We start the New Year by chatting with Portland,OR-based artist Gary Bodker. Gary creates eye-pleasing minimalist handmade glass designs that wouldn’t look out of place in Roger Sterling’s house. Find out below how he became interested in glass because of bongs, what inspires him in the studio, and the right time and place to turn to Ikea and Crate and Barrel.
How did you get into glass-blowing, and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been blowing glass for about 12 years. I went to Rhode Island School of Design with an interest in studying architecture. I had taken four years of computer-aided design in high school and thought that was the path I wanted to follow.
I became interested in glass mainly because of the pipes and bongs I saw growing up. I saw some videos and thought the process looked really fascinating. Part of the reason I went to RISD was because they had a glass program along with a phenomenal architecture department. My intention was to study Architecture and take a class or two in glass.
There was a small six-week semester during my first year in college when freshman were encouraged to take studio classes outside their intended major to broaden their interests. I chose Intro to Glass, which was limited to 12 students throughout the whole school.
Luckily I was selected, and from the first day I was hooked on glass. The fire, the teamwork, the speed, the delicacy, the technique, the mastery, the failures — it all fascinated me. I knew I had to study this material and become an expert.
How has your glass-blowing aesthetics changed from day 1 to now?
Ever since day one, I have been interested in the technical side of glassblowing. The “art” side of it never really spoke to me as much as the complete mastery some glassblowers had with the material. I think because of that, my aesthetic has always been minimal. I have never focused on ornamentation and didn’t even make a colored piece of glass until the end of my first year blowing glass in college.
I have always tried to make the “perfect” piece, machine made by hand. Since I have a business to run now and can’t always make simple perfect things — because you can buy that stuff at Ikea and Crate and Barrel for a fraction of the cost — I try to focus on bringing a bit of the “art” into my work. Now when I design a piece, it still has that minimal expert craftsmanship, but I add a little flare to make it more unique.
What are the inspirations behind your products?
My inspiration comes mainly from the minimalist designs of the mid-century modern era, the Bauhaus era, and the minimalist art movements. I like to use nature as an inspiration as well. I usually come up with an idea or a sketch and then test it out in the glass shop and let the glass dictate which path to take.
Your Serra + Gary Bodker Bubble Bongs are really cool. Are there any difficulties in being associated with cannabis in this day and age?
I don’t really think I’m that associated with cannabis or cannabis culture. I launched my bongs about a year ago. Although they have definitely been a huge success, I have a whole line of home decor that still does much better than my smokeware. I am not against being associated with the cannabis culture — they do seem to appreciate art and glass especially.
What is the near and long-term future for your design company?
Right now I am working on getting my private studio up and running. It’s been a goal of mine for the last 10 years or so to have my own hot shop. I’m in the final stages right now and expect to be up and running in a month or two. This year, I really want to expand my smokeware line and have a couple designs I’ve been working on.
In the long term, my goal has always been to grow the business to be able to support 2-3 full-time employees. I think being able to work with some of my closest friends and to help support a network of artists would be an incredible opportunity. I would like to use my business and the studio to foster growth and creativity within the network of glass artists in Portland.
I love sandwiches, any of them.
Favorite local outdoor spot?
I think my backyard is my favorite outdoor spot
Favorite designs that are not your own?
I love Tapio Wirkkala, Carlo Nason, Carlo Scarpa, and The Revolution Collection by Felicia Ferrone
One thing that’s always in your fridge?
We always have ice cream in the freezer
Something you wear that’s totally emblematic of your personal style?
Red Wing Work Boots