Glass Art as Fine Art: Color and Design Are Universal

0701parr3_600x438_1Glass artist Richard M. Parrish reveals that glasswork and painting share common elements—color, composition, layering, and light.

by Jennifer King

Terre D’Ombre (Earth of Darkness)
2006, kiln-formed and cold-worked glass
panel in steel stand, 10 x 16 x ½.
Courtesy Pilchuck Glass School,
Seattle, Washington.

As a young boy growing up on a farm in rural Idaho, Richard M. Parrish was very fortunate to have a working artist living right next door—his grandmother. She was his first art teacher, and often encouraged him to learn more about painting by leafing through the pages of her favorite art magazine, American Artist.

Although he was introduced to painting at an early age, Parrish moved on to explore a number of art forms. “I’ve always been surrounded by art and other artists working in a variety of media,” he says. “Being involved in more than one medium is a tremendous advantage, as it allows you to draw from so many approaches.” Parrish’s chosen approach is not surprising given his background, which includes a graduate degree in architecture from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he studied drawing, watercolor, and ceramics.

Parrish first became passionate about glass art in the 1980s after taking a glassworking workshop. The medium appealed immediately to him because it resonated with his study of glass as a part of architectural history. He currently works as a full-time glass artist in his Montana studio, where he creates functional bowls and trays, such as End Grain Tray, fine art pieces, such as Terre D’Ombre (Earth of Darkness), and large installations. He works primarily with fused glass and glass formed in a kiln (as opposed to blown glass) and constantly draws on his knowledge of architecture and painting for inspiration. Parrish is also enticed by glasswork because he likes working with his hands. As he explains, “I do a lot of very physical cold-working, grinding, polishing, and finishing.” He also enjoys the challenge of molding such a fragile medium into a sturdy piece of art. He describes this transformation, in which heat is the catalyst, as “turning it over to the fire gods.”

Parrish’s process is influenced by the connection he sees between establishing the composition of a painting and creating kiln-formed glass. He admits that abstract painter Richard Diebenkorn’s use of space and light has had a profound impact on his work. “I work with a flat glass surface, so although the glass can be shaped, worked, and slumped [when glass is heated in a kiln to conform to the shape of a mold], I begin by designing the shapes within a two-dimensional surface,” Parrish explains. “Then I explore the three-dimensional aspects through layering. This is exactly what many painters explore by layering and creating depth on their canvases.”

End Grain Tray
2004, fused and slumped
glass, 16 x 16.
Collection the artist.
Photo by Tom Ferris.

Parrish’s background in architecture also influences his glass design. “I’m interested in classic proportion systems, which apply to architecture, modern painting, and glass — all art forms,” the artist explains. He also draws inspiration from his fascination with mathematics and the concepts of balance, symmetry, and asymmetry. “These concepts apply to all compositions, so studying the basic principles of design can benefit all artists,” he says, and demonstrates in Maple Kimono Tray and Morain.

Parrish also considers color an integral component of his glasswork. “I’m aware of and work with all the traditional aspects of color and color mixing, and I’m also particularly interested in the way light affects color,” he explains. “Color’s emotional aspects are also important. Like a painter, I’m aware that adjacent colors always play off one another, and I pay attention and use this to enhance and accentuate my work.” Parrish particularly likes to contrast opaque and transparent glass, as evidenced in Ginkgo Kimono Bowl, for which he chose transparent blue glass to flow around opaque green glass.

Regardless of the type of glass piece he creates, Parrish constantly exchanges ideas with other artists and turns to other media for inspiration. He says with a smile, “An artist can be inspired by anything.”

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Ginkgo Kimono Bowl

2006, fused and slumped glass, 15” diameter. Collection the artist. Photo by Tom Ferris.
Maple Kimono Tray
2005, fused and slumped glass, 16 x 16. Collection the artist. Photo by Tom Ferris.
2006, kiln-formed and cold-worked glass panel in steel stand. 19¼ x 12 x ¾. Courtesy Bullseye Gallery, Portland, Oregon. Photo by R. Watson.

About the Artist
Originally from Idaho, Richard M. Parrish works in his kiln-formed glass and architecture studio in Bozeman, Montana. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from the Cranbrook Academy of Art, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Idaho, in Moscow. He currently teaches glass art workshops and has exhibited in several solo and group shows, including the New Glass Review 27 at the Corning Museum of Glass, in Corning, New York, earlier this year.

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