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Sculpting a life from art

Castaic resident and artist Jack Storms uses a cold process to shape glass and crystal into art

Posted: December 15, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 15, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Local artist Jack Storms wipes a piece of his glass art in his studio in Valencia. Using a cold method, Storms fuses multiple pieces of crystal together with an epoxy. Various designs are cast across Storms' face as light refracts from each of the fused pieces.

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Glass artist Jack Storms stood hunched over his work, applying a roughly 15-pound block of crystal to a grinding pad.

Each time he pressed the material to the wheel, it emitted a shrill, mechanic sound reminiscent of drills at the dentist.

The machine threw drops of a peach-colored liquid polish around Jack’s face, and the entire studio, tucked into a business park in Valencia, was splattered and bathed in the substance.

The long, narrow space was filled with humming machines, laboratory tools, tubing, cutting tools and whiteboards covered with scientific-looking scrawl.

It looked better-suited for a cruder kind of work.

“Jack’s work is a combination of science, math and art,” his wife, Vivian, said.

Jack is the best-selling cold-glass artist in the country and one of only three artists in the world that can do his type of work, she said.

Shrouded in a green apron and goggles, he creates glass art using a cold method, fusing multiple pieces of crystal together with an epoxy, a hand-mixed substance that acts like glue. To shape each piece of crystal, Jack cuts, grinds and polishes each piece before putting them together.

During that process, each piece goes through several machines and transformations before its ready, comprising an elaborate, exhaustive process that starts with a blueprint and ends as art.

“I love this work because it is so different and so tedious,” said the Castaic resident and Valencia business owner.

Jack’s art is currently eight months sold out, said Vivian. He can’t produce pieces fast enough to satisfy their gallery space, 13 partner galleries and commissions from private collectors.

“His work is so complex and intricate -- it’s as difficult as creating diamonds,” Vivian said.

 

Conception

Jack finished art school at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, unsure of how he wanted to use his education.

Once he found cold-glass work, however, he was hooked.

“The medium spoke to me, and I dove in -- head first,” he said. “I’ve never taken to anything like I’ve taken to this.”

For two years, Jack studied with an experienced cold-glass artist, producing strictly cubic, geometric designs to sell in his mentor’s gallery. But demand for Jack’s work increased, and tension arose between Jack and his mentor.

“I wanted to apply the art theories and principles I had learned in school to my work,” he said.

The only cold-glass artist to have classically studied, Jack said he was enthusiastic and eager to apply his academics to a medium that was previously restricted by geometry, technique and machinery.

So he split up from his mentor in 2002.

Branching out on his own, Jack was burning to attempt something new, something others had said was impossible.

He wanted to make glass art pieces round and spherical.

“Straight lines don’t exist in nature,” he said. “I wanted to make the art more of a natural being -- give it a sense that it was created and not manufactured.”

Jack aspired to sculpt a piece that more closely resembled organic life, bridging the gap between natural beauty and the technical process required to mimic nature itself.

“I was the new guy,” he said with a chuckle and a sigh. “I had to come up with something.”

Because his father had a background in woodworking, Jack was familiar with the wood lathe, a machine that rotates on object on its axis to cut, sand or sculpt curved shapes.

He wanted to bring those same curved shapes to cold-glass art, creating more variety than just the cubes he had seen before.

So he built a glass lathe, creating the machinery to suit his artistic vision. In doing so, Jack had changed the artform.

 

Process

Most artists or chefs, when speaking about their masterpieces, are hesitant to share their secrets.

Jack’s secrets, however, are so complex unique that he feels safe sharing the basics, knowing no one could accomplish what he has without extensive training.

“We haven’t been able train anyone to complete the entire process in two years of training,” Vivian said. “It’s all up in Jack’s head.”

Depending on size and complexity, one piece takes about six to 18 weeks to complete, though some have taken more than a year. Working 12-14-hour days, Jack ships out three or four finished products a week, which sell for anywhere from $5,000 to $55,000.

Using three kinds of glass that reflect light differently, each piece starts with a layout -- a blueprint of the shape, pieces and colors inside, as well as the predicted end product, he said.

He starts by cutting the necessary pieces, and follows by grinding, polishing and putting pieces back together. Then he will repeat the process again and again until he achieves his desired effect.

All the while, Jack is guided by the Fibonacci sequence, tracking each piece and cut with a complex numbering system.

“Once I incorporated the Fibonacci sequence, (the pieces) became organic. They glow. They ebb. They undulate,” he said, his voice rising each sentence. “They’ve become so much more complex.”

When finished, each piece lights up with various sets of colors, making deliberately designed patterns of shapes visible inside. Each one weighs anywhere from 10 to 55 pounds.

“When they get bigger like that, it’s crazy, rigorous work,” he said.

Dealing in such time-consuming manual labor, Jack is familiar with injuries. He has pulled muscles, cut knuckles to the bone and ruptured a disc in his back, he said, pointing to a still-healing knuckle.

 

Carving out a home

The couple moved to Valencia in October 2012 because they said it was the best place to raise a family, as well as centrally located.

“I knew nothing about Santa Clarita, and I’d never been here before,” she said.

But after a visit, the couple was sold on the safe neighborhoods and good schools, she said.

Vivian, originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, worked as an actress and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career.

When she met Jack, he was a “starving artist,” living in his motorhome outside his studio, Vivian said.

Vivian took one look at Jack’s work and was bewildered that he couldn’t afford rent.

Jack went through a series of unfortunate business ventures when trying to find the best way to get his artwork out there, she said, but Vivian made it her mission to make Jack a success.

“I knew what I had to do,” she said. “The next thing I know, I’m running the business.”

Under her watch, they grew quickly, as Jack got his work into fine art galleries all over the country. He was able to focus on his art, as it should be, Vivian said.

Keeping work close to home, the couple bought his studio, as well as a private gallery space on Constellation Road, finally realizing their dreams.

“I can’t believe it all actually happened,” she said, bursting into a wide smile. “What more can we want?”

Every day provides new insight and a better appreciation for Jack’s work, Vivian said -- even cool morning sunlight reflects differently than the warm hues of evening light.

With many artforms, Jack explained, artists can define the parameters of the piece: A painting has four walls; a bronze sculpture is contained by its shape.

“When light hits (a glass sculpture), it goes everywhere,” Jack said, throwing his arms wide in the air. “I have a neverending love affair with this work because you can never exhaust it. There are so many variants -- I see new things every time I sit down and look at a finished piece.”

Kirsten@signalscv.com

661-287-5593

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