When Portland, Oregon-based glassblowers Andi Kovel and Justin Parker met Harry Allen at ICFF in 2005, they were surprised to hear that the New York design stalwart was a fan of their work. They shouldn’t have been. Rooted in functional, concept-based expressions that defy traditional notions of glass art, Kovel and Parker’s craft reflects their history at Brooklyn’s UrbanGlass—where they worked as artists-for-hire for the likes of Maya Lin, Kiki Smith and Matthew Barney before moving West and founding their studio, Esque.
Collaborative by nature, they asked Allen if he’d ever worked with glass. ‘I was doing all these cast objects, and they were making super sick shapes,’ Allen remembers. They joined forces to create the 'Grid Bubble' series, where ivory-coloured glass spills out of metal cages, and presented them at Allen’s then-new showroom in New York’s Lower East Side.
A decade later, their second collection builds on the first with simpler shapes that give way to gloriously strange results. On view at Heller Gallery, 'Harry Allen Esque' comprises some two dozen vases and lit sculptures, some hung from the ceiling with near-invisible wire. Glass was blown directly into circular, square and triangular cutouts of stainless steel, which constricts and supports each vessel to form a unified whole.
‘Metal is the complete opposite of glass: it’s hard, cold, and noisy, while glass is clean and soft,’ Kovel says. ‘We’ve managed to marry them in a way where they are totally interactive and dependent on one another.’
The objects were made two months ago in Esque’s studio. All three pairs of hands are visible in each: Parker, a master gaffer (the main glassblower), was in charge of blowing. Kovel picked glass colours and forms, while Allen chose the metal frame and suggested how it might hang. Glassblowing’s unpredictable nature produced a few hurdles. Instead of staying in place when put onto molten glass, the heavy metal frames kept sliding toward the bottom. The glass kept blowing into spheres, forcing the trio to decipher how to make it do other, more interesting things.
Once complete, the whole thing had to go into the annealer, an oven that cools the glass, which turned the metal a purply orange hue. ‘In glassblowing you start with an idea, but the process designs it,’ Kovel says. They named the pieces using acronyms of each piece’s formal characteristics: 'MSHP' (Medium/Square/Hanging/Peach), 'RSUTWP' (Rectangle/Square/U/Table/White/Persimmon), and so forth.
While people have blown glass into metal before, few have managed to chart new aesthetic territory. ‘The aesthetic almost comes from somewhere else,’ Allen concludes. ‘It has everything to do with us, and nothing to do with us. It’s the sum of all the parts we set up.’