THE ART OF LIVING GLASS
As a boy, I often visited our cottage in Jizerské Mountains in Northern Bohemia, the place with rich glass-making tradition. True, it was mostly utility glass, but it was made everywhere and there was at least one glass hut in every village, making molded, pressed or "blown" glass objects. Our neighbour worked in Josefodol's hut, pulling glass rods out of glass balls, the rods which were then used for manufacturing of buttons. Even our cottage alone was former glass-cutting shop, for grinding and polishing glass chandeliers that "enlightened" the halls all over Europe. The grinding disks were turned by a water driven paddle-wheel, as large as those of former water mills.
But the real miracles were created in Polubny, where my friend Werner was employed as a glass blower. I admired his skills, not only the way he handled the red-hot glass but also the glasses of beer, which disappeared in his thirsty throat without having any negative effect on his work. On the contrary: apparently all workers there were drinking and no wonder - it was so hot there that it was like a preview of the place we sinners may expect to go when we leave this sorrowful world. But in spite of that, those guys were creating something quite contrary, quite heavenly: vases, bowls, glasses and bottles, goblets, candlesticks and what not, periodically blowing into hollow rods (called whistles) with the bubble of melted glass at the end. Once a while they applied to it some wooden form for shaping the glass bubble. They were demonstrating something I would never forget: the art of living glass. Yes, their "whistles" were performing rather complicated dances in the air, to keep the bubble "alive", once a while blowing in it, then spinning it again, so it would develop symmetrically and wouldn't "overflow" or get deformed. And the crimson colored glass was suddenly so obedient, so peaceful - it looked meek like a ball of wax, tempting you to touch it and feel it. Of course, those were my impressions from a distance only - when I came closer, I fully realized the "red-hot" reality.
How difficult work it was I understood only later when I tried it myself in small scale, at home. Only then I got the real feel of what is going on in melted glass. It became so soft that I succeeded to spoil most of what I did - it just wanted a gentle hand a and the experience to control it - neither of which I really possessed.
Moreover, glass is not forgiving - wrong move, too much or too little force a that's it - another opportunity is wasted. There is something indescribable in creating the art from the matter continuously moving, something like a hot fudge, always ready to freeze when there is not enough of heat. It is probably due to this feature that objects made of blown glass look like they are still moving. Like if we do not see only one frame of the movie, but one frame at the time instead, thus creating the illusion of movement. Somehow we believe that the object is actually moving, so dynamic it seems, so full of energy. It is because what we see is a real composite of so many past moves, forms and operations applied during the process.
With all respect to those artisans I mentioned before, there is only few real Masters among masters, few Artists among artists. One of them is undoubtedly Petr Novotny. Of course I am not alone with this opinion, he is known, recognized and appreciated all around the world. He is one of few who really know how to make the glass move the way they want it. Of course the glass is revolting - it wants something else: to flow down, to satisfy the laws of gravity and eventually peacefully freeze all over. In order to conquer this resistance, our master has to use all kinds of tricks, the secrets of trade they call them. He has to be like a lion tamer who knows his beasts, like a sculptor who knows his material, like a gentle lover who knows his partner. All that has to be done in continuous movement - yes, there can be no idle moment, no wasted move and if that would not be enough, it has to be performed in one precise order.
And the results are stunning: the beauty, which is out of this world - the astonishing, heavenly beautiful pieces created in the vicinity of the red-hot hellhole of melted glass. The gentle, fragile objects of Peter Novotny are all created in sweat and exertion. It is the real art of living glass, the beauty of the move and on the move.
© Jan B. Hurych
© 1999 Petr Novotny, ArtForum / ICZ a.s.