Heated to about 2,100 degrees, glass stays moldable for 10 to 30 seconds after it’s removed from the oven. Similar to his labor-intensive material, glass artist Ché Rhodes took time to develop.
Born in Cincinnati, Rhodes, who (at the time) enjoyed partying more than school, found a living in glasswork after working with artist and teacher Stephen Powell at Centre College. “I feel really fortunate that my introduction to glass was through someone like him,” Rhodes, 35, says. “I don’t even think he did it with intention, but he managed to sort of focus some of this energy I had onto something constructive, which was making glass or making art.”
Rhodes began his own teaching career as a graduate at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia when another student backed out of teaching the beginner’s glass blowing class. “That was kind of an important experience for me. It made me really look at the way I made artwork, and the way I approached making glass … and I think it still does.
“I teach a lot of functional tableware and stuff like that, but I really encourage students to focus more on things that are a little more experimental.”
Rhodes describes finishing a piece like opening presents on Christmas morning, since glass artists must wait at least 24 hours before they see the completed work. He often says to his beginning students: “You make these little things and they’re like really ugly, but not to you. You’re like, ‘Oh my God! That’s amazing.’”
Rhodes enjoys making artwork that piques interest, but he’s no commercialist. He works only with black-and-white or clear glass, using various tools such as tweezers, scissors and Korean newspapers — he has a Korean student — to shape the glass.
“I try to make (my work) not necessarily personal in the autobiographical sense but something that is more uniquely mine in the sense that probably no one else would think to make exactly this,” Rhodes says. “I like to change my work. I wouldn’t want to be pigeon-holed, and I get bored, I think, pretty easily.”
After some hesitation, Rhodes left his teaching job at Southern Illinois University and took a job at the University of Louisville in 2005, a decision he’s glad he made. “There is just enough going on in Louisville that you don’t get totally bored, but there could be a little more happening, I guess, but it is growing, which is also exciting. Here we have evolution and growth at the same time, which is pretty rare, because, you know, in a big city you’ll have evolution, but it’s already grown to what it’s going to be.”
Rhodes currently works at The Cressman Center for Visual Arts, U of L’s combination art gallery and workshop downtown. —Caitlin Bowling
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