only so many different things you can do with a bubble."
Glass artist Melissa Kistler is explaining the glassblowing process, about going
into a furnace with a steel rod, doing a gather (collecting glass), and using
breath and tools to create a work of art. While working toward her B.F.A at the
Tyler School of Art,
Kistler had to learn diverse glass processes,
including blown work. Some of this influence can be seen in her current
exhibition at the Indianapolis
Art Center (820 E. 67th Street), open now through Nov. 23.
"Because I respond to
materials intuitively, I like to work with all different kinds of things," Kistler explains, piecing different media together to see
how they fit. "I'm drawn to glass because it can be transparent or opaque or a
combination of the two. There's a mystery, a sense of depth, even if it's not
She likes to work with
kiln-formed glass and frit,
best described as smashed-up glass of different sizes. Her current work
includes a technique she learned while studying at the Penland
School of Crafts, which involves "drawing" with powdery,
crushed-up glass and manipulating the densities to create art (somewhat similar
process-oriented approach is directly influenced by glasswork, in that "a lot
of the making came before the finished product." Deeply invested in working
with her hands, she is grateful for the experience of growing up in a military
family and the lessons she learned. "I'm really thankful to my parents; if it
wasn't for them, I wouldn't be such a hard worker. I wouldn't be dedicated; I
wouldn't be as invested in my artwork as I am."
She goes on to explain
being woken up early -- "7 a.m. was sleeping in" -- and helping to manually mow
a 26-acre farm, as well as cleaning copper coils ripped from salvaged air
conditioners. "I made it into a game. I learned how to be efficient," she says.
Kistler’s primary medium is glass, but she also works in mixed media including photography, print making, wax, and plaster, as seen in these two pieces, “Untitled” (left) and “Collage in Pastel.”
When Kistler uses the term "military family," she means it. In every
generation since the Revolutionary War, a family member entered the service,
including her father, brother, two aunts, grandfather and great-grandfather. Her
father, a recently retired master gunnery sergeant, encouraged her to enlist,
but Kistler chose a different life -- that of the
"black sheep artist," as she puts it.
"It's hard to come by
parents who are supportive of their children becoming artists -- it's a hard
life and you're not going to make a ton of money doing it," she explains. "They
wanted me to become a lawyer. I had a full ride to a prestigious school in
Pennsylvania and decided to go to art school instead. I have a lot of bills
Influenced by her upbringing,
much of Kistler's work deals with aspects of the
armed forces. She often makes flat pieces from upcycled mirrors, sandblasting
them so the viewer can no longer see their reflection but retaining the ability
to reflect light, giving them a glowing effect. Of the faceless people often
found in her work, she says, "I explore the idea of identity and how it's
simultaneously taken away and given to you when you join the military. You're
given this uniform and everyone looks the same and you become a faceless
fighting machine, but you also get another family by interacting with service
members. You lose and gain family at same time."
Still sounding a bit
surprised, Kistler explains that she didn't realize
she was different until she went to art school. There, everything she
encountered was either for or against the military -- "[and] nothing as nuanced
as my experience. Nothing is as simple as people portray it to be. I feel like
I have to do [this work]," she says.
Now that Kistler is gaining more recognition for her art, including
being named a Beckman
Jr. Emerging Artist Fellow, she feels she's getting more
respect from her family for her foray into the world of glass. Still, there are
hints about her growing out of this 'phase,' a well-intended sentiment that
stings: "It hurts to hear 'But you're going to get a
real job too.' You have no idea how hard I work."
daily tasks outside the studio include searching for artistic opportunities
that further her education (and ideally offer funding), as well as working in
her studio at the Harrison Center for the Arts (1505 N. Delaware St.). She shares
space with artist Atsu Kpotufe, with whom she has
formed a friendship. "He forces me to relax when I'm freaking out. I don't know
what I would do without him."
click to enlarge
Courtesy of Indianapolis Art Center
Kistler's work is displayed in the Indianapolis Art Center's fall exhibition series.
Despite straying from
the norm in her family, Kistler believes she has an advantage
over many people her age, because she knows what hard work and discipline are.
"I'm really proud of growing up in a military family," she says. "I don't think
I'd be making the work I am if it wasn't for that [experience]. I'm forever
indebted to my family."
She finishes by
speaking about her craft: "Working with glass is like a dance. I can appreciate
art that's just beautiful for the sake of being beautiful, but even if I tried
to, I couldn't make art that didn't say something."
Learn more about
Melissa Kistler on her website
and on the Indianapolis Art Center's site.
Chi Sherman enjoys writing essays and poetry, being a documentary nerd, and hanging out with her family and friends. Her work has appeared in NUVO, The Huffington Post, and, sporadically, on her blog.
This Saturday Clowes Memorial Hall will bring It Gets Better to the stage for a powerful and entertaining message of hope and support to the LGBTQ community -- and especially to its youth and their loved ones.