Andy Paiko’s otherworldly glass objects are like curios one might encounter at Hogwarts, or in Tim Burton’s house. Ornate bell jars enshrine gold-plated chunks of coyote spine or other odd fetishes, transformed as if by alchemy. An absinthe fountain, etched with skull and crossbones, conjures a ritual partaking of wicked spirits. A “lube rack” showcases a sly assortment of quirky wee containers filled with “everything for the friction-free existence,” from motor oil to Vaseline to bourbon. These are elegant implements for strange doings.
“I try to play with functionality,” says Paiko, 32, whose down-to-earth manner contrasts with the gothic eccentricity of his works. “I really try to stay away from objects for objects’ sake, on a pedestal, functionless.” Based in Portland, OR, he divides his production into “vesselware” (candlesticks, vases and other decorative but conventionally useful items) and “sculptural vesselware” (such as the bell jars), all of which he’ll happily customize. Then there are his pure “sculptures,” which include some wildly unlikely contrivances in glass: a fairy-tale spinning wheel that can actually produce yarn, a seismograph that can measure earthquakes and Locus, a funhouse-like mirror reflecting distorted images. An art history professor who saw Paiko’s pieces at the ACC Baltimore craft show remarked that they seemed “somewhat out of time,” at once antiquated and futuristic. It was, the artist says, “the best compliment I ever got.”
Paiko also cherishes the best advice he ever got, a withering critique from a college art teacher, who dismissed his glass cups, bowls and vases as ho-hum, and challenged him to experiment with different forms. “It shook me up,” he recalls. So he made a glass hammer. “I’m sure it wasn’t the first. Still, it was an ironic object. It would work, but only once.” The feeling of freedom it gave him has informed his approach to the medium ever since. He recently completed his most adventurous project to date, a collaboration with the composer Ethan Rose for Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft, where the two created a gallery of kinetic sound by filling a room with 40 wall-mounted reinterpretations of the glass armonica (an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin that generates tone through friction on glass, like a wet finger rubbed around the rim of a goblet).
Most days, Paiko bikes to his studio downtown where he blows individual glass components that he later builds into elaborate constructions in his garage. Sometimes his wife, an art teacher with a more “clean, spare” aesthetic, lends an eye and counsels just the right touch of restraint, he says. “Left unchecked, I tend toward the baroque.”