Along The Fringe:
Articulating An Admiration of a Powerhouse Called CUD
A few days ago the Fall issue was released and I was happy to have had a few selections from my essay included as part of the published piece (Glass Quarterly, Issue 132, Fall 2013). A special thank you to Andrew Page for the inclusion and a very special thank you to John and Robbie for the impetus…
I had always wanted to take a class with CUD.
I had been tremendously fascinated with the making and the philosophy behind the work of the collaborative team of John and Robbie since I first came across them, their story, and their work in 2001. I was in college at that point, primarily a blower, and was very much under the spell of trying to get glass to do what I wanted…very much addicted to (and suffocating by) things like symmetry, cleanliness, doing things “right”, and highly devoted to my own misunderstandings of what perfection meant. Even though very high-strung in developing my own work and voice as a young student in those days, I somehow seemed to ignore the fact that I was mostly inspired by any sort of work involving very sophisticated approaches towards investigating simple subject matter. I loved (and still do) all things taking root in popular culture and, usually, the more lowbrow it is the more my interest is piqued. I’m fascinated with sincerity, with vulnerability and the essence of these aspects of being human. I was always told way back then by my faculty and my fellow colleagues that I needed to loosen up; my direction was too strained, my work too stringent. It’s not that I was defiant, but I just didn’t know how to let go or even know what that really meant. By chance, perhaps in a 2001 field trip to the Rakow Research Library, I came across CUD’s work through a catalog or a magazine and the timing couldn’t have been better. In my attempts to define my own artistic voice and identity I was looking at glass that I wanted my work to be like; CUD’s work was its antithesis…and what it suggested upon that viewing for me was that, in developing my own work, any rules that I thought I was supposed to follow (or that I thought I was indeed following) didn’t necessarily have to exist. Not only in how my work was to look or how it was made, but, most importantly to me, in what spirit it was conceived and pursued. CUD seemed to be going by their gut, working at a diligent pace, and throwing caution to the wind. As a college student pursuing an art degree, this indicated a very different kind of “smarts” than I was used to…
In fact, I think its entirely CUD’s fault for introducing me to the idea of doing a lot with a little. Whether it be oil-based enamels that had been left over on Italo Scanga’s palette, empty bottles scattered about Pilchuck’s campus after the party ended, or kitschy pressed-ware donated to the local thrift shop, I always had loved their idea of uncovering the extraordinary potential of what’s left over…bringing purpose to such seemingly “useless” items. I love it not only because it seems so punk in the context of the glass scene at the time Robbie and John got together, but mostly due to the fact that I can humanly relate to that aspiration of somehow stumbling upon new and fulfilling purpose…of finding new potential within myself as both an artist and an individual. Re-purposing as a metaphor for positive change (or at least wishful thinking) is very much in tune with what motivates my working and the curiosities that I try to navigate within that work. Due to a childhood admiration of comic books, I’ve always been drawn to the idea of an average being undergoing some sort of unforeseen and scientifically fictional mishap; then becoming something far more superior than that character had ever expected. I think that the nature of the work that CUD has done parallels that idea of implementing a kind of radical transformation by resurrecting discarded glass – and even discarded glass processes - into visually loaded objects of renewed purpose.
I had enrolled within the CUD course being offered during the first summer of intensive workshops at the Pittsburgh Glass Center in 2002…and was greatly disappointed that the class fell through due to a lack of applicants. It would have undoubtedly influenced the work I would have pursued for my Senior thesis exhibition the following Spring. Alas, I again applied for what I believe was the 2005 CUD course offered by Pilchuck and was disappointed that I couldn’t attend upon not being awarded a scholarship. Once the course was offered again at Pilchuck in 2008 I applied for a new credit card solely to finally be able to experience John and Robbie first hand…and was also happy to have my very good friend and colleague David Fox come along, too. Fox and I both had a great time and we both walked away from the course very inspired by the idea of resurrecting discarded glass, resurrecting discarded glass-making practices, applying an “outsider’s” approach amidst the context of contemporary glass making, putting rationality to the side and letting creative instincts guide the way. Fox was already wired that way...and still is. His gut has always been in tune. I, however, began to finally let go and I was surprised at what my hunches allowed me to do and where they enabled me to go. All I ever wanted was to simply watch John and Robbie do their thing. Looking back at it now, I would’ve even paid the tuition to simply sit on a stool in the corner of a studio for two to three weeks and be CUD’s proverbial fly on the wall; watching and listening to not only how they approach the “stuff”, but in how they interact with each other, how the collusion happens and to understand how it maintains to 25 years after agreeing to commit to their cause.
I’ve been working hard over the past few years to undo everything that has become standard in my studio practice. Although relatively unknown, I think the work that I’ve been pursuing recently reflects that. I’m an individual that habitually thrives on order, balance, strategy, and logic that, in turn, has affected my aesthetic and conceptual sensibility. As a result, I’ve been really adamant about paying attention to artists that incorporate a vigorously poignant use of imagery, text, and/or material sensibility to help aid in reinventing myself. CUD is easily responsible for fostering that spirit early, early on in my young development. I think it’s only been until the past couple of years that I was competent enough to understand how to follow their lead…