The delicate, intricate work of glass artist Andre Nigoghossian has been a part of Castle in the Air since 2009. People love it for its elements of fantasy and roots in the Venetian tradition of Murano glass. We recently unveiled a grand new batch of Andre’s figures, ornaments, and goblets, and spoke with him about his work and what inspires him.
What is your tradition of glassworking called?
I use a torch flame and various hand tools to sculpt the glass. This is traditionally called lampworking, though flameworking is the term most people have come to use as modern propane-oxygen mix torches have replaced the air-charged oil lamps of the past.
Flameworking is different from furnace glassblowing in that you begin with solid glass rods or tubes and heat them to a molten state in the flame, rather than gathering an already molten blob of glass from the furnace at the end of a metal blowpipe. Furnace glass works tends to be large, thick, and heavy, but flameworking lends itself to creating smaller and finer work.
Also, flameworkers can use different kinds of glass, depending on the kind of work one wants to make. I use soda-lime, also known as soft glass, for my sculptures, which behaves very similarly to furnace glass. It’s very soft and flowing when molten, and comes in a huge array of beautiful colors. With soft glass one has to work quickly or the piece risks cracking—I liken it to three-dimensional watercolor painting, where you kind of get one chance to get the gesture right before moving on to the next section.
Do you work differently when making larger pieces?
For my vessel work I use borosilicate, or hard glass. It is much stiffer when molten, and more forgiving when creating larger pieces built from multiple sections, like goblets and ornaments, since I can go back and reheat sections that have cooled.
I watched a furnace glassblowing demonstration at a Renaissance fair and knew right away it was for me. During college I took a couple summer glassblowing courses and learned how to make simple, chunky tumblers and vessels, envisioning myself on the long road toward furnace glass mastery.
In 1999, during a trip to Venice as part of my Art History studies, I had the chance to see works of small-scale soft glass sculptors. As I'd always been an admirer of fantasy art and figurative sculpture—I had a pretty impressive fantasy pewter collection as a child—this style of glassworking spoke directly to my heart. I knew that I could excel at this immediate and spontaneous form of sculpture, but as lampworking was still somewhat rare in the U.S., it wasn't until 2006 that I found a local school offering torch-based instruction and began my current trajectory with glass.
From where do you draw inspiration for your sculptures?
Mostly from nature—animals, plants, and the human figure are timeless and constant muses. I also look to older art styles like art nouveau, art deco, and classicism, especially for inspiration for ornament and vessel designs.
What do you do to teach yourself more about glassworking or deepen your understanding of it?
I’ve found that taking workshops with professional glass artists is the best way to learn and move forward quickly, however there's no substitute for the countless hours of practice learning how the glass moves and reacts.
How has your style developed over the years?
My style has remained pretty consistent, but with practice I’ve been able to refine my technique and create better pieces. There does seem to be an element of luck involved, though. Something can happen in the moment to create a uniquely exquisite piece, making the proportions of a figure or ornament come out just right. Discovering these magic moments is part of the fascination for me with this medium.
Tell us about your works currently available at Castle in the Air.
While the sculptural pieces in this batch are similar to ones that Castle in the Air has displayed before, the decorative goblets and freestanding ornaments are new and are the result of several months of concentrated practice and refinement. The goblets are made from three parts—bowl, stem, and foot—which are then fused together into the final piece. Each part presents a distinct set of technical challenges when I make it. In designing these vessels, I wanted to combine colors and shapes reminiscent of art from the Renaissance—part still-life, part fairytale. Displayed together with the figurines, they create a vignette in which the figures can interact and play.