We sell loads of glass here at UncommonGoods, and I often joke with my friends that it’s not quite my thing—that I appreciate the artistry of it, but it just doesn’t speak to me the way, say, a piece of jewelry does. (As a former art history student who doesn’t much dig Impressionism, I’m pretty practiced at delivering that type of spiel.) To be totally honest, though, I’ve come to see glass in a new light since speaking with so many of our wonderful makers. They give their work a personality and meaning that I, a relative philistine, at least as far as glass goes, hadn’t really considered before. And Richard Glass is no exception… though he is, we concede, exceptionally well-named.
We were first introduced to Richard’s handiwork—his Saturn Glass Sculptural Bowl in particular—in a meeting room in our office in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and we soon reached out to him in search of answers to questions like: “Why glass?” and “What inspires you?” What we received were some seriously delightful insights into his past and passions, complete with anecdotes that made us chuckle and wise words that made us go hmm at our desks. Read on for our Q&A with Richard, complete with a sneak peek into his dazzling workspace in Devon, England.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist, and how did you decide to focus on glass?
My passion has always been drawing; as a child it’s all I would do. I would draw for other people and soon realized there were people doing this, not just as a job but as a way of life. I thought I would be a portrait artist but I found a new direction. I wish I could say it was grander than how I am about to describe it but this is the truth….
When the 1997 “Sensation” exhibition kicked off … [it] brought a fierce debate over the relevance of art and artists. Everyone was up in arms about this…. It’s fair to say that I felt working within a traditional craft elevated my work beyond the popular sneer of “I can do that.” Glassmaking is hard and skillful… so no, you can’t do it easily. It takes years to learn the basics and you never stop learning. I love retracing the steps of previous generations of glassmakers. We all battle with the same concerns, making things straight, making things thin, and dealing with the extreme heat. It’s a pleasure to keep this skill alive….
My father was a blacksmith. … Approval is important [and] learning a skill where you have dirty black hands ran in the family. Earning a beer is also important and it was tax deductible for a glassmaker. I can be as creative as I want and make beautiful or challenging works; there are markets for both. Why glass as a material? Well, it’s super sexy but also a chameleon of a material. It can look like steel, or wood, or any other material if you wish. Its own qualities, transparency and inner reflection, make it unique in its beauty. It is dynamic to work with. That’s why people watch me work. After so many years making I am still excited to look at yesterday’s work when it cools…. It’s always a surprise. Glassmakers also like mucking about. The material needs to be explored and looked at like a child, and we all need a bit of that.
What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist?
Apart from saying “I did that, isn’t it cool,” I think it’s the fact that you can make such a variety of work. I sometimes feel like Mr Benn. I can be installing a chandelier one day and then a sculpture out in a field the next.
Is there a special trinket or other inspirational object you keep near you while you work? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
I keep a glass cat I made on my first day in a glassmaking studio. I don’t carry it with me but it’s my most treasured object. I have been trying to make the perfect cat ever since. I found this amazing solid cat sculpture tucked away on a dusty shelf on my first day glassmaking. Nobody knew who made it…. It was from years ago. It was so understated and elegant. I remember it clearly. My mission is to make a comparable one.
Describe a typical day in your workshop. What is your creative process like?
I normally make for orders during the day. It’s busy and it’s hard work. It’s the business part of the day. The evening, when everyone has gone, is when I play. I normally turn most of the lights off and work in the gloom on my own. The hot glass comes alive then. I play, looking for happy accidents or ways of turning processes upside down. Sometimes I hit on something great, most of the time I don’t… but it’s always fun. A lot of my thinking is about process, process first then inspiration to use it.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
I can’t answer that… everywhere… the bin normally. Rejects are often the starting point for new things.
If you showed your work to a kindergartner, what do you think they would say?
We have children in the studio all of the time. Most are amazed at the heat and the speed of work. After initial caution they love the colors of the glass when it’s hot and the magic of the transformation when it cools. I encourage them to touch things… and not be afraid of the glass. It won’t break.
Finally, what quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
This is real. I actually say these things.
I joke that “consistency is the glassmaker’s spice of life.” Does that answer? The quote I love [most] is, “People always demand that art be comprehensible but never demand that they adapt themselves to comprehension.” I like that.