Perpetual Motion: Degenerate Art

By: Aaron Evans

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As I sat down to the opening credits, it was clear I was about to experience something exceptional. Striking industrial shadows set a dark background as fuel tanks flung open, the day’s artistic weapons were chosen, and finally, in a golden explosion, a flame was set ablaze. A deep bass pounded, bringing, full circle, a sensory overload that was sensationally pleasing. As glass silicate began melting, the camera paned dramatically over workstations and wandering dreams, moving slowly through the movie’s stunning introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Degenerate Art.

When I kicked off Perpetual Motion, I set forth to bring you the story behind one of America’s last unexplored subcultures. As is turns out, this month’s feature, Marble Slinger, had a 6-year jump on me. He was armed with an arsenal of video equipment, a degree in filmmaking, and a talent behind the torch that stands shoulder to shoulder with any master in the game. Slinger’s been getting up and catching props in the glass community for eons, but what’s most exciting is that this titan’s true brainchild has just been born. Degenerate Art, his debut presentation as a filmmaker, is his many artistic mediums meeting at a crossroad. The collision is ferocious, and the fusion it creates is a powerful independent documentary ready to announce to the world that The American Glass Pipe Culture is as legitimate, progressive and powerful a force as any other art form ever known to man. It’s time that these folk legends are properly showcased to a mainstream audience, and Slinger’s about to draw the curtain, dim the lights, and start the show.

Two months ago when we featured Chad G, he mentioned that everyone was buzzing about Slinger’s groundbreaking film at the GLASSROOTS Art Convention. So when I noticed he was coming out to San Diego to visit his old mates, J.A.G. and JOP, I placed a call to my secret weapon over at The Glass Palace. I asked her if she could set up a meeting with Slinger for a special private viewing of the film. Thankfully for me and the NUG F.A.M., my secret weapon is quite a rock star.
If I chose one word to describe Degenerate Art, it would be “thorough”. His timeline of the culture’s development is extensive, starting with its inception and pipe making’s true godfather, Bob Snodgrass, the man accredited for single handedly, and somewhat accidentally, spawning today’s multi-million dollar industry. Then it continues on to examine the underground network that led to rapid and continuous innovations within the infant art form. Finally, the film reaches its climactic culmination, last year’s C.H.A.M.P.S. Grandmaster competition, which could be considered the World Series of pipe making. Slinger examines as many angles as humanly possible in an hour and fifteen minutes of film. There are no holes in the story, no stone left unturned. Degenerate Art is a complete synapses unparalleled in its overview of this astonishing, yet often overlooked medium. He told me that he hoped this offering would be viewed as the glass culture’s “Wild Style” – the indie film that put Graffiti on the mainstream radar, and I think it’s safe to say he’ll accomplish his goal. I’m telling you, this flick is just undeniably fresh.

I learned how Bob Snodgrass’s famous color changing innovation came to pass; inside information about Operation Pipe Dreams with exclusive interviews featuring the individuals who were incarcerated by our federal government. I learned of artisans’ inspirations, rebellions, and reasons for forging forward in the face of prohibition. I learned a lot. And I’m someone who likes to think I know at least a thing or two about the culture. After finishing the film, I began to think; perhaps that’s not the case.

I won’t tell you too much of what I learned, as I feel it’s only in good taste not to spoil any of Degenerate Art’s untold stories. Honestly, the only thing I learned that I didn’t like was that I wouldn’t be able to line up a viewing for NUG readers until Degenerate Art got the chance to make its rounds on the Indie Film Fest Circuit. Still, I understand Slinger wanting to explore all avenues of exposure, and in my opinion, any film festival that passes on this gem will only be doing its audience a disservice. I watch at least one documentary a day and this movie surpasses, in many fashions, anything that has floated along in my Netflix or Hulu accounts as of late. I not only foresee Degenerate Art showing at many of the world’s most prestigious indie screenings, but I also expect it to walk away with an abundance of gold stars to proudly display on its cover.

Now at this point, I think we’ve all gathered that Slinger is far more than simply a glassblower. He’s a mad hatter wearing different caps daily to accommodate his given moods and needs. He is an out of the box anomaly only limited by his own imagination. Yet, perhaps most importantly, he is a master of imagery. This theme resonates in every aspect of his art; from film, to painting, to his unapologetic, in your face glass creations. His New York upbringing, and the Graffiti/Stenciling bombing culture that surrounded him as a youth, has left a lasting impression. In fact, he told me that if he had never been introduced to sandblasting, which gives him the ability to etch his inner mind’s eye onto glass, he very well may have walked away from the torch long ago. Lucky for us, that isn’t the case.
Before we dive into Slinger’s amazing submission, let me explain a little about how sandblasting glass works. Once a piece is fully cooled and its frantic molecules have returned to a nearly solid state, the artisan can place a vinyl stencil/sticker upon the surface, covering whatever parts of the pipe he chooses to keep smooth while exposing the rest to a bad date with compressed air and grains of sand. After several passes with a specialized airbrush, the piece is cleaned. And when the stencil is removed, the artist’s chosen image is ingrained on the pipe forever. There are multiple ways to freak this technique, including deep carving, layering different colors, and flame polishing, giving each blower their own unique flare. Needless to say, almost nobody knows sandblasting like Marble Slinger.
I’ve been hip to this cat’s creations for a long time. He was quite popular among my heady glass collector friends back home. I can still remember the first time I held a Slinger piece in my hands. I just felt like a badass, almost like I was grasping a scepter of underground royalty. His pieces just radiate the energy and attitude of the five boroughs with an uptown swagger mixin’ with a dash of hip hop bravado. But let’s not forget Graffiti, the art form he follows, in his words, “like a religion”. It wasn’t spawned from only hip hop; it also came from punk rock and this fact is evident in each of his pipes.

The piece seen in this article displays Slinger’s sandblasting skills as the Morton Salt Girl is depicted in a new light holding an assault rifle. I’m still not sure what this image says to me, but I know every time I see it; it strikes me as something powerful. Such innocence flirting with such violence; such joy mixed with such despair; such optimism embracing so much fear. Something so simple in its truth permanently sticks in your brain. It’s American folk art in its purest form – raw, rambunctious, unaccepted, and unwilling to compromise. If there’s any message that permeates throughout his work, it’s an absolute obsession with showing the masses that he and his peers are true artistic pioneers. When staring at a piece like this, or those shown in Degenerate Art, it’s beyond me how anyone could disagree.

Seeing that I spent the first half of this article talking about the new film and barely scratching the surface of Slinger’s personal glass career, AND given the fact that I want to keep our readers updated on the release of Degenerate Art (which hopefully will be available to the public this fall), I’ve decided, for the first time, to make Slinger a two-part installment with the full interview I conducted with him, and the announcement of the film’s release, coming in the near future at www.nugmag.com. Till then, you can keep up with the project’s progression at www.degenerateartfilm.com, and see more of his top shelf glass sculpture at www.thataintart.com. With that, I’m out. As always, keep the fire burning. You know I will.

*For more information about the author Aaron Evans and his many forms of creative expression, please visit www.aaronevansimagination.com

Steve

Author: Steve

Built Like That!

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