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George Jercich: The Fragile Art of Glass-making

George Jercich art 5 | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Glass aquarium by George Jercich. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Like medical staff at an hospital birthing room, George Jercich's glass-working team springs to action, very literally, to breathe life into his art.

Glass art is not made in isolation. The molten material strives for permanence as glass artists work to bend it to their will. Jercich has been glass-blowing for more than 40 years and sees the collaboratory process not only as life, but as music. Each artist plays his part to deliver a multi-layered approach to bending shapes out of glass. When they come together, they call it a jam session.

"It's kind of like jazz," Jercich says, pausing in thought before adding, "The studio is sort of a recording house where we're going to do a jam together. Everybody has a part, but everyone has a plan, a kind of choreographed move. Everyone has to move with the timing of the score."

Some of the instruments of glass art involve a furnace to melt the glass (2,100 degrees Fahrenheit) coupled with timing, working the thick molten liquid, tongs, shears, tweezers and a pipe through which air is blown to morph the nearly airless mass into a bubble, and pushing it into shapes as its temperature quickly cools.

George Jercich with his tools. | Photo: Yvonne Willis.
George Jercich with his tools. | Photo: Yvonne Willis.

"Blowing glass is not unlike blowing bubbles out of bubblegum; it's about the same amount of energy," Jercich says.

Speaking of bubblegum -- darkly poetic bubblegum -- one of Jercich's outdoor sculptures stands amidst plants in the free-spirited garden that sits outside his studio, a small replica of a wine press topped with a bright pink bubble. It's called "Bubblegum into Wine."

"It's about youth, life, death -- that's the theme," Jercich said. He stands quietly considering the pieces as the sunlight shines through them. "The sun is a natural light; I prefer the glass outside whenever possible."

Life and death are repeating themes in Jercich's work. It may be because his father was 55 years old when Jercich was born. He died 17 years later, and that impacted the then teenage Jercich.

George Jercich art work. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
George Jercich art work. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

"My father was a very honest man, but he didn't want me to be an artist," Jercich said, looking at the ground as he spoke. "He wanted me to be an engineer. But my mother who was an artist, she said, 'It doesn't matter what you do as long as you're happy doing it.'"

There are some engineering aspects to Jercich's work though. Besides glass art, Jercich welds. He used that skill to put together a giant, rebar birdcage that must be more than 10 feet tall. Twenty-two glass birds are perched within.

Just beyond the cage is his studio, a softly lighted space that houses decades of materials -- glass, tools, the glass-heating oven, and art.

There's often music playing, but lately, Jercich has been listening to books on tape. He's currently got Nelson DeMille's "The Lion" in his player.

Glass weed whipper by George Jercich. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Glass weed whipper by George Jercich. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Sculptures appear to grow from the earth sitting between fiery hot peppers planted by Jercich's daughter and a small orchard of olive trees that fill Jercich's Los Osos landscape.

"If you harvested those peppers, you'd burn at both ends -- I'm sorry I have to say it," Jercich said, laughing. The man doesn't bother with many social filters. What you see is what you get.

"I don't think of myself as an abstract or nutcase artist," he said, describing his work. "I set upon this path, because I understood this message of what this art is about. The message is important."

He's talking about his Nose Project, a collection of glass-cast noses modeled from 57 Central Coast residents. His March show, "Overhead, Underfoot and in your Face," at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art consisted of a wall covered with a line of 14 of the noses. They were set at the height at which the model's nose would stand. A 6-foot-4 person's nose would hang higher on the wall than a 5-foot-4 person's would.

[Click to enlarge] Glass-cast noses by George Jercich. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Glass-cast noses by George Jercich. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

He decided on casting the noses because noses and chins are the first parts of the body to enter a room. Hanging just the nose in the show, Jercich said he hoped viewers would imagine the rest of the body following behind it.

"A sculptor is supposed to give some idea of or at least a clue to an idea of what they intend," Jercich said. "And my intention was -- I was hoping to get the viewer to imagine a whole body behind those noses, for viewers to use their own history of images they remember, of people they've seen."

Now Jercich is continuing that project, fusing those noses onto an inverted glass cone to switch up the perspective on the noses.

"I'm like Marcel Duchamp who took a common object and changed perception," Jercich said with a smile. He blew the whole thing apart about what is art. Anything can become art, absolutely anything. I'm trying to explore those possibilities that he liberated."

Glass nose cone by George Jercich. | Photo: Yvonne Willis.
Glass nose cone by George Jercich. | Photo: Yvonne Willis.
Glass-cast noses by George Jercich. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Glass-cast noses by George Jercich. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Glass melting furnace by George Jercich. | Photo: Yvonne Willis.
Glass melting furnace by George Jercich. | Photo: Yvonne Willis.

 


 

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