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April 15, 2024

Image from Rural Modern Glass Studio

Glass Artist Grant Garmezy: ‘I was excited to be a part of the glass movement in India’

You never really understand why it’s called glass blowing until you see it happen propria persona. I don’t quite remember what I was expecting, but I know I could only look on in awe as an orb of melted glass expanded before me, rather aptly “blowing” up like a fiery balloon, at the Rural Modern Glass Studio by Arjun Rathi. As a glassware designer himself, Rathi personally made his way across the room, explaining to each discerning guest, about the complex, delicate process we were witnessing.

Unlike many art forms, glass blowing, particularly hot sculpting, appears to be collective effort, synchrony being a key component. A long, heavy metal rod that held the molten, was passed around almost every 30 seconds; from the furnace worker to the assistant glass blowers to the lead glass blower. Heat, time, gravity and pressure – this is what took a formless blob into complete, detailed pieces of art.

Image from Rural Modern Glass Studio

The man leading the group, strong and focussed Grant Garmezy who had a penchant for animal sculptures, was moulding what was to become almost a 1-meter long fish. This formless blob then, was to take shape into a creature that had a life of its own by the end of a 2-hour long process.

Image from Grant Garmezy website

One might wonder what a craftsman from Nashville, Tennessee was doing here at Arjun Rathi’s studio in Mumbai. In an attempt to advance production techniques in glass blowing, Rural Modern Glass Studio invites artists like Garmezy and creates a space conducive to an exchange of expertise between international and local glass blowers. The studio also invites contemporary Indian artists to explore glass as a medium in their practice. Previously invited artists include Jeremiah Jacobs, Brent Sheehan, Tim Soluna, Anjali Singh, Jeremiah Jacobs, and Matthew Piepenbrok.

The collaboration leads to works that are inspired by Indian motifs and symbols. In the case of Grant Garmezy, his works explore hyper realistic recreations of iconic Indian wildlife, some adopting surrealist elements, gilded by local artists. He practices “off-hand” sculpting which involves sculpting free hand while the glass is heated to about 2,000 degrees. He uses a hot torch and a variety of hand tools to manipulate the glass instead of the more common  moulds making each and every piece truly unique.

We spoke to Grant Garmezy to understand his artistic process and what his experience has been working in India so far.

For your first visit to India, why did you choose to collaborate with Rural Modern? What was it about Arjun Rathi Designs that you felt an affinity towards?

I first saw Rural Modern on Instagram, and I was intrigued by the studio and the location. I had seen videos of other glass studios in India, but they were more factory-style. This was the first time I learned of a glassblowing studio in India that focused on creating bespoke lighting and artwork. After connecting with Arjun, I was excited to visit his beautiful studio, explore a new part of the world, and be part of the burgeoning glass movement in India that Arjun is spearheading.

Image from Rural Modern Glass Studio website

Certainly! Arjun Rathi is one of the very few designers completely focussed on glass as a medium for art. What about glass is exciting to you? Why not clay, metal, or any other material for your sculptures?

My artistic career began with drawing, sculpting, and metal work. It wasn’t until I was enrolled in college that I discovered glassblowing. I was drawn to glass as an artistic medium because of the excitement, the challenge, and the teamwork required.

Do you ever experiment with materials, perhaps through mixed media?

The majority of my work is created with glass, but I do use silver and gold gilding to enhance the material. I also had to learn welding, metalwork, and stone manipulation in order to create the armatures for my pieces.

Image from Rural Modern Glass Studio

On your website you mention that you don’t have much of an interest in creating “functional” glassware. Can you tell me why?

Functional glassware has a long history, often associated with utilitarian purposes. Craftspeople perfected the art of creating perfect goblets and functional forms long ago. Rather than repeat what has already been done, I am more interested in creating something new. Sculptural glass challenges tradition. It disrupts expectations, inviting viewers to engage with art purely for its aesthetic and emotional impact. Sculptural glass provides a platform for storytelling, where I can convey narratives, emotions, and abstract ideas with my work.

The clear difference between your work and Arjun Rathi’s works really illustrates the scope of glass blowing. Is there a reason you decided to go in the direction of the photo-realistic, sculpture making that you are currently engaged with?

I strive toward realism because of the challenge it presents. I use the oxygen-propane hand torch to add details and textures that bring pieces to life. While abstract animal forms are certainly beautiful, I can’t stop myself from pushing for more – more details, more texture, more realism. There is an inherent risk in pushing myself, my team, and my work to those limits. The longer I work on a piece, adding intricate details, there is more risk of something breaking or losing shape. But, I thrive in those moments of working on the edge of failure. That makes the successful pieces all the more worth it to me.

Image from Rural Modern Glass Studio

I notice you create a lot of animal-inspired sculptures. Is there any particular reason for this? Do feel like glass lends itself well to these kinds of pieces?

My work is inspired by animals and the natural world. Animals hold deep symbolism across cultures and epochs. They represent qualities like strength, wisdom, freedom, and vulnerability. Animals evoke stories—mythical, allegorical, or personal. Animals evoke emotions—awe, tenderness, fear, or admiration. Sculpting animals allows me to tap into this rich symbolism, forging a connection between the natural world and human experience. Glass is a challenging material to create hyper-realistic natural forms, but I love that I am able to change the surface of glass into something else. Glass wants to be round, and it wants to be smooth and shiny. I like to push the material to look like something else – be it fur, dragon scales, or feathers.

Image from Rural Modern Glass Studio

Your website says you want to capture “expression and movement in your work in order to elevate it from a sculpture to a story.” What stories do you hope to tell while you’re here in India?

India is a place more alive than anywhere I’ve been. It is rich with history, cultural narratives, patterns, complexity, and a range of landscapes from natural beauty to vibrant cities. I’m deeply inspired by the rich tapestry of culture, history, and natural beauty that this country offers. I want to celebrate this diversity and highlight the importance of coexistence and harmony among different species and cultures. I hope to capture the interconnectedness between humans and nature, emphasising the need for conservation and stewardship of the environment. Indian mythology is rich with colourful characters and captivating stories that have been passed down through generations. I aim to reinterpret these myths and legends through my glass sculptures, adding a new perspective to age-old tales and sparking the imagination of viewers. By weaving together these narratives, I hope to invite viewers to reflect on the beauty and complexity of the country.

How might these stories compare to your previous works (either similarities or difference)?

The central aspects of my artistic vision remain the same regardless of location: capturing movement and storytelling, maintaining a high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail, ensuring the quality and integrity of the artwork, and the inspirational source of nature. The work I created in India incorporates new cultural influences and motifs specific to the region, reflecting the sights, sounds, and experiences I encountered during my visit. The symbolism embedded within the artwork evolved to reflect the unique cultural, historical, and spiritual context of India – specifically the creation of the cobras, Ganesha, the dagger series (inspired by a visit to a local museum), and the gold gilding inspired by traditional Indian art and calligraphy.

Image from Rural Modern Glass Studio
Image from Rural Modern Glass Studio

How do would you describe your oeuvre?

My oeuvre represents a collection of glass artwork that I’ve crafted over the years, each piece a reflection of my journey as an artist. I aim to capture movement, weave stories, and infuse my creations with the essence of my experiences. From my travels to different cultures to my deep exploration of nature and mythology, my artwork embodies a diverse range of themes and inspirations. Throughout my body of work, I strive to showcase my technical proficiency and craftsmanship, transforming molten glass into intricate sculptures that stir emotion and inspire wonder. For me, my oeuvre is not just a series of pieces; it’s a testament to my artistic vision and my commitment to pushing the boundaries of glassblowing as a medium for storytelling and expression. 

Image from Grant Garmezy website

How do you think your work might be different to commercial artists with regards to ideation and technical process? What do you think you do differently?

Unlike commercial artists who often create with a specific market or client in mind, my ideation process is deeply rooted in personal expression. I draw inspiration from my own experiences, emotions, and observations, allowing me to create artwork that reflects my unique perspective and creative vision. While commercial artists may focus on producing work that meets certain market demands or aesthetic trends, I prioritise exploration and experimentation in my technical process. I am constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible with glass, exploring new techniques and approaches to bring my artistic ideas to life. In contrast to the mass production often associated with commercial art, my work places a strong emphasis on craftsmanship and attention to detail. Each piece is meticulously crafted by hand, with a focus on achieving the highest level of quality and artistry. One of the distinguishing features of my artwork is the narrative depth that I strive to incorporate into each piece. While commercial art may prioritise visual impact or decorative appeal, I aim to imbue my work with layers of meaning and storytelling, inviting viewers to engage with the deeper themes and emotions embedded within.

You can visit Grant Garmezy’s website to see more of his work or commission pieces. Also visit Rural Modern Glass Studio’s website for more information on workshops, exhibitions or to purchase pieces.

Zara Flavia Dmello

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