Paul M. Hollister Collection, The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass
Transcribed by Bard Graduate Center
Title: Jon Kuhn Interview for Paul Hollister, c. 1988 (Rakow title: Jon Kuhn interview [sound recording] / with Paul Hollister, BIB ID: 168371).
Jon Kuhn, Narrator
Amara Green, Transcriber
Barb Elam, Editor
Lauren Drapala, Summary
Length: 3 pages
Note: This transcript is based upon an audiotaped recording that has been digitally converted. The recording is part of the Paul M. Hollister Collection at The Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, and was transcribed at Bard Graduate Center, New York, New York, for the digital exhibition and archive Voices in Studio Glass History: Art and Craft, Maker and Place, and the Critical Writings and Photography of Paul Hollister. Usage requests for all or part of this transcript must be obtained from The Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass.
Paul Hollister often made audio recordings for research purposes in preparation for writing, including interviews with artists and curators, and lectures. The reader should bear in mind that transcriptions of these recordings reflect spoken, rather than written, prose. While every effort was made to be as accurate as possible, the sound quality of the recordings in the Paul Hollister Collection varies greatly. Transcripts have been edited for readability and occasionally condensed. They should serve as a best-effort guide to the original only and not be considered verbatim.
American artist Jon Kuhn (1949– ) initially studied ceramics, receiving his BFA at Washburn University in 1972 before transitioning to working in glass while in graduate school, earning his MFA at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1978. Kuhn is a cold glass artist, working exclusively without heat by cutting glass into small segments before polishing and laminating the components into their final forms.
Summary: In this recording prepared for Paul Hollister, Kuhn discusses how the graphic aspects of written language strongly inspire his practice, detailing the relationship that color and incision play in formulating each piece. He likens each piece to a Rosetta Stone, woven with a unique array of colors and glass types that are embedded within a shared matrix.
Mentioned: American Southwest, colorists, columns, glass casting, Japanese gardens, Morris Lewis, pâte de verre, petroglyphs, Rosetta Stone, Schott Glass Technologies, stone cutting, Washington Color School
Related asset: Paul Hollister, “Jon Kuhn and Carol Cohen—Ergründung des Innenraumes/Exploration of Inner Space.” Neues Glas, no. 4 (October/December 1988): 281-287.
Jon Kuhn (JK): A tape for Paul Hollister about my work in the past several years. The first thing I think is important to establish is that all the work has been in one continuous train of thought. Through my [inaudible—tape cuts out]. If you look at the work of 1985—they were the polished tablets set into some chemically treated surfaces. The idea there is—or rather the inspiration comes, came, from looking at cave drawings and petroglyphic marks on rocks by Southwestern Indians. Well, in 1985 I moved my studio and there was a lot of changes to my personal life that I felt reflected the need for a change in my work, my sense of aesthetics as well. So taking the same ideas [pause 3 seconds], which is to say, to be influenced by other cultures, and the kind of marks that they put on their monuments. I was looking through all kinds of books, and to see what kind of forms and petroglyphs inspired me. And I was looking through a book on Japanese garden sculpture, and I saw what looked like a road marker. What it was was actually an obelisk that looked a lot like the Washington Monument, with some Japanese writing down one face, and I thought, ‘Hey, now that looks neat.’ I liked the mark, I liked the precision of the stone—the precision cutting of the stone—and I liked the marks being made in a single line down the center. I didn’t want to make the writing so much anymore, which was what I’d been doing—making these simulated writing marks or simulated language marks or whatever the petroglyphs are. I wanted to move from petroglyphs into color patterns, so it’s—color patterns become my language. And, because that’s where I feel my real—that really my strongest point is that I am a colorist and that’s what I’ve always said I am a colorist, and that I am most influenced by the school of painting that is the Washington School of Color [Washington Color School]: Sam Gilliam, Kenneth Noland, Morris Lewis of course. Morris Lewis was a big influence. And that if I am a colorist, then you know that’s my language, and so that’s how that the idea of the matrix down the center developed, was from the inspiration from Japanese sculptures—garden sculptures and my interest in dealing with color patterns. So I started just playing around with some color patterns and working out how to make these color matrixes in pâte de verre. Because I’ve always been interested in pâte de verre, that’s why I chose that material. And [pause for 4 seconds] that’s where it really started. I did that, and then, I liked the edges that I’d always gotten, the kind of rough organic edges, but I was trying to then to confine it a little bit more. So the first pieces that came out in 1986 had the color matrix down in the center and some deckled edges, but in a much more confined form than I had been doing in the blown glass. On these new forms were cast—[pause for 3 seconds—tape cuts out and comes back in] Like I said these new forms were cast [pause for 6 seconds] and that’s how I got the deckled edges, by casting two pieces, two sides, and then gluing them to a center column that was the matrix. And then I decided to start dealing with clear glass, which—I start buying Schott [Schott Optical Company, Duryea, Pennsylvania] glass, and then thing led to another until now I’ve got these squarish columns that are all polished and all clear. So if you look at the work from 1985 and then the work from 1988 there doesn’t seem to be any relationship, but the truth is that there’s a direct correlation and the philosophy is the same. I’m still dealing with objects that seem to be made by some [pause for 6 seconds] some culture that gives some message, and that’s why I felt that the term Rosetta Stone fit so aptly. I thought it was such a good term for this work. Because although I gave up the petroglyphs and started concentrating more in color, it has the same feeling to me, or it’s the same philosophy. It may very well be much successful, but that’s a result of the technology—the difference in technology. So here I am dealing with these Rosetta Stone-like things, and then the work starts developing some other nuances. The way I started is to make the matrix first, that center column, that center pâte de verre column and then it branches out from there. And they become like musical weavings. I become a composer or a conductor, and all the colors from then on always relate directly back to the colors in the matrix. But I changed them, I changed the relationships of the colors. Some colors become more important, some become less important, and I changed the combinations, but the colors always relate back to the central matrix. And so it becomes sort of a theme in variations. The main theme being the matrix, then the variations, and all of the different parts from there on out, so that’s the musical part. And then the weavings part is when you look through the different parts, they combine together from some vantage points, they combine to create a woof and warp of different things that look like that are woven together sometimes. So I think of them as sort of musical weavings. And also I like the computer like the wafers, the little hearts that look so precise, the precision that kind of relate to the computer. The pieces are also very architectural and speak of skyscrapers, and monumental buildings with all the little windows and things. So those are just some of the things I think of, musical weavings, computers. I like for them to have the intricacy of a fine, fine Oriental carpet and the precision of a computer. Combine all these kinds of different feelings into the same thing, to create this monument of—a monument of color, a monument to color. And then that whole thing goes together to be some kind of totemic Rosetta Stone.