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February 03, 2016

Glass artist Copping: 'Never stop exploring and never stop making."

Glass artist Copping: 'Never stop exploring and never stop making.

Five questions for Brad Copping

Toronto-born glass artist Brad Copping is renowned for the elegance he brings both to functional glass vessels and larger, more conceptual pieces. Copping has participated in more than 175 exhibitions (20 solo), and his work can be seen in seven public collections. The Corning New Glass Review has featured his work nine times.

In 2015, he embarked on his Mirrored Canoe Project, which involved covering a 16-foot cedar canoe with mirrored maps of Ontario waterways. In September, he paddled the canoe along more than 90 miles of waterways between Lommel, Belgium and Leerdam, Netherlands. Copping was a CIA visiting artist in January 2016 and agreed to answer a few questions.

What’s the elevator speech version of the glass canoe project? What was the technical process of creating the canoe, and then the experiential process of traveling in it?

The process of making the mirrored canoe is rather simple, though labour-intensive, as it took a year to complete. After restoring the fiberglass exterior of an old cedar strip canoe, I drew a map of a 150-kilometre stretch of the waterways that extend south of where I live [near Apsley, Ontario] onto that restored surface. I then cut and ground 12 inch glass mirrored tile into shapes that mimic the farmland of the sandstone plain that covers two thirds of that geographic area and arranged and glued each piece to cover the land, leaving the boat hull open over the waterways.

The resulting mosaic was not grouted but left open, as the push and pull of mirror and background created an interesting dynamic. It also helped keep the overall weight down. The northern portion of the map was covered in broken mirror to represent the change to the granite landscape known as the Canadian Shield. The interior of the canoe was mirrored between the ribs to mimic the longitudinal planking, and was eventually etched with the entries from the journal I kept as I paddled the canoe from the GlazenHuis in Lommel, Belgium to the Dutch National Glass Museum in Leerdam, Netherlands.

The experience of paddling the mirrored canoe through 150 kilometres of Flemish and Dutch waterways was at times very familiar and at times a stark contrast to my experience of paddling in Canada. Understanding that we are part of the natural world has always underpinned the work that I do and I have found that beyond birth and death, I only saw this in solitary communion with the wild. This journey through a much more densely populated country than my own has made me realize that since we are part of nature, then the connections one has with others — those moments where we actually see and acknowledge one another — can also reflect that connection to the natural world.

What did 10-year-old Brad Copping think he’d be doing for a living? Would he be pleased by how his grownup self has turned out?

I'm not really sure what the 10-year-old Brad thought he would be doing for a living. He was too busy either building something or exploring the ravines and cliffs overlooking Lake Ontario that were beyond the end of street he lived on, but In any case I think he would be chuffed at how things turned out.

What are the best personal qualities or attributes to have to do great work as a glass artist?

I'm going to do the Libra thing. You need to have a balance between being super sensitive and thick skinned; which might also be said as the balance between perseverance and surrender. Sensitive to the material, to the world around you; surrendering to what you are capable of making and what it is that comes to you. Thick skinned to the failures as you learn to manipulate the material and macho [b.s.] that can infect glassmaking; perseverance to keep following the trail of your ideas, never stop exploring and never stop making.

I’m a young artist who finds glass fascinating, but I know nothing. What’s your best advice for me?

If you are a young artist who finds glass fascinating but you know nothing, I would suggest you look at the glass that you find most intriguing and learn how it's made. Is it cold glass, warm glass, or hot glass? There are many different ways glass can be formed. If you are able, take a weekend or evening workshop, or find a local artist that uses similar techniques and ask them if you can visit their studio. Glass artists generally love to share their passion. If you are serious about the process and are willing and able to go back to school find the artist/teacher you want to work with. It's the people that matter most, not the facilities.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working toward a solo exhibition opening in June at the Art Gallery of Peterborough (Ontario), http://agp.on.ca. The exhibition, “Setting Afloat on a River in Spate,” will include the mirrored canoe.

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