“The Asylum” Studio Spotlight
Back in the early days when I became more involved with this industry and started to familiarize myself with some of the popular glass artists of the time, (Banjo, Cowboy, Darby, and Eusheen), I also became aware of a couple of other collectible artists… DWreck and Pakoh. After photographing their pieces and seeing the qualities that made them household names in the glass community, I wanted to someday meet them. Through the social media explosion of Facebook I started following more and more glass artists. One in particular really caught my attention… DWreck! Be it as it may, there are certain persons who stir up the pot whether through imagery, opinions or statements, but DWreck has a way of capturing your attention and creating controversy, not necessarily in a bad way. I finally met Derek at Hoobs’ opening earlier in L.A. this year and my reaction was like when “The Italian Stallion” says to the “Clubber” in “Rocky III”, “You’re not so BAD”. Each artist brings years of experience, talent and uniqueness to the table that make them part of this ever-increasing SoCal, Cali, and national functional glass community.
“The Asylum” Crew
ACE, DWreck and Pakoh
How long has this shop been in business and why is it called “The Asylum”?
ACE: The shop was built out in August of 2011. We called it The Asylum as a joke at first, but we never came up with anything better and it just kind of stuck.
When did you know you wanted to become a full-time glass artist?
ACE: I knew I wanted to be a full-time glass artist the first time I turned on a torch in 2002. I was always interested in crafts and was especially good at ceramics, but as soon as I started blowing glass everything else sort of went out the window.
Pakoh: When I was in my last year of art school I was looking at options for after graduation. The thing that appealed to me most was pipe making. I liked the freedom it offered, and my love of weed pulled me in.
DWreck: I don’t really consider myself a full-time glassblower actually. I consider myself a pipe artist; it’s just semantics but I do a lot of work not on the torch. So a glassblower is not exactly what I am all the time. I know that’s not what you were going for. Throughout the last 15+ years since ‘97 while I’ve been blowing glass, I’ve actually been a bartender, worked construction, and hustled some medicine on the side, if you will. I worked at a graphics company for a couple of years. So I guess the answer to that question would be this. About five years ago I realized I didn’t want to do anything else but be a pipe artist full time, even though I’d already been doing it for ten years. That’s largely because I sold out, got that graphics job, 401(k), and health care and found it to be completely unfulfilling. I’d even say I was quasi-suicidal near the end of that tenure. So, yes, I choose to be the master of my own
destiny and time, even though I’m not necessarily the most disciplined at it.
What’s the significance of being a West Coast glass artist?
ACE: I don’t actually think there is any significance to being a West Coast glass artist. I used to live on the East Coast, so I was an East Coast glassblower. If I moved to the Mid-West, I’d be a Mid-West glassblower. Still the same glassblower either way! But the Left Coast is the best coast.
Pakoh: I don’t think it matters where you are located, but what matters is what you are making. If your glass is tight people will notice.
DWreck: I think more than anything, the birth of the modern pipe industry started on the West Coast, specifically Eugene. So there might be a little bit of an older history. Even more significant are the marijuana laws on the West Coast; obviously all three West Coast states are lenient. They’re all medical. Washington and Colorado are fully legal. California and Oregon will certainly follow as soon they can. I think it enables the pipe culture to fully be itself. None of this “You can’t say the word bong” nonsense or “It’s for tobacco only,” which annoys me. I think financially there’s probably significance. In the Northeast the money is probably a little bit bigger than it is out West, but at the same time you know everything’s digital these days so regionally it doesn’t always matter. I will say that living down in Southern California I got the best weather. Hoh!
If you could blow glass anywhere, where would it be and why?
ACE: If I could blow glass anywhere, it would be in my own studio! The weather is amazing and we’re only four miles from the beach!
Pakoh: I loved Maui when we visited. That would be an amazing place to live for a while, or if Pebble Beach were looking for a resident glass artist, I would apply there too.
DWreck: You pretty much can blow glass wherever you want. I have my family down here in Southern California. I want to keep my home base down here so I can be around them as they get older, because my mom is 74 now. But otherwise, I like to utilize the opportunity to go to places like Spain, Japan and to friendly foreign countries. As an odd-looking individual I found it really entertaining to see the reaction I get from people in Japan. I have a feeling Barcelona, Spain is just my kind of community. Pipers really enjoy the luxury of being able to bounce around each other’s studios and have these work/vacation things going on.
How has being part of such a vast glass blowing community affected you?
ACE: I’m not sure, since for the majority of the time I’ve been working glass I’ve always felt our community was very small, rather than vast. It’s certainly changed over the last few years to become a huge community, though, so it should be interesting to see how things evolve.
Pakoh: It’s cool to see such a wide-array of styles done well. Everyone has their strengths and I love to see someone who does their own thing at a high level.
DWreck: It’s completely shaped my life in every way at this point. I feel like I’ve managed to create a little bit of notoriety. I have an audience for people to listen to my random babblings which sometimes get me in trouble, but I’ve got to be me. There was this one time when I had all my equipment stolen in San Francisco and it only took a week for me to be able to get back to work because of all the donations that came in from dozens of people. Thousands of dollars in equipment were made available to me right away. I also like being part of the glass community because I feel like we are uniquely non-traditional; we’re a bunch of stoners. We’re supposed to be failures in life. A lot of us didn’t get through school, but here we are learning to embody the American spirit.
Considering there are so many talented glass artists, whose work do you admire the most and why?
ACE: I really just admire anyone who is working hard and making original content. Pakoh: I think Loren Stump’s sculpture is amazing. Banjo always drops jaws. Clinton is so
DWreck: All of them. Anyone that’s doing his or her own thing is awesome. Specifically, I like Zii’s really nasty teeth. I like pretty much everything Ghost does. He’s the only one in the game really capable of doing a caricature that actually nails it. You don’t even need to ask him who it is. It’s not even the actor, it’s the character they’re playing and he really kills it. You know I love my boy Slinger. He’s my sort of leader in a way, running off the how-to-make-yourself-successful-by-Slinger model and the list is endless. Name an artist and I’ll probably tell you what I like about him. Salt, what can I say? The dude is a master of every angle of the game and his latest body of work is really pretty sick, like the whole B-Boy thing.
Describe your style of work and how you identify with it?
ACE: My style right now is very fantasy-oriented, and I think I identify with it because of my love for fantasy in books and art.
Pakoh: City. Golf. Robots. Concept-based pieces. Using a technique for a purpose. DWreck: My style of work is all about raising the taboo aspects of pipe culture and challenging
people in society to confront their sexual and spiritual relationships.
Now that almost every glass artist is on social media, how do you think people perceive you?
ACE: Ha! I have no idea what people think of me on social media, but if I had to wager a guess, I’d say it probably looks like I have a lot of fun. They might think I’m a really huge Star Trek fan. That would be accurate.
Pakoh: I think people see me as someone who has been around a while and made some cool pieces.
DWreck: I can tell you that the most common thing I hear from people that meet me is they thought I was gonna be an asshole and that I would be bigger than I am. So there it is. People think I’m a big asshole.
Besides the money, what do you enjoy about teaching others about the trade?
ACE: I don’t teach anymore. Pakoh: I think when people learn how hard it is to make the stuff we make; they have a greater
appreciation for it.
DWreck: Not everyone’s going to be the king or on the top of the hill, the Superman or however you want to look at it. You never know whom you’re going to influence along the way. Maybe something that I do inspires somebody else to do their thing and they become great. I like to think that my little role in that mattered. I think it’s important for society to kind of understand that, because in America we’re so about being the most successful, the boss, the superstar, we’re really narcissistic and we have a tendency to overlook the role that everybody plays in society collectively.
Finish this sentence… If I weren’t a glass blowing artist, I would be…
ACE: A craft artist of a different sort. I’ve always wanted to make things, so I probably always will.
Pakoh: Doing something else creative. I feel like that’s always come natural to me. DWreck: A rockstar! That’s the one everyone thinks I’m an asshole for saying.