Patrick Blythe’s large studio, located inside Indio’s Coachella Valley Art Center, includes four separate spaces. It’s clear that each space has its own distinct purpose.
Design and model-marking. Mold-making and stone-carving. A kiln room for heating and forming glass. And a “cold room,” where glass is carved and polished.
In the studio of the internationally recognized glass artist, our conversation moved into Blythe’s aesthetic, his creative process and his future.
Have you always been an artist?
Art has always been my passion; however, sculpting glass, metal and stone is my second career.
I relocated to the desert after retiring from a very successful 30-year stint in public finance. In 2000, creating art became and remains my career.
I began this studio because of my fascination with the medium’s unique qualities. Unlike (sculptors using) opaque materials, like metal and stone, glass sculptors can create a world where light is absorbed; they choose whether or not the light will be seen by the viewer. Also, glass allows artists opportunities to manage how light can be bent, reflected and/or refracted. All these qualities become more pronounced when colored glass and other materials are added to the mix.
These effects can be readily found in my cast-glass pieces that are inspired by sunrises and sunsets here in the desert and other places. With this work, there are layers of color, each with its own unique characteristics. Hopefully, viewers find their own personal sunrise or sunset in each piece. Good examples are “First Light” (right) and “Dawn.” “Sea Column VI” is my interpretation of a different experience.
Do you do anything else with the medium?
I also build glass sculptures. For example, I am especially proud of "The Grief of Love Lasts a Life"; it deals with the very basic human experiences of personal reflection and loss. The sculpture took me some four months to complete. The piece combines both casting and fabrication techniques. I cast the church walls. Once completed, the walls were fused together. While insets into the church walls may look like painted glass, they are actually old photographs printed on small pieces of glass. Creating the windows is a distinct and separate process from the traditional casting and fusing process. Lastly, every piece of rubble outside the church was hand-carved.
What do you aim for when you are creating a piece of sculpture?
Let me start by saying: I am not a glassblower. In strong contrast to 20th-century studio glass blowers—whose work provides immediate gratification and tends to be more utilitarian or decorative—my art reflects the 21st century.
Stated simply, my glass sculptures are far more deliberate and contemplative. Considerable thought and planning goes into each piece that offers the viewer a distinct narrative. Completing some of my glass sculptures requires upwards of 3 to 4 months.
Can you explain what you mean by a “narrative”?
My goal is to have viewers, when looking at my work, engage the piece on their own terms. Each one of us is different, and our personal histories define what we experience. In other words, the viewer is expected to create their own personal story when looking at a Patrick Blythe piece. Essentially, with each piece, I strive to present a universal truth that each person realizes through their personal narrative.
You work in other media, too. Do you compartmentalize how you work?
Definitely not. I do work on multiple projects concurrently. That stimulates my creative process. I do, however, think about a particular sculpture might appear in glass or stone or bronze. Ultimately, each of my sculptures is an interaction between my creative vision and how the material reacts. Sometimes, the material guides me.
I see that your sculptures differ in size. Why?
I frequently vary the sizes of my glass, bronze and stone sculptures.
With “Exile,” the face is most visible when looked at directly. From the side, the recessed face is pretty much hidden from view. “Exile” is a very personal piece that was created after my surgery for cancer; it is based on the sense of estrangement that can stem from serious illness when friends and family become uncomfortable with the idea of the end of life. The work is really about all forms of estrangement, like divorce, job loss, etc. Estrangement seems to be a universal experience.
With “Exile,” the size of the glass sculpture differs from the size of the bronze. And the stone sculpture is much larger than both of them. Each medium brings its own power and sense of intimacy.
There is one glass and two stone versions of “Exile,” as well as a limited edition of 25 bronzes.
How do you see your art evolving?
Right now, I am comfortable working in stone, glass and bronze; however, I am increasingly interested in creating public art.
My first piece of public art, “Harvest” (below), is included in the current El Paseo Invitational Exhibition. The 8-foot tall sculpture, located between Ocotillo and Verba Santa drives in Palm Desert, contains a narrative; it is about my days working in the Southern Illinois corn fields.
“Harvest” has been very well-received. It is opening discussions for me to create other large-scale and public-art sculptures.
How do you spread the word to potential glassmakers?
I quite frequently lecture and talk about glass throughout the United States and now in Europe. Talks are tailored to the audiences’ need. I also participate in workshops throughout the United States and Europe. There, I both refine my craft and hopefully offer some insights to other glass artists. Currently, I am working on a very large cast glass piece that will be cast in a Czech Republic studio, where there are several very large kilns. The piece will remain in the kiln for several months.
Lastly, I am an active member of what is called the “glass secessionist movement.” Modeling after what (Alfred) Stieglitz did with photography about a century ago, glass secessionists advocate that glass be considered a stand-alone art form. We also created a Facebook page dedicated to the movement.
Where can one see your work sculptures?
Ironically, I have been very lucky: Most of my work is sold by word of mouth. While it would be great to be represented by a gallery, the length of time needed to create one piece limits the number of sculptures I can produce. In other words, my problem is creating enough inventory to satisfy a gallery’s needs. Today, collectors worldwide contact me directly.
While several projects are in varying stages of design and production, “Harvest” is a great piece to experience my aesthetic and create a personal narrative. Actually, the best way to see my work is to visit my website or contact me at my studio.
For more information on Patrick Blythe, call him at 760-218-8998, or visit patrickblythe.com. Patrick’s studio, at the Coachella Valley Art Center, 45140 Towne St., in Indio, is open to visitors by appointment.