I am a sculptor, painter, and video artist, currently in my last year of graduate school for glass sculpture at Illinois State University (one of the oldest glass programs in the US). My undergraduate education was at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky majoring in painting and glass. After college, I attended the Appalachian Center for Craft and then travelled throughout the eastern half of the United States studying under various glass blowers.
Q When did you decide to become a maker?
I guess that I was always a maker, but I decided to pursue art as a career during the summer of my junior year of college. I had cut down on my obligations in order to start focusing more on art classes. I spent the summer in Italy (Firenze and Roma) studying sculpture firsthand. The rich cultural heritage was invigorating, the art was inspiring, and I decided then to dedicate my life to art-making. That decision is simultaneously exciting and terrifying to anyone who gives it serious thought. There is no certainty in your future other than the knowledge that you will enjoy what you are doing. I considered becoming an architect as I did well in math, enjoyed being creative, and this seemed a more “respectable” career choice at the time. But my love/compulsion to make objects with my own two hands made the decision to become a sculptor inevitable.
On Perception – 9 Units, 2010 (Solid-Sculpted and Coldworked Glass,13" x 10" x 3")
I discovered Glass in college, we have a great program at Centre (headed by Stephen Rolfe Powell), and I just happened upon it there. I initially went to Centre to play basketball so the physicality of glass instantly drew me in. It almost seemed like I had been training my entire life to work this material. It is very physical, requiring a great amount of teamwork, focus, and coordination.
For the latest series that I am working on, the On Perception series, glass is an ideal medium. The work is about the frailty of cognition, and the primary sense that we use to approach cognition is vision (think of Plato’s Cave, and the Cartesian Theatre). So I make objects that manipulate the perception of graphics in order to invite the viewer into a contemplative state which hopefully becomes a metaphorical experience. Lenses, facets, and frosted sections in the glass manipulate vision in an analogous manner to the way that point of view, social surrounding, and state of mind affect your decisions.
As for painting and video, I enjoy translating my glass sculptures into another material and seeing what occurs. For example, in video I can enhance the ephemeral or atmospheric qualities of the glass pieces through the video’s temporal nature and manipulation of light on a large scale.
I would love to work with stone, and there are some new resins and plastics that have really exciting and intriguing qualities. I have seen some Resin Castings that are almost as clear as glass. But for now, the qualities and processes of working with glass fit my vision, and my temperament.
Q Where do you get your inspiration from?
Philosophy, Particle Physics, Microscopy, Literature, Astronomy, Music, other Artists. Two books I have been reading lately that really influence the work are James Elkins - Six Stories for the End of Representation, and Daniel Dennett’s - Consciousness Explained. Images of CERN experiments and images from Bubble Chambers are both extremely beautiful aesthetically.
Philosopher (Black Void), 2010 (Blown Glass with Filigrana, 28" x 14" x 14")
Art and Craft! Other artists, designers, and craftsmen absolutely motivate me. On the rare day when I have free time at home, I love watching art documentaries and sketching, working on new designs or ideas. If I ever have “writers block”, I read an art book or watch a show about an artist, and that does the trick, even though that tends to send me in another direction entirely. Art 21 is a staple, and the new Basquiat documentary Radiant Child is fantastic, as well as, Exit through the Gift Shop by Banksy.
Q Do you create your work in a studio base or a home base?
Glass is strictly studio based, the equipment I use is just too big, messy, and loud. The paintings and videos vary depending on size and complexity. I really like to paint at home, because I can watch cheesy old horror movies while I wait for the paint to dry. It has nothing to do with the work, just a personal preference. I especially like Killer Clowns from Outer Space.
This is such a wonderfully messy subject! With the advent of Design Art, the line between Art and Craft has become so indistinct. In this technological age, the handmade is becoming essential again, not for practical means, but for natural needs. When something is made by hand, it has character and a warmth that is rarely felt in machine made objects. We respond and need this at a very basic level. We will always have crafts, we need it.
Q How do you sell and promote your work?
I sell my work exclusively through galleries, both glass and fine arts galleries. One of the main considerations for galleries that I choose to work with is the level that they promote their artists. It isn’t always that you sell a piece, but where you sell the piece and to whom. That is one of the reasons that I don’t sell work out of my studio. But when I do a show with a gallery, I am very involved (probably more that the gallery would like!). I prefer to set the show up myself (I consider every exhibition an installation in its own right), and I participate in any PR event they set up, be it interviews, demonstrations, or lectures.
I regularly show with Morgan Glass Gallery in Pittsburgh, Chapman Friedman Gallery in Louisville, Marta Hewett Gallery in Cincinnati, Prism Contemporary in Chicago, Vespermann-Cooper Gallery in Atlanta and Fusion Glass Gallery in Florida. I also have a Facebook Artist Page under Matthew Cummings Sculptor that I use as an informal blog with lots of images of new work and the processes behind making the various pieces, and all my finished pieces can be found at matthewlcummings.com.
Q What is your typical working day look like?
For one, I cannot multi-task. I hate it. I prefer to devote a full day to the hotshop, coldshop, painting, or video. So I go through periods where I only sculpt glass in the hotshop (where glass is sculpted in its molten state), only grind glass in the coldshop (where glass is cut and polished at room temperature), or metal work the stands for the glass. In the spring and fall, I prefer to coldwork, summertime is for painting and video, and winter is best for the hotshop.
On an average day, I sleep in til 9 or so (definitely a night owl) go straight to the glass studio, not big on breakfast. Drink a lot of coffee, and try not to break anything in the two hours it takes me to really wake up. If I am lucky, I will spend the rest of the day listening to music and working on a single project.
Gestural Pair (Teal and White), 2008 (Blown Glass with Murrini, 36" x 25" x 14")
Q What is your working style?
I am a perfectionist, but I try to remember that something handmade is indeed handmade and not mechanically perfect. Those slight deviations in each mark or cut gives the piece its soul or unique character.
Q 3 words of advice for an aspiring Craft artist/maker...
I couldn’t narrow it down to three, so here are four and a half “words”.
1) Be Persistent; in making work and in applying for exhibitions.
2) If you do not respect your own work, no one else will.
3) Schedule shows as a young artist, even if it is at the local community art center or the coffee house. It makes you produce work, and helps to build your portfolio.
4) Take good photographs, they are not just crucial, they are your future! And here is a freebee... hot glass burns!
Q Who is/are your favourite artist(s)/maker(s)?
Lino Tagliapietra, Tobias Mohl, Daniel Clayman, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Takashi Murakami, Terry Winters, and Julie Mehretu.
Q What music do you listen to?
Well, it is probably easier to say what I don’t listen to, Country and R&B. I listen to everything else though. Mostly Indie Rock, Pop, Electronic, but also a lot of older Funk, Folk, and Rock, and then some Hip/Hop and Rap to even it out.
This is what is getting the most play on my iPod right now: Kid Cudi, Menomena, Phantogram, Sleigh Bells, Muddy Waters, Peter, Bjorn, and John, Lykke Li, TV on the Radio, Big Boi, The XX, Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys, and Beastie Boys The In Sound from the Way Out.
Q 3 likes and dislikes?
Likes - Cooking. Hanging out with my wife. Having a pint with friends and arguing about the state of glass.
Dislike - Waking up in the morning (doesn't matter the time, it is always too early). Having to deal with rude people. The television show Jersey Shore.
Q What do you do to relax?
Watch the dumb box (TV shows). After a day of thinking about what I am working on, working on it, planning the next day, dealing with the business side of making work, I need some time to turn the brain off. When I actually have more than an hour to relax, I go see my better half, Stephanie. I am living in a different city than my wife right now, so I drive to where she is, work on a painting during the day, then we cook dinner together and drink some wine.
Philosopher (Red), 2010 (Blown Glass with Zanfirco, 32" x 10" x 4)