s what I took away from it: Our art is securely grounded in our own experiences, and our experiences are, well, very very different.

This was my artist’s statement, based on an actual work in progress: hostagoblet

“In her garden, Nature danced a fine twilight line between life as God made it and life…with a few necessary improvements. She’d always felt that if God hadn’t been rushing to create the whole bloody world by Sunday he’d have rethought the plant kingdom thing and seen the incredible opportunities afforded by leaves and roots and fruits. In the world, they were mute feeding stations awaiting winter’s decay. But in her garden they were…organized.”

It’s part of my Emergent series, and in this case I’m combining plant parts into non-functional vessels, posulating the next step in sentient evolution for plants. I’ve always thought it a mistake to assume that the only possible intelligence on this planet was mammalian, mobile, and possessed of our familiar five senses. Mushrooms have been shown to network; plants release pheromones to attract (and sometimes trap and kill) insets and even small animals.

I’ve thought of it as a parallel universe, where humans are interesting but rather irrelevant and fleeting phenomena, fit only for keeping the plant universe in water, nutrients, and the occasional harvest. But what would happen if plants suddenly became curious about us, and started thinking about…possibilities?

Kirstie passed my statement to Sharon Agnor, a new friend and incredible painter and sketch artist. She carries a sketchbook around for impromptu discoveries the way I carry a journal.

Sharon read my statement, picked up on the word “organized” and took off in a whole new direction.

I meant organized as in unions, as in people (or other living entities) banding together and running things THEIR way for a change. Overthrowing management, throwing off the chains of the establishment, rebelling against authority. Carrying off a mutiny, that sort of thing.

It’s an obvious interpretation for someone who thinks of the entire dirt+bugs+thorns gardening ethos as completely foreign and, to be honest, a tad menacing. Or at least really, really dirty, and prone to bites and stings.

agnordawingSharon happens to like gardening. She ENJOYS grunnying around in the dirt and sweating in the hot sun.

(Takes all kinds, right?)

Sharon’s also one of those gardeners, apparently, who uses raised beds and stuff to keep everything neat. She read organized as in “tabbed with the appropriate description, and bundled out of mind in a manila folder somewhere.” Obsessive-compulsive gardening, taken to neatly regimented extremes.

I loved what she did with it (right) even if it had nothing whatsoever to do with my intent.

Sharon passed her drawing to my friend Bob Heath, to see what he’d make of it.

Bob’s a software engineer with a background in quality control and testing and probably one of the most thoroughly organized individuals I’ve ever met. He’s great at keeping me on track in a meeting (if you’re a long-time blog reader it won’t surprise you to know that my discussion style in a meeting could be charitably called “scattered”). While I’m off having every wild idea in the world, Bob is carefully gathering up the best bits, providing a sensible interpretation of the wilder parts, and turning them into reality.

bobglasspieceBob never saw my statement (if he had, he knows me well enough to have probably figured out where I was going). Instead, he took his cue from Sharon’s drawing. Being Bob, he followed specifications precisely but regimented the whole organization thing even more. He engraved the designs into a sheet of white glass, intending to eventually fill in the hollows with frit, grinding it down into a final glass sketch.

Bob didn’t have time to finish it, but I may just for the heckuvit. I’ll probably rub spring green powder into the grooves and tack-fuse it just to see how it comes out.

Very interesting to see how different everyone’s perceptions were, and the variety of PoVs and how they were all pretty successful.

All in all, a good class, with one or two artists I’d like to someday collaborate with on work.

BTW, Kirstie’s Australian TA in the class, Cobi Cockburn, is a lovely artist in her own right and one that’ll be worth watching over the next few years. She’s already won the Ranamok prize for glass artists in New Zealand and Australia, and her work appears to be selling pretty quickly. You can see it at the GlassArt4U gallery in Scottsdale, AZ.

PS…On HostaGoblet:

The model for HostaGoblet obviously has a very limited lifespan, about as long as it takes for a hosta leaf to dry and start to curl. It’s also incredibly fragile. I coat the constructs with several layers of liquid latex, let them dry, and then cast supporting plaster molds to hold the latex skin. From there, I can use 2-part resin to build a permanent model, one that can be used to build the final molds that will shape the hot glass in the kiln.

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Haven’t done the resin cast with the hostagoblet yet, but the gallery of images above shows what happens next with a similar piece, HostaBowl 1.

Because of the limited lifespan of latex (while I was figuring this out I didn’t want to spend money on expensive silicone), I cast a solid resin model for permanence. I’ll use that to makemaster mold for HostaBowl 1. I pour two waxes, one of the underside, one from this mold, and then join them with more wax, and add a stem to the bottom to stabilize the bowl on a table.

Sadly, HostaBowl 1 blew up in the kiln, killing about six weeks worth of work. I figured out the problem, and someday I’ll recast it and have done.

2016-05-15T13:07:18+00:00

One Comment

  1. Brenda March 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    It’s been 5-1/2 years since this post and the ideas and techniques seem as fresh and exciting to me as if it were yesterday. Come out in April and play!!!

Comments welcome! (thanks)

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