Glass artist John King (louisvilleisforlovers.culturearchivist.com) is the current artist-in-residence at the Louisville Free Public Library. Read on about King’s experience.
LEO: What type of artist are you?
John King: When it comes to visual art, I primarily work in glass. Both of my parents worked in the glass industry — my father was a stained-glass artist, and my mother worked in industrial glass. It really hadn’t occurred to me until now, but that may be why most of my work uses salvaged industrial glass as the medium. I have followed my father’s path into the fine arts, but also followed my mother’s path by using post-industrial glass, [such as] old automobile windshields (many of which were manufactured by the company my mother worked for, PPG), television tubes, glass bottles and whatever I can find. Using unconventional materials forces me to think differently than if I had an endless supply of whatever I wanted. That and a continual lack of funds! It can be difficult at times without a proper studio or equipment at my disposal, but I also think working within these limitations is how I am able to come up with unique processes to manipulate the glass for my work.
What is your earliest childhood memory that involved art?
Art and glass have always been in my life. When I was about 3 or 4, my father and I were living in an apartment above what is now Chuck Swanson’s art gallery [Swanson Contemporary]. It was a little, two-bedroom apartment, so my father used the attic to build his stained-glass windows. I remember one night, he was under a deadline and stayed up all night finishing a piece. When I woke up in the morning, he took me up to see it. It must have been in the summertime because I remember the temperature up there being tremendously hot. So, I guess my first memory was an example to lengths some artists will go to for their work. And yet I walked knowingly into the artist’s life anyway.
You were recently named the Louisville Free Public Library’s artist-in-residence. What are some of the things you’re doing?
Public libraries are very important to me, not only because I believe information should be readily available to everyone no matter their status in society, but also because libraries can be a refuge for the community to relax and have fun in a safe and open environment. Working at the Berea College library while getting my degree was one of the most rewarding experiences in my college career, so I was excited when the opportunity came up to work with the Louisville Free Public Library on several different projects. The artist-in-residence program is called ‘Collider’ and is overseen by Amanda Langdon at the South Central branch off Outer Loop, and is truly a unique program. They have a new artist every month that spends 15 to 20 hours a week in the facility’s dedicated art studio creating original work, teaching workshops and one-on-one classes on various art techniques. So far, I have lead several workshops including a children’s workshop on making glass ornaments for Mother’s Day and a class for adults on making cocktail glasses from glass bottles.
On Saturday, May 26 at 2 p.m., I will be giving a talk about the rich history of glass art in Louisville and Southern Indiana, [and] how glass production helped shaped the culture of southwestern [Kentucky] as well as Eastern Kentucky, southern Ohio and West Virginia. [It will be] accompanied with examples and demonstrations of glass art techniques, including the techniques used in the previous workshops. All programs are free to the public and do not require advanced sign up. My studio hours through May are 1-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 1-5 p.m. on Saturday.
When is your next exhibition and what will you be showing?
The culmination of my work created during my residency will be exhibited as a solo show at CRAFT(s) Gallery & Mercantile, with an opening reception on Friday, July 6. Most of my work so far at the library has been using recycled glass bottles, windows and other post-use glass materials. My goal is to make as much as possible while I am here at the library and then see what works best with the gallery space.
As for subject matter, I was recently diagnosed with an inflammatory disease that causes blindness. The treatments so far have been going extremely well and I am hopeful, but still this kind of diagnosis is frightening. As much as I try to put it out of my mind, it’s always there to keep me up at night, so some of the work will no doubt be a representation of those late-night thoughts and fears. But hopefully still something worth looking at!
I suppose, if there is room for social commentary, I’d like to mention that without the Affordable Care Act, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see the many specialists needed to diagnose and treat my inflammatory disease. As it stands with Gov. [Matt] Bevin’s new restrictions, I do not qualify and will lose my coverage. I am worried as to what will happen to me and the other half a million Kentuckians enrolled in the program. Punishing the less fortunate is not how I’d like the world to view the Bluegrass State. If we stand together and send a message to Frankfort about true equality and compassion, hopefully we can set a positive example for the world stage.
How has your art changed over the years?
That’s a great question. I recently came across an article from around the time I first started showing my work. I said my goal was to create work celebrating love and beauty in the world and not to promote social commentary, which is still true (although I do have a lot of opinions for sure, but try to leave that to other outlets like music.) The medium itself has changed due to my ever-changing circumstances.
When I was first starting out, my dad had an air compressor and a bunch of fun, pneumatic tools I could use to cut away at large pieces of glass. After he retired, I started using processes I could do cheaply in an apartment, like acid etching images on scrap glass from junkyards. For this newest group of work, my friend Raymond and I built a large diamond wheel cutter out of bits of parts my friends donated. These days, I am interested in finding the limitations of different types of glass and seeing how far I can push the glass physically. And hopefully it translates into some unique and interesting work.
You are well known around town for your ‘Louisville is for Lovers’ project. What is that?
Louisville Is For Lovers is an umbrella musical project I started back in 2000. It began with a compilation of local musicians playing love longs for Valentine’s Day 2001 as a way to promote and archive Louisville music. It is still released every February, but now also includes other compilations and full-length albums. As of February of this year, we have released 33 albums to date, and most of which are still available on our website. All of the Valentine’s compilations are available on the Louisville Free Public Library streaming service Louisville Mix.