Jeff Ballard tried his hands in printmaking, painting and ceramics. He had a fair amount of success in each of these streams. Yet, the charm of moulding glass into fascinating shapes became too irresistible for him. Since 2000, he devoted himself to explore the world of glass sculpture.
After a successful tenure at various glass studios in Santa Fe and the Hill Country, Texas, he set out on his own in 2006. He relocated to the Pacific Northwest where he set up Jeff Ballard Glass. In 2012, Jeff received the prestigious US Arts Envoy grant to travel to Berlin and develop a glass blowing program for the young learners at Berlin Glas e.V.
Describe the sensation you feel in trapping the fragility of glass as a material which somewhat juxtaposes the softness of pillows.
The sensation I feel when I am able to successfully juxtapose the fragility of the material with the realism of the pillows softness is always one of satisfaction. Although this process isn’t truly realized until the piece has been blown, shaped, cooled and eventually sandblasted. The sandblasted matte surface is the so-called ‘icing on the cake’ that really drives home the duplicitous nature of these objects.
Your functional forms of glass art are also a lesson in itself. For example, you incorporate techniques like reticello and incalmo used by the Italian masters. As a pupil, how can one take inspirations from the different techniques used in various parts of the world?
This is really the great thing about the world we are currently living in. With so much technology at our fingertips, the wealth of knowledge is spilling out through the internet from all corners of the globe. Anyone can hop on their computer and look up videos about almost any type of glass working technique. With that said it seems to me that the combination of techniques is endless and it’s up to the artist to filter it through his/her own set of ideas about what glass art and art in general means to them. Fair warning though, this overabundance of accessible information also has a negative aspect wherein many people claiming to be ‘glass artists’ are often directly replicating the work of someone else. Unfortunately, there is a niche for this type of work and I don’t see any end to it anytime in the near future.
Besides glass as a material did you explore other materials or form of art as a mean of expression?
In college, we were required to take various studio classes. I dabbled in printmaking, painting, and almost double majored in ceramics, however, it was glass that held my interest and provided the most significant challenges. People often ask why I use glass. The answer is very simple. I chose glass as my artistic vocabulary, just as someone chooses photography or Spanish. It is the language of which I am most fluent and therefore is the best material in which to communicate my ideas. Although in recent years I have become less of a purist and begun to use more mixed media in my sculptures. I’m not fond of the idea of limiting my ideas to a singular material.
You have travelled extensively in Europe and Asia. How has the history and culture of these places influenced your work?
Because of the nature of my current series, I rely heavily on the use of found and manipulated objects from the areas in which the pieces are created. In that respect, my work is directly related to where I travel. For instance, I was recently in Berlin for two months on an Arts Envoy grant and made a small series of sculptures based on my travel and the first few weeks there. All the non-glass aspects of the sculptures were objects scavenged from the endless flea markets and resale shops in Berlin. The use of indigenous objects whether consciously or not will always affect the outcome of the work and allows for an element of surprise in the development of ideas.
Tell us about your experience in Germany as a developer/tutor of glass blowing program for youth over there?
I was fortunate enough to have received an Arts Envoy grant through the US government that sent me to Berlin for two months to help start a glassblowing program for kids. I was working in conjunction with my friend Nadania Idriss and her non-profit glass studio Berlin Glas e.V. Basically we started a small program in which underprivileged youth are able to come to the studio after school for a few hours and learn for free how to manipulate molten glass. This program has a positive effect on many levels. It teaches the students confidence, teamwork, trust, and communication. On top of that, we held an auction at the end of the program in which the students give the earnings to a charity/non-profit of their choosing. The students we worked with were refugees from Afghanistan and Serbia between the ages of 12 and 16. It was a great experience and Berlin Glas is continuing this program indefinitely.
Does your extensive interaction with students through various classes and workshops also help your evolution as an artist in any way?
I don’t think that the interaction with students necessarily helps my evolution as an artist, however, I do feel strongly that it helps my evolution as a human being and allows me to look at aspects of the world through fresh eyes. Teaching beginners, especially children have a way of forcing you to rethink something that to myself has been second nature for many years. I think if anything it makes me a better communicator and in that respect, I suppose indirectly it has the potential to help me evolve artistically.
Tell us a bit about your forthcoming project or experimentation that you are eagerly looking forward to. Perhaps, any aspect of art that you would like to explore more in the near future?
I have a tendency to get ahead of myself as far as ideas are concerned and recently I have been attempting to slow the pace down and really work through the process. The more work I create with the same thematic approach the better I understand what it’s all about. Currently, my work is about the unconscious mind and how we perceive ideas and images between the sleep state and the waking state.
I have been pursuing this theme for a few years now and am looking forward to putting together a group of new works for my first American solo exhibition in October of 2013 at Friesen Abmeyer Fine Art in Seattle.
Jeff loves watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and even has an everlasting gobstopper tattoo. The smell of freshly baked pizza tickles his taste buds with Thai cuisine being a close second.
Find more of his work at his website.