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Brian Engel: Profile of a Glass Artist

Brian Engel: Profile of a Glass Artist

We like to work with artists who can bring a combination of talent, vision and craftsmanship to the creation of an exceptional collector’s firearm. We were fortunate to partner with Brian Engel, a noted glass artist, on our Crystal Gun, which features grips made from handcrafted lead crystal and a glass Tristar trigger. When you see hand the-cut diamonds and other fine details of the Crystal Gun, you realize you are in the presence of superior artistry.

Figure 1 – Jiyong Lee’s  Green Cylinder Segmentation, 5.5 x 12.25 inch, 2017  (Source: http://www.jiyongleeglass.com/segmentation-series.html )

Figure 1 – Jiyong Lee’s Green Cylinder Segmentation, 5.5 x 12.25 inch, 2017 (Source: http://www.jiyongleeglass.com/segmentation-series.html )

Brian grew up in southwest New Mexico, in what he calls “the back country.” His early life was full of outdoor activities like camping, fishing, hunting and horseback riding. This start gave him a lifelong appreciation of the outdoors and the beauty of nature—a theme he explores continually in his creative work.

Becoming a glass artist was not what Brian had in mind as a young man, however. After serving four years as a shipboard firefighter in the US Navy, Brian went to school to study forestry in New Mexico. This was his dream. He was interested in fire science. After multiple injures while working for the forest service he was advised to avoid further damage to his body.  Brian realized he needed to change careers.Using GI Bill benefits, he enrolled in art school, earning a BFA in glass from Southern Illinois University. One of his mentors there was Jiyong Lee, an artist and professor known for “Segmentation Series,” glassworks that emulate cellular division in life sciences. Brian credits Lee with teaching him the challenging techniques of cold glass work. You can see Lee’s influence in Brian’s work, as exemplified by the “Green Cylinder Segmentation” shown in the figure.

Figure 2 - RUSTLER TANK 2016. Blown and coldworked glass. 10″ x 10″ x 2.25″

Figure 2 – RUSTLER TANK 2016

 

 

Inspired by his early adventures, Brian’s glass work frequently depicts abstracted landscapes that feature thick blown glass forms that are subsequently cut and polished. He makes use of shape, texture and light to highlight the unique optical qualities of the material. Many of his works are based on places he has been in the wilderness. His 2016 piece, “Rustler Tank,” shown in Figure 2, is an example of this creative process. Figure 3 offers a closeup of the piece’s detailed workmanship.

 

 

Figure 3 - RUSTLER TANK - detail

Figure 3 – RUSTLER TANK – detail

 

The Rustler Creak piece showcases Engel’s ability to combine a variety of glass art techniques in a single work. The overall shape of the piece is the result of glass blowing. However, the surfaces and nuance are created by extensive cold work—grinding and polishing.Brian’s ability to turn images from his imagination into three dimensions is also on display with his “Coney Mine Shaft” in Figure 4. Here, Brian uses copper inlay in the glass to suggest the hidden, mysterious elements of the landscape. As with many of his pieces, he uses the art of glass to express emotional reaction to places he has visited during his life.

One thing that’s difficult to appreciate is just how challenging working in glass can befor an artist. As Brian explained in describing his work on the Crystal Gun grips, glass is an extremely unforgiving material. Unlike wood or metal, which bend,glass will only break if you press too hard in the wrong direction. With the pistol grips, for example, after dozens of hours, Brian had to grind the surface extensively. He worried about them cracking.

Figure 4- Brian Engel’s Coney Mine Shaft - blown, coldworked, polished glass, copper inlay - 12.5" x 5.5" x 6.5"

Figure 4- Brian Engel’s Coney Mine Shaft – blown, coldworked, polished glass, copper inlay – 12.5″ x 5.5″ x 6.5″

Brian’s expertise in cold glass work helps him get the results he’s after without too much risk of breaking his creation in the process. Cold work involves cutting, grinding and polishing glass. It requires the use of elaborate but subtle tooling. For instance, with the pistol grips, he cut a block of optical grade glass using a water-fed saw with a specially-designed diamond blade. He then ground the thin slices with a Czech glass lathe equipped with brass carving wheels with embedded diamonds.

Brian’s work hints at the paradox of glass as an artistic medium. It’s hard and unforgiving, yet fluid and appears lighter than air. Glass reveals. This is why we’re so thrilled with Brian’s work on the Crystal Gun. It’s at once a work of glass art and a working pistol. The crystal grips expose a traditionally hidden part of the gun. As a result, his work creates an intimacy with the gun. The collaboration with Brian has been a great success. We look forward to engaging with him again in the future

Brian’s work is featured on Cabot’s one-of-a-kind Crystal Gun, the first firearms which incorporates glass art into a fully functional pistol.

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