Sunday, April 05, 2015

Metal and fused glass sculpture

One of the things people like about Carolina Creations is the fact that we have whimsical as well as serious art. One of our whimsical lines of work comes from the collaboration of two artists. Brenda Griffith, glass artist, and Todd Briske, metal artist.

We have carried their work for many years and are pleased that they are always coming up with new!

Briske fashions strips of aluminum metal wire into sculptures of people as well as inanimate objects.

“To me, it is almost like knitting,” Briske said.

“However, instead of using yarn, you are using aluminum metal strips which I can easily shape and mold using only a pair of pliers,” he added.

“I can remember that after our Thanksgiving dinner, my mother would be knitting at one end of our couch and I would be working on a metal piece at the other end,” he said, adding that aluminum strips are not only easy to shape but maintain that shape well.

Although metal art is not his only form of artistic creations, it is one that, as Briske said, “has really come to blossom in a relatively short amount of time.”

We asked Brenda how she got started with fusing glass. "I worked in a stained glass studio and retail shop when I was in college in Missoula, Montana during the mid-80’s. While I was there the owner went to a workshop to learn about working with glass in a kiln. She came back very enthused and energized and immediately started creating her own works in fused glass. I was excited by what I saw her doing, and she encouraged me to learn, too. 

Right after I got my kiln--before I even had a chance to fire it--I took off for graduate school in Chicago. I had a 1967 GMC Suburban with the back seat taken out that I bought from my parents, and the back held more glass and tools than clothes and other personal effects. I had a case of glass up against the back of the front bench seat with a rope tied around the seat and the case to hold it in place. The kiln, my work table, and boxes of tools (mostly for stained glass) and books filled up the back. I think I put my clothes in a pod on the roof.

When I got to Chicago, I had a one-bedroom graduate student apartment at the University of Chicago. I put the kiln in the kitchen and set up the bedroom as a glass studio. I slept in the living room on a pull-out sofa. My first year in Chicago was spent splitting my time between my graduate studies in linguistics and teaching myself to fuse and slump glass. I learned by trial and error with meticulous logging.

Finally I was making work I considered good enough to sell, and I joined an artists’ cooperative and participated in craft fairs. 

I did production work and had to fire 24 hours a day to get enough work done. Because there weren’t computer controllers, I would have to set my alarm so I could get up throughout the night to change the settings on the kilns. At the time I lived in a coach house above the garage of an old house. The kilns were in a little room under the stairs, so I would get up, put on a robe, and patter down the stairs to adjust the kilns, note the time and temp of each in my log books, and then shuffle back to bed to reset the alarm and do it all again.

It wasn’t bad in the summer, but in the winter the garage under the coach house wasn’t heated, and the mice would hang out in the kiln area to keep warm. So I would often go from half asleep to screamingly awake in seconds when one would run over my foot.

I loved cutting pieces and layering them to create new colors and shades—adding a dimensionality to my work that had been lacking in stained glass. The work also had a much greater instant-gratification component than stained glass did: Design the piece, cut the glass, put it together and into the kiln, turn on the kiln, and come back the next day to have it done! I used to be much more into instant gratification than I am now. I also think that because of my starting point--stained glass--I was predisposed to think of working with glass in terms of cutting pieces and assembling them. It felt radical and innovative just to layer them and skip the lead!

Through the years my technique has changed. Now I have moved completely away from cutting glass and fusing the pieces together. I got burned out doing production work with cut pieces--be they strips or circles or puzzle pieces--because there was no surprise or “Ah ha!” moment from them when I opened the kiln.

So I experimented and played, and for the past several years I have worked primarily with frit in a layering technique I call Morceaux de Verre, or morsels of glass. To create these pieces, I place four layers of various colors of frit and chunk on a clear blank and fuse them into a new piece of glass. Though I can create pieces close enough in look to resemble what a customer has seen before, with this technique every time I open the kiln, I get the thrill of seeing something new. 

Now, when I’m creating I crank up the music in the studio and do all the cutting for the blanks. Then I place the blanks on my work surface and dance, shake, and shimmy as I lay the layers of frit and chunk down on top of them. It’s a very fluid process. The color flow (flow from the way the frit was laid down—not from the way it flowed in the kiln as it doesn’t move much in the kiln except to settle down), reactions between the glass colors, placement and size of the air bubbles, etc., all add to the uniqueness of each piece, and I see something wonderful in all of them when I open the kiln.

And that brings up what I would call my favorite projects to work on: Projects in conjunction with artists in other media. There is no substitute for the creative zing you get from working with another artist as you pass ideas and designs back and forth. 

To see more pieces or to order visit our website.

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