Jerry Lin-Hsien Kung, Oakland-based glass artist & fabricator
I'd like to introduce you to another talented Oakland local, Jerry Lin-Hsien Kung. Not only a very skilled glass artist and fabricator, Jerry is also quite a talker. As he said himself, if given the opportunity he will gladly chew your ear off discussing anything from the "systematic death of craft" to the weirdness of the internet. I was fortunate enough to lend him my ear when we met up at Subrosa Coffee on 40th in Oakland a couple weeks ago. In this interview, you'll learn more about the man who "blows bubbles" for a living and why he has continued to pursue what most people stop doing when they're five.
Brittany: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Jerry: Hmm. I'm 37, a Leo... I studied at Rhode Island School of Design where I graduated with a degree in glass sculpture. Before that I studied at Hampshire College for Latin American Literature and Animal Behavior pertaining to the relationship between wolves and sheep dogs. I graduated from art school in ’99. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan. I’ve been making glass for all years after school. I received an associate’s certification in CAD design a few years ago. I took a bunch of night classes for that because I wanted to further explore industrial processes. This led me to moonlight as a draftsman in the prototype department of a machine shop.
Brittany: It seems like going from studying Latin American literature and animal behavior to studying glass sculpture is an unlikely transition. What sparked this switch?
Jerry: I was one of those kids who went straight into college. I fumbled into discovering what I do now. While taking time from Hampshire, I lived in Providence, RI. I took some classes in Ceramics and the instructor happened to be the department head. He invited me in. I saw glass and that was it.
Brittany: Have you always been interested in pursuing a creative field?
Jerry: I never had an inclination for one thing or the other till glass.
Brittany: How would you describe your artistic style?
Jerry: I'm inspired by the characteristics of materials and the personal process of discovering that nuance.
Brittany: Can you describe the process of creating a new piece?
Jerry: Glass blowing is based on motor skills as well a distinct understanding of heat. Heat, saturation, and equilibrium. These are all the metadata for glass making.
Brittany: Is there a lot of thought and brainstorming prior to making a piece or do you tend to wing it and see what develops?
Jerry: There is a language I draw from. It comes from a palette of familiar characteristics from making tens of thousands of bubbles. Having done this for 18 years, I see the minute and the creations I make, whether that be sculptural or design, departs from there. Think of it like building blocks or words or sentences. You learn to express using the knowledge that you gain through experience. The brainstorming is an internal conversation between what I see and what I've noticed in the material.
Brittany: When creating pieces with Alexander Abajian, fellow co-founder of FirePrint Studio, how are you able to communicate with each other, while maintaining your own internal dialogue?
Jerry: We've known each other for 14 years. We both went to the same school and started Fireprint Studio together. That company is now defunct though we still do collaborations. Our communication is based on our working history and the custom fabrication we did for different artists and architects alike. While figuring out how to make something, you expand your library of moves. We developed a lot of solutions for other people and ourselves. It simply becomes an act of material movement between two people guided by the same attention to process. We both have our own businesses now. He is more about art and I'm focusing on custom design fabrication.
A sampling of Jerry and Alexander Abajian’s contributions to “Creatures,” a joint exhibition held in August at Vessel Gallery in Oakland:
Brittany: As you’ve mentioned, in addition to being a glass artist you’re also a fabricator. Can you tell us more about this?
Jerry: After the recession hit, we split up the company. With the savings I took a long-needed time away from art-making. I spent two years traveling, reading, and being in nature. This was the thing that allowed me to move forward with this fabrication company. I see that there is something missing in America… industry. We hear it all the time. I felt really close to this topic because I have been coming up with solutions for a different people for so long. I solved the technical issues for the lighting in the de Young Museum's café and made them. I realized that there was a need for a glass foundry as many people want to restore their production but there are fewer and fewer fabricators in this field. Most people want to keep an artist status. I'd rather redirect my fabrication history and academic history to form a better fabrication while using new technologies such as CAD. With that in mind, I wanted to offer limited-run production services, much like a machine shop or metal shop, as well as consultation. My teaching background makes it easy to explain things to clients. There is an inherent problem with glass and other crafts. That being how it’s perceived. If a sports star in the US is gifted, talented, or fast (sport dependent), they are rewarded handsomely. If a skilled craftsman makes something fast, then their product must be sold cheap. I'm trying to use my company to help people understand that speed and efficiency only comes through time and experience.
Brittany: You displayed a series of glass pieces at Vessel Gallery in Oakland in August. What did patrons expect to see at this exhibit?
Jerry: There are a few pieces remaining at the gallery. But the main installation is now down. They will experience the select work and I think they'll be taken back by the scale and fluidity and literally be sucked into forms.
Brittany: Are there any materials you’d like to work with that you haven’t already?
Jerry: Not right now. I'm a jack-of-all-trades of sorts: welding, designing machines, glass, drawing. I usually get pulled into a material if a project comes up, but for now staying the course of my business is keeping me plenty busy. (I would love to be CPR-certified!)
Brittany: How has living in Oakland influenced your work?
Jerry: Oakland is like the Wild West. There are so many things that are available to explore, resources to utilize, and different cultures from all around. I think the creatures installation had a lot to do with that. It was a large array of silvered forms that opened August 3rd on First Friday. It was seen by hundreds of people. They became the art installation while viewing it. I feel Oakland is like that. You never know what you're going to see next, but can rest assured in a few more minutes you'll see something equally or more over the top. The creatures have a way of doing that in its curves. It creates a fun house effect.
Brittany: What have you learned from being a working artist that you would never have anticipated as a student at RISD?
Jerry: Great question. Things take time. Lots of it. I think art school instills god complexes where you come out thinking you can do everything but then you start discovering the once indelible education is second to reality and making things happen on your own. Art school is not equal to business school. I hate the starving artist stereotype. It ends up fueling itself at times.
Brittany: You’ve held a few glass demonstrations, recently at Public Glass in San Francisco. Can you describe the experience of working in front of an audience?
Jerry: Glass blowing is like performance art. Its choreography is driven by both design and process. I like working in front of audiences. It really lets them feel the intensive conditions a glass studio is. It also lets people understand what goes into making things by hand. It opens up real conversations for people to explore the material.
Brittany: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Jerry: There will be more creatures in the future as well as more design-based products. The creatures will eventually be more about feeding balls where they are all clustered into a sphere.
Learn more about Jerry in this profile of the artist:
Keep up with Jerry’s work:
The first photo was taken by myself at Subrosa Coffee in Oakland, while the remainder were used with Jerry's permission.