Shayna Leib Glass Art: A Playful Poem

An Exclusive Interview with the Glass Artist

Crevice, Glass Sculpture by Shayna Leib

At a tender age of seven, Shayna Leib first saw glassblowing at a local university. She was simply fascinated by it. The fluidity of melted glass along with its capability of capturing a moment frozen in time was awe-inspiring. Shayna Leib was mesmerised by this art form and was inspired to excel in it over the years.

Shaina received her BA in philosophy with minors in glass and literature at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. After initially accepting to pursue PhD in philosophy, Shayna chose to study glass at the graduate level and moved to Madison, Wisconsin. She completed her MFA in May, 2003. She also got involved in teaching and research work.

Your love of art with glass started very early. Describe the sensation you feel in working with a mouldable material to create a statement piece of art.

Working with glass is a very sublime experience. It has a very steep learning curve, but once you get past it, the beauty of the material and how it responds to you really come through. When I hold a blowpipe or punty, it’s as if for that amount of time, I have another appendage and it’s a part of me. Working with glass is always described as a dance, but I think if you are tuned into it enough, it’s more than that. At this point in my experience with the material, I know what it will do at all times, and we really move as one entity. I feel the give of the material or the resistance and vibration of it when it gets too cold. It feels good when the tools move over it and the sensation moves into my hand from the tools.

Glass in itself is very fragile but broken pieces of glass can also be melted to mould into a newer form. Does this regenerative capability of the material surprise you?

Not at all. Glass is just another form of water to me. Water condenses, freezes and flows. Glass is just a material that acts similarly to water with basic viscosity changes. It mimics water very well, and it seems fitting that, like water, it takes on many forms and can be re-imagined again.

Laminaria, Sculpture by Shayna Leib

Are your designs more a reflection of your spontaneous thought process?

That is a funny question, since I’m not certain people would be able to see past the slow, meditative, and labour-intensive part of my process. Sometimes it’s quite spontaneous, but that tends to be in proportion to the size of my pieces. If I am working in a small square format, it’s a little like a playful poem, it’s concise and can usually stand on its own. I follow my moods and make quick decisions. With larger monochromatic panels, I have to treat those like a novel, with more restraint and thought.

Your functional pieces also carry signs of unexpectedness. How do you ensure that you incorporate aesthetics into objects of everyday use?

In some ways, the functional objects, whether glass or ceramic or occasionally metal, are a nice change for me. I see other artists emphasize quantity and make objects fast. I prefer to meditate on an object and give it my full attention. It may take me one hour or ten, but I’d rather have one interesting vase than 10 that haven’t been given much thought.

You also work with metal for creating pieces of jewellery and even metal art. Tell us more about this artistic playfulness of yours that is forever looking forward to experimentations.

My time with metal seems like a lifetime ago, and I miss it very much. I am currently looking forward to outfitting my studio with some stakes for raising. Metal is quite responsive like glass. That is why I prefer forging and raising to casting and fabrication. I don’t like materials to be indifferent to me. I like when they respond, and talk back, even if it is just to aggravate me. Metal is a beautiful and seductive material which is even more methodical than glass, and for that reason, it appeals to me. When I have an idea, I don’t like to be held to one material or to create within parameters. I believe that if you take away material or process-based restrictions, your creativity can be better unleashed.

Wind and Water, Sculpture by Shayna Leib
Wind and Water

What are the elements that influenced the artist in you?

I am most influenced by the sea. When I’m diving, there is a quiet and rhythmic bliss under the water, where you can only hear your breath and the occasional whale song. All else is quiet, and it forces us humans to stop talking and just experience. There is no end to inspiration in the sea, whether it’s the texture of hard coral or the patterns of a nudibranch’s lungs. There is much that is interesting about people, there is just much more that is interesting about marine invertebrates. I am a very slow diver because I take everything in, and like to explore the small stuff. That leads to me being left behind a lot. I sometimes get in trouble because I forget time is passing when I am photographing and exploring. And a lot of divers are large mammal chasers and like to move fast. We are not compatible dive partners.

Other times, I get caught up watching turtle grass under my kayak or looking at an anemone in an aquarium at a restaurant. And above water, it’s always grasslands, how they move with the wind. I am obsessed with flowers, though I have no urge to create them in glass. I dream of intense floral landscapes with flowers as big as stop signs. And I am above all fascinated with colour.

Since you have first been fascinated with glass art how the art has matured and transformed in conjunction with the artist in you?

I think everyone starts out being seduced by the glamour of glassblowing. It’s hard, it’s hot, it’s an extreme challenge that tends to make stubborn people want to master it. You can put on a good show as a glassblower with the fire, the bells and whistles, and your audience is rapt in ways they never would be while watching you make a mould. I was young when I started so I was very much seduced by process and very much a slave to my ego.

After a while, you begin to realize that the world already has a Lino. It has these amazingly talented glassblowers that have spent 40 and 50 years honing their craft, and that for you to make your mark as a virtuoso glassblower, the same time will be expected of you. You begin to see that many things have been done before, beautifully, and with perfection, and there is no need to repeat them. And I think every artist goes through this phase. You have to find something that is your own and ironically you have to let go of ego to do it. As I went through grad school, I realized that my best ideas were not those that would be glamorous to watch, but something compelled me to follow them anyway. I began to see the value in ideas, not process, and that those ideas were so exciting they would keep me up at night.

Portrait of Shayna Leib

Shayna Leib enjoys…

Shayna loves having her cat Oliver around her whenever she is relaxing with a book of Brothers Karamazov or listening to trance or electronica. She feels intrigued by the colour red. On asking her about her favourite holiday destination she quipped, ‘the place I haven’t been diving yet’. When it comes to food she is an avid fan of Indian and Japanese cuisines though.

Find more of her work at her website.

Image Courtesy: Shayna Leib