Photography by The Glass Otaku & AREY Photography
Early this October we were invited to Burtoni’s studio to document a collection of over 100 of the pieces he had been working on this past two months in preparation for his first ever solo gallery show. Ben’s show, titled “Talons and Tentacles” was held on October 19th, 2013 at Goosefire Gallery located in Long Beach, California. After the show, we were fortunate enough to sit down with Burtoni to ask him about his life, his inspirations as well as his thoughts on being one of the first of many pipe artists to have been honored with their own solo exhibition.
HB: Where and when did you begin working with glass?
B: I started blowing glass in January of 1999, while I was in college. It was a really awesome hobby to pick up back then.
HB:Where are you currently working? Do you have any shop mates?
B: 14 years later, I work at the Shack Mansion with a group of very talented and motivated artists. We are just outside Denver in the beautiful state of Colorado.
HB:What are some of your favorite styles and techniques in glassblowing? What techniques do you enjoy the most?
B: I’m a sculptor at heart, and most of my work design is in the shaping and also the color. I like to have some sort of movement in my work, even though the glass is solid and stationary, I try to evoke some sort of motion in the shape of my creations. I enjoy adding tentacles, talons and other features onto my work, as well as eyes which help bring each piece to life. I enjoy creating stylized animals and creatures you might see in your dreams.
HB:Which artists or artwork inspire you to create? (Glass or non-glass)
B: A lot of my inspiration comes from other artists as well as the natural world. Working with other motivated and like-minded glass artists has helped me develop technically as well as creatively. Artists like Brandon Martin, Joe Peters and Darby continue to amaze me and keep me wanting to push what I’m doing farther and farther. I also take inspiration from artists like ‘Scribe, J. Slattum and Daniel Fleres’ and their painting, and sculpting skills outside of the glass world. I’m always amazed at how endless the creativity these people have and how much they offer to the world.
HB: How would you describe your experience at “Talons and Tentacles” at Goosefire Gallery? How many pieces in total were featured?
B: On October 19th, 2013 I was honored with my first solo art show at the Goosefire Gallery in Long Beach, CA. It was titled ‘Talons & Tentacles’ and most of the work featured had one if not the other of those two. It was an amazing experience and was beyond successful. Hundreds of people came and waited in line to get in to see all the work I’d brought with me. I’d been working for a solid 2 months preparing for this show, and had the help of many other artists, without whom I wouldn’t have been able to pull off such a dynamic array of work. There was easily over a hundred pieces there including pipes, perfume bottles, marbles and pendants. I also had a few tentacle sculptures with built in LED lights as well as prints of my work to hang on the walls. I think the crowd was impressed at all the work, and I’m happy that grinding as hard as I did paid off!
HB: Having lived in hawaii, how do you feel that it has influenced your art?
B: I draw influence from all around me. Since I began blowing glass in Hawai’i a lot of my work is inspired by the natural beauty the island had to offer. Sea life as well as plant life have always been a huge part of my work. From the days when I used to hustle at the craft fairs to some of my current pipe work, those themes have always been prevalent. Even though I’ve left the island my heart is still there and it will always show in my work.
HB: What inspired the Flamingo series? Where/when was the first one created?
B: My recent bodies of work have ventured out of the ocean and into the sky. I’ve become known for my flamingos, and have also recently begun making toucans and some other penguin-like birds. The birds have all evolved from my work with the flamingo, which evolved from the squid pipes I also make. I would always see the body of a flamingo in my mind when I would be shaping the head for a squid and one day, I decided I needed to make a bird instead. So I made my first set of talons and the rest is Darwin.
HB: When did you first start making pipes? What do you enjoy most about making them?
B: I’ve been making pipes since I started blowing glass 14 years ago, but until I left Hawaii and moved closer to the industry, they weren’t much more then simple spoons and sherlocks. I spent about 4 years doing art shows and craft fairs and made my living selling pendants, sculptures, marbles, and things like that. In 2010 when I moved to the mainland, I diverted my focus to the functional world, and became a ‘Piper.’ I applied a lot of what I did previously into my pipe work, and now I create functional pieces that are artsier, and more involved then anything I had before. It’s been an amazing adventure, and I’ve met a lot of unforgettable people along the way. Thank you everyone that supports me and my friends, without you, we couldn’t keep doing what makes us happy.