By: Aaron Evans
Some people canâ€™t resist pushing buttons. Call them rebel rousers. Punk rockers. Outcasts. Call them devilâ€™s advocates dancing with a double-edged sword. Call them the spoon stirring the pot of life, preventing a dull film of homogenous existence from forming over the surface. Call them what you will, but please call them heroes. These brave souls adamantly battle an ongoing war,Â attempting to save us from a world where we all walk on eggshells in constant worry of someone crying over a little spilled milk.
Octoberâ€™s feature for Perpetual Motion, Josh Opdenaker, a.k.a. JOP, is one such button pusher: an enigmatic puzzle undaunted by what is considered socially acceptable. He splices his soul into his art with recluse abandonment while showing no concern for othersâ€™ comfort zones. Sculpting â€œthink pieces,â€ he dares his audience to, â€œSee what they want to see, but also see something inside themselves they may not have known was there.â€ JOPâ€™s art makes no apologies and asks for no forgiveness. You know what? Iâ€™m glad it doesnâ€™t. For that my friends, is art in its true form.
Sometimes in life when you find a good watering hole and pull a prize catch, the best thing you can do is reload your bait and drop your line right back in the same spot. Thatâ€™s just what Iâ€™ve done. Two months ago, I told you about J.A.G. and his fabulous new digs here in San Diego, and it turns out JOP is the co-founder of â€œThe Glass Palaceâ€ as Iâ€™ve come to call it.Â In fact, he mans 3 of the 7 torches with a full-time assistant and part-time intern who help him manage his blossoming career.Â I returned to their lair in P.B.; as I began to interview this rebellious spirit, I was surprised to hear that he had attained his B.F.A. from the University of Arts Philadelphia almost ten years ago.Â Staring at his tattoos and taking in his deviant smile, I didnâ€™t assume this madman (it takes one to know one) would have come from a traditional education.Â But what I found even more unexpected was that his studies were in stone carving.Â After all, here I was chatting with an artisan who works in perhaps the most delicate medium known to man, and his formal upbringing in sculpting was from the polar opposite of the spectrum. Thatâ€™s pretty dope.
JOP told me that the biggest problem with carving stone is that you spend 6 months on one piece, and when priced appropriately, it ends up with a $60,000 price tag once in gallery. Being that he was young and without an established name in the art world, this proved to be a difficult road.Â Still, he told me that the struggle all artists face is one of the things that he loves most about art.Â Art must come from the heart, and those without heart wither and fade into shadow over time. Looking for a new medium, he was drawn to glass because of its fragility, its finiteness.Â Referring to it as a, â€œStrength not a weakness.â€Â It all adds up to me.Â After learning the craft of sculpting by creating pieces that will live forever, why not explore a new world where the art is bound to a definitive end?Â If life is about balance, then perhaps itâ€™s best weâ€™re all a bit bi-polar.
Iâ€™ve touched on the progressive glassblowing scene in Philadelphia, but Iâ€™ve also highlighted how volatile it was from a legal angle in the early 2000â€™s.Â This reality was by no means lost on Josh;Â for the first 5 years that he blew glass, he never made a pipe and chose to focus instead on refining and perfecting his technique and style while creating non-functional glass.Â Intricate and ornate goblets, vases and candle holders were shown at world class art shows such as SOFA (Sculpture Objects and Functional Art) in N.Y. and Chicago.Â During this period of his career, he also created jewelry and sculptures that look as if harvested fromÂ pristine, prehistoric coral reefs, and preserved forever inÂ glass casing. Still, the world of non-functional glass presented many of the same challenges he encountered while being a stone carver.Â Seeing his peers beginning to establish solid careers from pipe-making, he finally decided to jump into the ring. I really enjoyed the manner in which he spoke of functional glass versus non-functional glass. Seeâ€¦ a piece of art, no matter how loved, is often only observed, untouched and even stored as an investment at times. But, the relationship a patient has to their pipe is completely unparalleled. People do truly bond with their pieces, and being that glass is a finite object, one must appreciate the time they spend with the art before its inevitable demise.
Now when it comes to JOPâ€™s pipes, I would say without question that what sets him apart is how much of his everyday emotion and feeling is instilled in each piece.Â If it happens to be a day where he feels the world is absurd, he makes pieces with his signature play-on rubber chickens.Â Sometimes itâ€™s a rubber chicken slide; sometimes itâ€™s a rubber chicken bubbler, but if thatâ€™s how he feels about the world that day, then chickens it is. These things are so popular that heâ€™s had impostors from Texas to India trying to replicate his anti-pop style.
Other days, itâ€™s bi-polar bears, a line featuring furry friends of the forest partaking in some very unfriendly activities. Some of the pieces in this line make me absolutely uncomfortable, and Iâ€™m completely confident that was the effect he was going for on these days.Â I wonâ€™t try to explain someone elseâ€™s darkness, but itâ€™s obvious that on some days, glassblowing is a very needed psychological outlet for JOP, as it is for most artists. The difference is that most artists arenâ€™t this upfront and honest with themselves or others about it as he is, and I admire that attribute in his work, even if it does make me a bit uneasy.
Another ongoing theme is his â€œcrucifixion art,â€ which depicts Ganesha, the 6-armed Hindu Goddess, nailed to a cross with 3 crossbars and a nail in each hand.Â This line truly captures the essence of a â€œthink piece,â€ having almost endless possible definitions depending on the individual observer.Â To some, it could be a statement that all religions are interchangeable.Â To others, it could speak on how we still donâ€™t fully accept other worldly beliefs in a country still controlled with the conservative right wing agenda. No matter what they say, they speak volumes by remaining undefined.Â Josh explained to me that sometimes he likes to leave things more open, so as to not dictate the direction with an individual title attached to a piece.
Yet, after years of creating masterpiece upon masterpiece, Josh was still waiting for all the stars to align, and at this yearâ€™s CHAMPS spring show, the universe finally found it time to grant him his wish.Â His struggle and sacrifice has finally come full circle.Â Introducing his new line, â€œDesigner Drugs,â€ featuring syringes airbrushed and painted with a take on the Louis Vuitton step-down print on top, people lost their minds.Â At least one could be seen on every dealer and shopâ€™s table, and when he returned home to S.D., his orders had finally increased to the point where he could recruit the help previously mentioned. Once again, this line fell under the category of a think piece;Â though for him, this line is a personal reflection and commentary about a lifetime of being pricked with needles due to multiple ongoing health issues. Still, he was hesitant to push any set definition about the overall statement behind â€œDesigner Drugs,â€ wanting it to touch on multiple points.Â It could be a take on our cultureâ€™s addiction to shopping, or it could be a statement about addiction in general.Â It could be anything really, and thatâ€™s just how he likes it.Â One thingâ€™s for sure, it pushes a button, and thatâ€™s what button pushers like to do most.
Iâ€™ve been puffing on one of the syringes all week, and itâ€™s kind of emotionallyÂ surreal. I have a junkie brother, so it hits pretty close to home.Â Iâ€™ve never had a piece that caters to my dark side and itâ€™s strangely comforting to me.Â In fact, I even named it after my brother.Â Iâ€™m not exactly sure why yet.Â I need to think about it some more and Iâ€™d be willing to bet that it will bring a smile to JOPâ€™s face. His objective has been met once again. From a functional standpoint, this piece is exceptional.Â Smooth as jazz in autumn; still fierce as a brawler in a streetlight.Â The craftsmanship isÂ pristineÂ and clean with precise attention paid to detail.Â Another month of Perpetual Motion and another master is in the book.
Make sure to check out more of JOPâ€™s captivating work online at www.jopglass.com, and drop by Da Glassworks in P.B. to see his work with your own two eyes.Â â€˜Til next time; keep the fires burning, you know I will.