Galleries : Peter Houk at Martha's Vineyard Glassworks
Though Sunday marks Peter Houk's first exhibit on Martha's Vineyard, he first crossed paths with Andre Magdanz and his wife, Susan Shapiro, the founders of Martha's Vineyard Glassworks, more than 20 years ago. "They really took me under their wing, and were very generous with me," says Mr. Houk, who, in 1997, became the director of The Glass Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "They taught me a lot about glass blowing and introduced me to other artists."
Mr. Houk's show opens with a reception this weekend at the West Tisbury glass studio and gallery, located across from State Road restaurant. On Monday, Mr. Houk will demonstrate his process throughout the day, providing a glimpse of the unconventional techniques he employs to create his stylized vessels.
The 15 to 20 pieces on display represent the artist's duality of expression: the natural world and the one built by man. His nature-oriented collection incorporates images of leaves and ornate landscapes, while his cityscapes, like one depicting the Big Dig, Boston's endless tunneling project, tend to feature starkly silhouetted skylines - abstractions inspired by the shapes of urban development and decay.
"A number of the pieces are based on patterns that occur in nature - a lot of leaf forms, some more realistic and some more abstract," Mr. Houk says. "This is a nature-loving resort town, so I will be bringing mostly those, but I will bring a few of my other work - extremely detailed decaying cityscapes, which some people find disturbing. I am really intrigued by what goes with the city - the patters, the clutter. In nature you find some of the same things - clutter, the "too much-ness."
Mr. Houk's education accounts for the diversity of skills he brings to his work. He studied glass blowing, painting, and sculpture at the Pilchuck Glass School and the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. In 1993, he was invited to teach at The Glass Lab at MIT. Now the director, his class has become the most popular extra-curricular class at MIT, with over 150 students vying for the 16 spaces each course period.
To create his detailed images on the glass, Mr. Houk draws from his background in printmaking and painting. He explains that much of his work is based on intaglio, a printmaking technique in which the image is incised into a surface.
Using a sandblaster, Mr. Houk etches his designs into the layers of colored glass so that the incised areas turn a different color. He often adds enamel glass paint, which can withstand extremely high temperatures, allowing him to create patterns that appear to be floating on the outer layer of the glass.
Mark Weiner, a co-owner of M.V. Glassworks since 1992, explains what makes the process so complicated. "You have to have an ability to draw well and to visualize space. To do a flat drawing on a flat plane is one thing, but what Peter does has a little dimensionality to it, and he does it really, really well. It's really a difficult, but beautiful process. We will all be working for him, and it will be great to watch. "
Mr. Houk says, "I use graphic techniques. It is both a subtractive process, where I am sandblasting away the design I want, and an additive process, where I am applying the paint to what I want to stand out."
Peter Houk, M.V. Glassworks, West Tisbury. Through Sept. 11. Reception, Sunday, Aug. 23, 5-7 pm. Glass blowing demonstration, Monday, Aug. 24, 10 am-12 noon, 1 pm-4 pm. 508-693-6026; mvglassworks.com.
Katy Plasse is a freelance writer living in Chilmark.