Living with mouth blown glass is a pure joy. It’s not just what it does to or with light, or the apparent magic of a substance that goes from liquid to solid in the making. It’s that when you pick up a piece of handmade glass, you feel that you have a warm, living thing in your hands, vibrating with strength but also imbued with the micro-imperfections that remind you of what it means to be human. The fact that it’s typically stronger than most mass-produced glass feels almost like an afterthought.
The problem is that the aesthetics aren’t always right. Conventional wisdom seems to have it that handmade glass needs to be a swirling riot of color, a statement of the glassmaker’s technique (though not necessarily taste). But the good news is that there’s another type of glass out there that’s restrained, pure – and so much easier to live with.
One of the practitioners of this type of work is Nate Cotterman, a young glass designer-maker currently based out of Los Angeles. He makes both functional and decorative glass (from drinking glasses to lighting to vessels) that’s intensely alive but nonetheless spare. When he uses color, it’s vivid, but not messy. It’s very classic, but feels thoroughly modern, equally at home in a clean, white architectural loft; an elegant, antique-filled apartment; or a boho brownstone.
The strength of the work lies in Nate’s focus on form, which makes sense for someone who was “always more interested in the design world than in the art world”.
Nate received his BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2007 and worked in Cleveland for another 3 years. He then felt the siren call of the west, and moved out to work in Los Angeles. The lure? Not just the weather, but the opportunity to work with the uber- talented Joe Cariati, who’s created a mini-hub of glass talent in El Segundo just down the street from a custom vinyl (record) shop and a custom chopper studio.
His work environment may be gritty, but his inspirations include the simple, sublime, disciplined forms of Japanese pottery. “A lot of what we do is informed by process but I like to keep the process simple, keep everything slimmed down, not get too into pattern.” Case in point: his Incision Series in elegant cream and sensuous black, an elegant, refined offering with an edge. The glass is blown twice, then cold-worked with a wet saw. This color-on-color approach provides offers some of the visual excitement and rhythm of more traditional glass without the fussiness of it.
A rock n’ roll-meets-design vibe comes through in another great creation: the Cube Glass, which comes with a 2-inch cube attached to the inside. Inspired by a relative who’s a bourbon-drinking interior designer, it chills your favorite tipple without watering it down.
Nate’s glass is a perfect melding of his love for simple, modern design and glassblowing technique. “I just really like blowing glass,” he says. “I like to make things quick and reach my end goal without forcing the material. The less you touch it, the more fluid and natural it will look.”
In addition to custom work (particularly in lighting, and often in partnership with designers such as Lesley Anton) Nate’s in demand as an instructor and emerging artist. He’s taught workshops at institutions across the US and has been a visiting artist at a variety of universities, including the University of Montana, University of Southern California, Santa Monica University and Cleveland Institute of Art.
There’s one problem with this kind of glass, however, and that’s how addictive it is. Once you see how beautifully this glass works with your life, you’ll be throwing out the old, and coming in with the new. And maybe that’s it’s own catharsis.
Read more about the artist at www.natecotterman.com