It starts off cold, solid and almost invisible. When heated to incredibly high temperatures, it gives off a bright, orange glow and becomes easily moldable. And when it’s finished, it returns to its original consistency, locked into the new shape you’ve chosen for it.
The art of glassblowing was first discovered in the Middle East along the Phoenician coast around 20 B.C., according to Richard Banks, chemistry professor at Boise State University.
While Pierce College offers classes in a wide range of art forms, glassblowing courses are not among them. Glass is an often overlooked medium for artistic expression.
Farideh Azad, a longtime ceramics student at Pierce, has been blowing glass since 1984, when she took her first glassblowing class at Santa Monica College.
Surrounded by her artwork, she sat down at the dining room table of her home in Woodland Hills, Calif., and answered some questions about her experiences with the little-known art form.
The Bull: What attracted you to glassblowing?
Azad: Well, my background is in interior design, and I had been doing interior design for quite some time, and I wanted to do something new – some studio art, some hands-on art. I went to Santa Monica College to see what they had, and they were offering glassblowing. I thought, ‘I’ll try it,’ and I liked it, so I stayed with it.
Recently, I picked up clay, and I’m interested in combining the two. I have made a few pieces that are a combination of the two. Of course, I can’t incorporate glass into clay during the firing process, but I can do separate pieces and put them together.
Why do you like blowing glass?
Azad: It’s a fascinating art medium. It’s very sensual. You can manipulate it any way you want to. You can make all kinds of shapes and sizes with it. It’s also very instant. Once I finish a piece, I pretty much know what I’m ending up with. I wanted to do something different.
I’d done all kinds of different things- weaving, photography, silkscreen, fabric design, stuff like that — and glassblowing was completely different than anything I’d ever done. It just hit the spot.
I’m from Iran, and (glassblowing) started there. We had quite a few…antique pieces and a few modern pieces and when I was growing up, I was fascinated by them.
Is glassblowing a difficult medium to learn?
Azad: The only problem with learning to blow glass is adjusting to the heat. As such, it’s not difficult to learn once you get used to the heat that blows at you when you’re in front of the furnace.
The other thing is that once you have the glass at the end of the pipe, gravity is fighting you, and you have to fight back. But if you start slow and grow with it, it’s not that bad.
Is it an expensive art form?
Azad: Yes it is. It’s expensive because if I want to have my own studio, I need a special place for it, I need the furnace, and the fuel is very expensive. The equipment is a lot more complicated than clay.
I’ve always rented time from other artists. Early on, I’d take classes at any school that offered them and just work on my projects at their facilities.
Is it dangerous?
Azad: Not really. You learn to be very careful very early on. I’ve burned myself a few times, but not from the glass, from hot iron – hot pieces of equipment. Occasionally, there is a piece of hot glass that is cooling off and it shatters, and if you’re not careful, it could hit you.
But basically, there is very little danger. I have not seen anyone get seriously hurt in the 20-something years I’ve been doing glass.
What would you say to someone interested in learning to blow glass?
Azad: I would suggest that if someone is interested in learning glass, to go and observe it once or twice and see what’s involved. Then, try it and see how it works for you. Find a good teacher! Find someone who wants to teach and will show you the little details early on.
To see more of Farideh Azad’s artwork, go to her Web site, www.faridehazad.com, or visit:
Topanga Canyon Gallery
120 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Suite 109