Molten glass, metal rods, burning furnaces, cold water, strength and patience are the tools of LA-based glass artist Mark Pavlovits‘ trade. Pavlovits found his way into the perilous world of glassblowing when he least expected it, but it was a serendipitous occasion. After studying, apprenticing and practicing, Pavlovits founded his own studio in 2011, and since then has created sculptural, minimal pieces that are inspired by nature and historical artifacts, but are entirely contemporary and striking. We visited his studio and while we took a look around, Pavlovits told us about his passion, process, and how the colorful work of a Japanese master influences his own work.
How did you originally get into blowing glass?
I went to college at the California College of Arts in Oakland to study photography. They told me I couldn’t start a photography class until my sophomore year. They said I needed to take core classes to make me a well-rounded artist. I was frustrated. That day I walked down to the glass department and I saw a bunch of guys working together. There was music playing. People were laughing. They were making beautiful things. I was in love. In that moment I gave up photography. I ended up apprenticing with a guy I saw there.
Did you know anything about the glass-making process back then?
My oldest sister’s friend had taken me to a glass studio once in San Francisco when I was in high school. I tried it and thought, “This is the hardest thing I have ever done. I don’t want to do this. This is terrible. Why would you do this? It’s so hot. It’s 2,000 degrees.”
What changed your mind in that Art Center glass studio?
The environment that I saw, it was friendly. It was inviting. It was full of energy and teamwork. I don’t know how to explain it. It is a very physical activity. I love the metal involved, the tools, the sounds, and the smells. It was like watching a small factory at work with four people working on one piece. I looked over and there was a shelf full of beautiful glass. It is an ancient thing and it is gorgeous.
When making a glass piece, how does your process start?
At the glass studio in Hawthorne, I used to be the guy that was there late at night from 6PM until midnight. It’s called charging when you fill the glass tank with the glass beads. You fill it up slowly. It’s a massive furnace. It takes about a day for the glass to fine out. Otherwise you get little bubbles when parts of the glass have not melted properly. We melt it at 2150 degrees.
What happens next?
Next is blowing glass. We have metal rods. The pipes alone can weigh 20 to 40 pounds. You are constantly turning it. You start by taking a gather out of the furnace and you blow a little bubble onto that amount of glass and let it cool down and gather a little more glass over that inflate a little more and let it cool down. It is a long process. Then I bring them back to my downtown studio and saw them off with a diamond saw. Next I grind and polish them.
How do you achieve the crackle affect that some of your vases have?
You have to crackle it quickly by dipping it in cold water then reheat it so the cracks don’t shock the glass too much. You have to get it to almost a perfect temperature. If it is not hot enough it won’t crackle. You are always seeking the most perfect temperature and form.
It looks like an emotional process. How does it feel?
You have to focus intensely. I have found if I don’t prepare myself mentally, everything will go terribly wrong. From the first go, you are constantly fighting. Is there a bubble in my glass? Is the bubble blowing off center? You can’t go back and fix something. You have to make sure everything is perfect from the first step. It’s painful. You are burning yourself. Your hands hurt. Your wrists hurt, but it’s worth every bit of the pain. I love glass. I think it is the most beautiful medium. It has such an ancient history. In my opinion it is the first technology in the world.
The pieces in your Stone series look like glaciers. How did you develop this technique?
It’s all pieces of glass that I recycle from the Hawthorne shop. I dig it out of the trash can. There is usually color on it. I clean it. I have these big ovens here and I make molds from plastic and silica by hand. I make little structures to put the glass into. And then a bake it. Then I have to grind a polish the inside on that lathe.
I love decay. I love tree bark. Nature is the best designer.
Where do you find ideas for shapes?
I love nature. I am always thinking how can I add texture. I love decay. I love tree bark. Nature is the best designer. How can I mimic patterns in nature? That’s how I started looking at these glass shards. I saw a picture of a frozen flower. It fell into a puddle of water and froze. How can I use that for inspiration?
Do you look at other glass artists for inspiration or advice?
I studied at Corning in the summer program next to the factory at their glass school with glass masters from around the world. The museum there is amazing. Even though I don’t make work like him, there is one artist who really changed my life with his passion for glass. His name is Yoichi Ohira. He is from Japan, lives in Venice, and works in Murano. He has transformed Italian glass by taking ancient techniques and made then new again.
Ohira’s work is extremely colorful. Why do you continue to make only clear pieces?
For the purity of glass. I love the challenge. You cannot hide. You have to go the sculptural route. You have to go the texture route. Form and texture is everything. It’s makes it timeless.
Studio images by Collin Erie, all others by Mark Pavlovits