Master Glass Sculptor Carlos Zervigon Discusses His Artistic Process

 

Carlos Zervigon is a renowned glass sculptor who was born and raised in Uptown New Orleans. He is exceptionally skilled at transforming and manipulating traditional forms of glass to create vibrant colorful works of art. He first studied glass sculpture at Tulane University where his principal mentor was Gene Koss in the Newcomb Art Department.

Carlos currently works in a studio on Baronne Street that used to belong to another famous sculptor, Dr. Arthur Silverman.  In 2011 he bought the building from Silverman and has customized it to his needs.

The creative space was built to let in a lot of natural light. It also has tall ceilings which allow space to create large sculptures. Carlos has painted the walls gallery white. All of these factors combine to make a perfect artistic space. Carlos uses his studio on Baronne for everything except actually blowing the glass.

“If I need to blow some glass, I rent time at YAYA Creative Glass. That’s a good way to share expenses. Very few people can afford their own hot glass studio.”

After Hurricane Katrina, Carlos was part of a group of artists that formed the New Orleans Creative Glass Institute. The purpose of the institute was to facilitate the return of glass artists who had been displaced because of the storm. They were able to get funding from the Ford Foundation and other local foundations to build the studio as public access non-profit. Approximately thirty glass artists returned to use the space. Carlos was the founding Treasurer of that board and then became the President and CEO of it for a number of years. Eventually the New Orleans Creative Glass Institute became part of YAYA. Now its the YAYA Art Center with YAYA Creative Glass.

When Carlos was an undergrad at Tulane, he knew he wanted to teach. However, at that time, many art teachers were being laid off, so instead he became certified to teach history. For a number of years he taught history at Ben Franklin High School and ultimately earned a Masters in History Education.

In 2000, he returned to Tulane to finish his BFA in Studio Art. After Tulane, he immediately started having art shows and never went back to teach in the classroom.

“I went back in 2000 and finished my degree in 2002. Then Cole Pratt gave me a show in 2003. I sold almost everything in that show right away.”

Carlos does not come from a family of artists. He comes from a family of engineers and people with technical backgrounds. As such, he recognizes that having technical ability is an advantage for a glass artist.

“In glass sculpture there are so many technical things to consider in terms of the problems that you run into. Glass is brittle and often doesn’t want to do everything that you want it to do. You’ve got to think very creatively about technical problems with its fabrication and the science of it. ”

Carlos buys the colored tubes that he uses in his sculptures from suppliers who manufacture them in Germany and New Zealand. These are dense glass tubes that he uses with a blow pipe. He puts the blow pipe into a tank and gathers the glass, which he shapes into a clear bubble. Then his assistant takes another color of hot glass on a rod called a punty and brings it to Carlos’s blow pipe. From there he drops the hot colored glass over the clear layer.  This is how he builds layers of colored glass in his sculptures. He can repeat this process many times to achieve his desired effect. The whole process looks similar to pulling taffy. Except this is extremely hot taffy that ends up producing beautiful vibrant glass sculpture.

“A thin layer of color can give the illusion of the entire glass being one color. Sometimes you will use a pot of all one color of glass. Especially If I’m doing a specific project where I need a lot of one color. Usually we’re in a small studio working with multiple colors. ”

Carlos also uses glass powder and glass grit to create his pieces. He rolls the molten glass at the end of the pipe over the powder or the grit to pick it up. That’s how he ends up with speckles and streaks.

“I usually use either solid color or I go with powders on the surface and then play with that surface .”

Carlos also carves into the layers of different colored glass to create cool lighting effects.  He’ll put LED strips inside the glass to light it from the inside. This illuminates the different colored layers and shapes in the glass.

He uses a special machine with a carbon wheel to cut the glass. With this machine he can strap the pieces down and carve on them. It is similar to a wet sander and an angle grinder. It enables him to carve without shattering the glass. He spends a great deal of time building a maintaining his equipment.

He’s heavily invested in welding equipment, torches, and plasma cutters – a necessity since he works with a lot of stainless steel and aluminum to avoid rust. The support structure inside the glass sculpture is often welded aluminum. The process of welding and assembling each piece is very tricky and he usually needs experienced assistants to help him. Some of these pieces take months of full-time work to complete.

One of Carlos’s pet peeves his when people describe his sculptures as “decorative” because they are made of glass. He has spent  many years developing his skills and doesn’t the final product dismissed as bric-a-brac. Glass, he feels, is a medium for artistic expression beyond bric-a-brac.

“If I made the exact same thing out of stainless steel, it would never be referred to as decorative. Unfortunately glass artists hear that a lot.  Glass is a serious postmodern art material in the gallery setting. I want glass art to be a serious sculptural medium.”

 

You can see more of Carlos’s work at Andrew Jackson Pollack’s gallery on Magazine Street or on his website http://www.carloszervigon.com/

 

 

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