At the beginning of 2019 I began to see Octopuses, everywhere. I have never really been interested in or connected to the Octopus except at the sushi bar.
It all started with a patron’s request for a sea life mixed media wall sculpture. The patron wanted us to create a three dimensional fountain-like wall piece using a combination of glass, copper and aluminum to look like our branded sea life fountain pieces. Her one biggest focus was that she loved Octopuses and wanted the main focal point to be an Octopus.
The challenge was that even though I have 30 years and maybe 50 thousand glass pieces under my belt, I had never made a glass Octopus. From my diving experiences I was familiar with the creature and some of its behaviors, but I had never made one and had only seen the late great Italian glass artist Pino Signoretto make one once, which I happen to now own.
I wasn’t confident that I could make one so I decided to just make the creature part of the design in the cut out aluminum background. I completed the initial artwork and got client approval. I did the final artwork and then I got a start of work payment. Merrily the real work on this complicated mixed media sculpture had finally begun.
Six weeks later I was finished with the piece and called the patron for final approval and payment. To my surprise her comments were “what a lovely piece, I love what you did with the fish and the seaweed it is very creative, but where is the Octopus?” I said “the octopus is right there in the middle of the piece, right where we agreed to put it.” Patron asks “where?” I walk over to the piece and put my finger on the aluminum Octopus, the one she approved during the design phases and buildout. The patron then says, for the first time “no I wanted a glass Octopus.”
OK, here we go. This type of misunderstanding can be an issue for all artists when they take custom commission projects. Part of the artist’s challenge is to understand what is inside the head of a client.
At this point the patron had already given me over $4000.00 in progress payments. The piece was fully completed with all finishing touches applied and ready to deliver and hang. The task of going back to alter the center of the piece seemed daunting to say the least. The best solution was to make a glass octopus and attach it over the top of the two dimensional aluminum piece, creating an illusion of a shadow underneath.
That’s when I began to see Octopuses everywhere. I was seeing so many of them I felt like I was being stalked. Who are these creatures; I was on a quest fueled with curiosity, challenges and creativity, the three really big C’s in an artist’s creative journey.
I found that the octopus is one of the most fascinating and strangest creatures on the planet. It’s a creature with more than a half a billion uninterrupted years of evolution. The octopus genetic path was entirely different than ours, yet it is equally as intelligent and resourceful. Octopus intelligence operates in a totally different manner than ours, with neurons distributed though out their entire body, in their arms, and in their suckers as well as their brains, unlike the centralized brains of all terrestrial mammals. All octopuses have three hearts, blue blood and a poisonous beak, no bones so they can squeeze themselves into anything and all kinds of shapes. They are wonderful at camouflage because they can change the color, the pattern and texture of their skin at will and they actually dream. Add to all of these unique traits that they are fiercely independent and incredibly intelligent creatures and perhaps you can understand why they are unlike any other creature on our planet. There is so much about them that is so unique and wonderful. Maybe they are the original alien species that somehow got here from another solar system?
Back to the soon to be created glass octopus for the sculpture, first thing I had to do was find an artist who had experience in hot sculpting octopus. To my rescue came Justin Reagle a former Stone and Glass studio artist. Justin was known for his skill in sculpting hot glass and had made octopus with a number of other glass artists. He was kind enough to come by and teach me the basics of forming a glass octopus.
Like any newly acquired hand skill, this one required practice, lots of practice. After a few attempts I realized that I would have to develop my own way of making this creature. Finally I was successful and able to finish and deliver the wall sculpture.
But the world of the octopus was not finished with me just yet. Within about a month the same patron reappears and asked for a freestanding octopus sculpture to fill a niche’ in her home. I measure the space and started work. The first one came out too big, the next one was still too big. The third one came out just right. We sold one of the large ones to another patron. Another is available in the gallery, along with a smaller sculpture of an octopus in a shell.
While this is going on we are paid a visit by a soon to be patron who is looking for a glass sculpture of a life size Pacific Coast Octopus to be mounted on a manufactured coral reef holding a glass sink. Now that is a job. I had experience in casting small figures and creatures in glass. I foolishly thought that going big was a simple function of scaling. My glassblowing friends told me I was nuts to even consider the project. Yup, this is James, I live to go where no one has gone before. So yes I did take on the challenge.
A project that was scheduled to take about six months to complete ended up taking over a year. And what a ride it was. Even though this was a cast glass crystal octopus, its behavior was just like a live one. At every turn it did something unexpected. It almost got away from us several times. In the end we finally got the project completed and delivered to its new home.
I now have a new appreciation and respect for these marvelous creatures and that is why we are calling 2019 “The Year of the Octopus.”
By the way, if you are also a lover of the Octopus, we have many in the gallery looking for loving new homes, from tiny little babies to life size. Give us a call or visit the gallery.