Glassmaker Martin Janecký: I'm no tree-hugger, I work instead
Martin Janecký, a Czech-born and world-renowned sculptor and glassmaker, has developed glass forming techniques into a unique glass sculpting process. He graduated from the Glassmaking school in Nový Bor and has been mostly working abroad, especially in the US, since his artistic debut. He creates unique animal and human figures right by the glass kiln. "I do things which fascinate me," says Janecký with a smile.
Glassmaker Martin Janecký: I'm no tree-hugger, I work instead
Summer Glassmaking Workshop in Železný Brod, autumn 2014
"We have been working together for a while..."
"I keep learning, trying to understand the material. Every day."
"Realistic things are really hard."
"When I first started doing heads and faces, I had a system of five things which I learned very well and then I just added more and more in between."
"I do things which fascinate me – not just from the workmanship point of view – I try to give them an expression." (foto: Tomáš Hendrych)
What have you been doing all year?
Glass. In the winter, I was locked up in Alaska working on my own things and in the summer, I was travelling and teaching all over the world. I have to be locked up when I work on my objects. Not that I don't like people, but I prefer being able to botch things up without anyone watching me. On the other hand, I started teaching about 10 years ago and that's a completely different ball game.
You are juggling two different roles then...
It's all in my head. When I work for people and teach, I don't get as mad as when I'm working on my own things. I'm there for the people, I try to teach as much as I can and do something for the glassmaking community. Better than only being locked away, doing my thing and not sharing it with anybody.
So you don't mind people looking over your shoulder and applauding your every move?
Yeah, I get fed up with being all alone every now and then. I'm also not the most confident person in the world, so it's good when I go out and meet new people, when I see they are interested. And there are always loads of people, around a hundred sign up for a workshop and I have to select nine or so. That's a great thing to do, but I couldn't do it all the time.
How do you teach people your approach and the skill you learnt over the years?
Workshops normally last a week or two, but some take up to two months. The format is always similar. I work from the morning to about 3 PM and then the students work, sometimes as long as until midnight. People who take part in these workshops must have at least three or four years of experience with glass. Not that they blew something three years ago... They really have to be working with glass and then it's doable - I guess I teach them the technique. I don't teach them to do what I do. I want to show them how to use the burner and different tools and then take that into their own work. I guess I'm helping them to do their own things. It's up to them whether they do faces or animals.
So this is not exactly making clones of yourself. Every person and every piece is an original.
You can't copy these things. Sculpting is like - like when you write. No two people write exactly the same way. When people are learning, at the beginning, they try to do the exact same thing as me and that's OK. But when they go deeper, they get more things and their own style emerges.
From whom did you learn the mechanical part at the beginning?
I haven't seen many people do this. There is an American glass maker, William Morris, it´s him who came up with this technique, but he doesn't work anymore. He'd go into the bubble and start pulling at things. He was an important inspiration for me, I worked for him for about a year before he retired. He'd had enough of the art world, well, the commercial one. That's where I learnt a lot.
That was when you went to the US. Did you have some experience from the Czech Republic before that?
That was about seven or eight years ago. I've been blowing glass since I was thirteen, so 21 years now. I have been through different places, factories, all types of glass blowing...
And you have found your favourite...
Yes, since I was a kid, at thirteen, I was making little figures during breaks. Little figures with big boobs, like every kid blowing glass. (laughter)
Later, I started blowing glass into forms, in factories, as a job. During breaks, I'd always be knocking something up. And then about ten years ago, it turned the other way round. I'm doing my own things and only every now and then, when an opportunity arises, not only financial, but something I enjoy doing, I work for somebody else. (laughter)
So what do you do most of the time? Can you talk us through your method?
In the US, they call it 'inside sculpting' meaning you do it from the inside of the bubble. I guess we don't have a name for it here. But this is the style I do. I have taken the basic technique from someone, but we developed it a lot. It's a really demanding technique, you have to watch a lot of things, thickness, temperatures..., my assistants have to be very good with their hands. I'm trying to do realistic objects. I'm doing what I enjoy, that's my thing.
You said you have advanced the original technique. Does this mean it is still evolving, that glass can still surprise you?
I keep learning, trying to understand the material. Every day. Even when it looks that I know what I'm doing, that may not be the case… When I go to all those workshops, I'm doing things I wouldn't normally do. I have to come up with the process and have the result sketched in my head. It's pretty complicated. It would be a lot easier if I just did things I knew already. But when I have time, I'm on a workshop and have a kiln... I use that opportunity and try to learn new things.
When you work with your assistant, it looks like a perfectly synchronised ballet...
Well, we have been working together for a while...
Martin Janecký and Marek Effmert at the Summer Glassmaking Workshop in Železný Brod, autumn 2014.
Do you have an image of the thing you are working on in your head before you start? I can't imagine how you get an exact shape out of a lump of glass.
I always see the thing in a haze of fog. I know how it looks and how to get to it. Of course there are problems along the way, but you can deal with them.
Co-ordinating the kiln, your assistant, lots of tools, the whole thing sounds a bit like a strategic exercise...
Exactly so. When I first started doing heads and faces, I had a system of five things which I learned very well and then I just added more and more in between. It went from two to six hours of work. I started easy, concentrating on proportions mostly.
I guess it's like Jazz musicians, they learn a complicated score by heart, but in the end they have a system, they count the time and play along, putting bits of it in. My process is fairly similar, only I can't play a single instrument. (laughter)
Does the technique influence the selection of shapes and motives you work with?
I don't think about that much. I'm doing figurative work. I do things which fascinate me – not just from the workmanship point of view – I try to give them an expression, I don't want just a head, I want it to be dynamic.
And when a piece is finished, are you still interested in it, or is it easy to say good-bye to it?
I do about thirty or forty pieces a year. I keep about three which are exceptionally good in some way. The rest has to go. I can't stand looking at it, I enjoy it for a week and then it's out of the house.
How many things shatter during making?
I'm quite lucky, not many things do. That's also thanks to my assistants. They know what they're doing. I'm the one playing and they have to watch for it not to blow up... In Nový Bor one of the things did blow up, it was a different studio, different equipment. You have to learn to work with that.
Do you bring something with you to the workshops?
A suitcase with my tools. I also had about ten pieces sent from the gallery for the Nový Bor exhibition in November, things that I really like.
Can you describe your relationship with glass?
Glass.. I love it and hate it, in equal measure.
At the same time?
It changes very quickly – but there's nothing between one and the other.
Do your feelings change as you are working?
I try to be a calm person during workshops and in schools. When I work alone, I can be passionate and mad. But I can also feel great joy when I manage to slap something good together.
Martin Janecký and Marek Effmert in Železný Brod.
Slap something together? I guess you do touch the glass with your hands. How do you manage to do that?
What we use are folded-up wet newspapers.
It doesn't burn you.
Can you feel the glass with your hands?
When you want to feel the glass move in your hands, the best way to do it is through wet newspaper. There are no gloves which work better. People are using wet newspaper all over the world. Apart from the Czech Republic, that is. A thin layer of steam develops in between the glass and the paper and that prevents the newspaper from sticking to the glass. When the water dries out, it starts to stick.
What do you have to do to work with glass?
You have to be strong, mentally and physically, to be able to do this without getting crazy. The worst thing is when you're lazy. Sometimes you meet people who shouldn't really be doing glass. You have to work, work and work. There's no way you can talk your way out of it. I like people who know what they're doing, from beginning to end. When everything has a purpose. Performance alone is not enough. Workmanship is also very important.
But you manage to combine performances with workmanship pretty well.
I've grown up on workmanship. That's what I do and I'm not ashamed of working with my hands. I find new things by working all the time. When I'm in Alaska, I work non-stop. And things start to happen. I don't go around hugging trees to find something out. That wouldn't work for me. I don't find inspiration in the nature like many others do. I have a topic and I work on it. The rest always comes out somehow.
Is glass a good partner?
You get nothing for free with glass. It burns, you can't touch it.
Do you have a favourite type of glass?
There is long and short glass. Short glass is typically used in factories, but people abroad also use long glass fairly often, it's softer, breaks less and is easier to work with. When I come to a new studio, I try not to moan. I want to try whatever they're using and adapt to it.
Martin Janecký's glass objects are on display in renowned galleries and private collections around the world.
At the Železný Brod workshop last autumn, you made a glass skull and a bull. I'm guessing that was not the first skull in your life?
I've made about ten or fifteen of these before. I really enjoy skulls now. It's a good practice. I'd like to perfect them to a point where they are light and fragile. This is quite difficult with glass, especially when you make a skull out of it. Glass wants to make round shapes, when you heat it up, the details get lost.
Can you continue to improve for ever?
Sure you can. You improve can improve things until, until you die.
Those skulls... (laughter)
No, really, you can keep at it until you drop dead. Each square inch needs attention. I want it to look perfect, as realistic as possible. For it to resemble what it's supposed to resemble. The faces I do are just starting to look human. At the beginning, there was more metaphor in them, they were in a style. Now I'm just about getting there, but it'll still take lots of time. Realistic things are really hard.
17. 11. 2014 By Tereza Lišková and Tomáš Princ (photos and video), skull and bull photos by Gabriel Urbánek, UPM
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