Christopher McElroy: Glass artist
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | October 29, 2014Christopher McElroy was born and reared in Abingdon, Virginia. He says that early in his life he made a "strong connection" with fire and "demonstrated my proficiency by winning campfire competitions in regional Boy Scout jamborees."
That affinity for fire was a precursor of his life's work, which he discovered in 2000 when he took a glass class at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia.
"As soon as I started melting hot glass, I knew it was my chosen medium," he says. "The glass chose me in fact."
McElroy says on his website that he found glass to be an alluring medium in both its solid and liquid state, and admired its capacity for miraculous transformation under the influence of heat and gravity. Nothing short of obsession led him to experiment with glass endlessly during his undergraduate tenure and to go beyond the bounds of academia to seek instruction from some of the world's best glass makers and educators. Upon graduation, McElroy traveled to and made his base camp in western Montana.
"Upon graduating from VCU, I recognized the need to immerse myself in the glass art community. At the time the epicenter of glass art activity in the United States was Seattle, Washington. So I moved there and have lived around the Pacific Northwest ever since."
Geography also affects McElroy's work. "The scenic rolling hills and relative lack of urbanization and "stripmallification' of Southwest Virginia made me appreciate rural landscapes, country roads and rocky trails," he says. "So I would say that my formative years in Southwest Virginia shaped me into an outdoor enthusiast, which has played out in my art in many ways. The most obvious are my use of color and texture, but one of my favorite themes to explore in my artwork is the struggle between man and wilderness."
The rugged landscape of the western Rocky Mountains and the apparent struggle between agriculture and resource extraction and landscapes untouched by man (wilderness) had a profound impact on the shape and direction that McElroy's works would take, according to his website. The beginnings of the new work sometimes took the form of tools and implements from food production and consumption; these found new glory when rendered in glass and recontextualized in art installations. This work steadily evolved into structural glass forms and then motorized glass forms that referenced agricultural implements and their imminent reintegration (corrosion) into the landscape they were put in place to control.
His current work is inspired by avant-garde contemporary fashion, ceremonial objects of Pre-Columbian South American cultures and textiles from around the world. He is influenced by Chris Carlson, Alex Grey, Missoni Fashion House, Anish Kapoor and Tom Sachs.
He says his mentors, Emelio Santini, Sally Prasch and Bandhu Dunham, encouraged him to follow his own path no matter how difficult the route might be.
His path has led him to study at the University of Washington and to take workshops at the Penland School of Crafts, the Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and the Pilchuck Glass School. His work has been exhibited at The Henry Arts Gallery (Seattle, Washington), Trav-a-Flav Gallery (Seattle, Washington), Missoula Art Museum (Missoula, Montana), Dampkring Gallery (Amsterdam) and Pismo Fine Art Gallery (Aspen, Colorado). He also taught flameworking workshops at Red Deer College in Canada, Kyoto University of Art and Design in Japan, the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Israel.
McElroy manages to find a middle ground between his fine art and the necessities of life. "Making a living producing fine art is a tremendously challenging goal. I've struck a balance between producing thoughtful, contemplative sculpture and commission based functional work. I feel that different types of artistic production serve to complement each other."
To that end, he has worked with galleries, more so in the past than currently, he says. "I'm working with Habatat Galleries (Boca Raton, Florida), and they have been a pleasure to work with, because they are young, energetic gallerists."
In December, McElroy's newest line of work will be on display with Habatat Galleries at Art Basel in Miami, Florida.
"I started a new business a year ago making glass pipes for the smoking community," he says. "This new line of work has been met with great critical and commercial success. It is a different kind of art scene that for now is mostly underground ... but with changing attitudes and laws regarding cannabis use across the nation, it is becoming more widely accepted. I am excited to see my glass community grow and to gain exposure in the greater art world. Things are good. I would describe myself as a thriving artist."
This thriving artist also remembers to help younger artists. "I am taking a sabbatical from teaching for the next five years to focus on my new glass business, but I stay in touch with my former students and counsel them as they move forward in their careers."
McElroy's pipes can be seen on Instagram @2_stroke_glass. He is the son of Howard and Heidi McElroy, Abingdon, Virginia.
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"Collaboration 2-Stroke x Eusheen untitled 2014" by McElroy