A Q&A with glass artist Steve Heine

Jun 22, 2018 at 4:05 pm
Honeycomb Clouds Study Model
Honeycomb Clouds Study Model

You can see glass art by Steve Heine of Cranium Glass (craniumglass.squarespace.com) in the newly opened AC Hotel Louisville in NuLu. Or visit his studio in “a fine, old house” built in 1825 in Clifton Heights. 

LEO: What type of artist are you? Steve Heine: [As] a graduate of the University of Kentucky [School] of Architecture, I see my artwork as a kind of small-scale architecture. I love making things well and working with my hands. I’m fascinated by the interaction of color, light and shadow. My art feels highly resolved and balanced to me. As I design, I try to edit the ‘noise’ from my work. So, I’d say I’m a minimalist and a hybrid, both an artist and a craftsman. I often use glass within my work. My work is typically commissioned. I create both residential and corporate-scale artwork.

What is your earliest childhood memory that involved art? I’m a late bloomer. I came to art relatively late in life. The transformative experience for me was returning to architecture school at 29. I was really introduced to art then: the Bauhaus Movement, the work of Paul Gauguin and Louis Kahn and many Kentucky visual artists, the poetry of Philip Levine, the city of Venice, Italy, in the winter and early spring. I think I must have been asleep until the age of 29.

Your work is in the AC Hotel that recently opened in NuLu. Please tell us about it. The project was a collaboration with Louisville Visual Art and local architect Steve Kersey. LVA sought proposals for a permanent installation from several local artists for the hotel’s lobby space. I was eventually selected to create four of my ‘Cloud Panels.’ The large-scale panels are composed of laser-cut and folded steel, maple and integral LED lighting. The deadline for completion of the project was very tight, and I was unable to put the separate components — frames, laser-cut steel and LED light panels — together until my actual installation at the hotel just before Derby weekend. The pieces, however, turned out just as I’d envisioned them; they fit together seamlessly, and the work was installed ahead of schedule.

Although I usually envision this new work in blues or violets, the color is controlled by a small, hand-held, wi-fi remote control. The range of available colors is virtually unlimited and can be changed at any time. The four ‘Cloud Panels’ at the AC NuLu Hotel are currently programmed to shift through a wide range of color.

‘Honeycomb Clouds (detail)’ by Steve Heine. Laser-cut steel, maple, integral LED lighting.
‘Honeycomb Clouds (detail)’ by Steve Heine. Laser-cut steel, maple, integral LED lighting.

Explain your artistic process. I’ve been fascinated by the clouds over Kentucky since I can remember. A ‘Cloud Panel’ begins with a rough idea, often a concept that begins to take shape in a dream. I make an initial sketch from this idea. I then work out the details in Adobe Illustrator, refining the piece for hours over many days. Once a design feels right to me, I create a small hand-cut paper study model that allows me to see the surface of the steel before the panel is laser-cut and folded. I’d say my design process is rigorous. With my ‘Cloud Panels,’ I’m particularly interested in the subtle wash of colored light across a white surface. I’m also drawn to irony within my art: here, the use of rigid steel panels to create work inspired by clouds.

Who are some of the artists you admire? I have an affinity for the work of the Minimalist painters Carmen Herrera and Ellsworth Kelly, the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and the short stories of Raymond Carver. Nothing is wasted within their work — each element feels essential to me.

What is something most people do not know about you? When I was in college in the early 1980s, I was an exceptional keg walker. After a party and a few beers, late at night when the campus was quiet, I’d place an empty beer keg on its side, then carefully walk on top of it all the way to sorority row and back.