By MICHELLE SCHMIDTJen Fuller is the featured artist for “Reclaimed Revolution: A Steampunk Invitational” that opens Saturday at Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History. While the Portland artist doesn’t describe her work as “steampunk,” the glass, concrete, steel and reclaimed materials she uses are a visual match for the genre and allow her to explore similar themes.
Fuller describes her work in her own words:
“I’ve been doing art for five years. I had always had these ideas but I had no way to execute them. Five years ago, I was walking by a gallery in Portland and the gallery owner literally grabbed me and said, ‘Tell me who you are and what you do?’ After explaining my vision, she said, ‘I have somebody I need to introduce you to.’ Unbelievably, I received an email from Warren Carther, a well-known Canadian glass artist that same afternoon. He offered me an apprenticeship and that’s really how I got my start.”
“I’m self-taught. I started with a studio assistantship for a 15,000-pound sculpture for the Winnipeg Airport with Carther Studios. My dad is a carpenter, so I had a practical background for building, but it was through this apprenticeship that I was able to learn how to do public art. Art has been a make-it-as-I-go process, so there’s nothing formal about it for me.”
“The thing that inspires me most is human emotion. I think humans and glass share a lot of similarities. Humanity’s emotion is transparent and fragile, but both glass and humanity are also incredibly resilient and strong.
“My art career has had this ecological bent to it. That came from the fact that material costs are really high – glass is an expensive and fragile material to work with. In the process of looking for reclaimed materials, I landed an artist residency where I was creating art from the landfill. This allowed me six months of access to the Portland Transfer Station. Through that process, I learned a lot about America and the amount of garbage we throw away.”
“To work successfully in glass, one must follow it where it wants to go. Like people, glass is transparent, fragile, and prone to having a mind of its own. When I use the kiln to form glass, it is an act of surrender. In contrast, steel is hardy, warm, workable. It’s easy to control and an ultimate support system. I find the contradiction irresistible and my sculptures evolve from a ‘conversation’ between the two. I don’t tell people what things mean, but rather emphasize light and translucency to stir a viewer’s curiosity and encourage the audience to find a personal narrative of their own.”