Found wood, a seedling, and an interest in the properties of glass inspired artist Julie Burton’s unique floral sculptures, available now at our new concept store, Rock Paper Silk. Each one-of-a-kind design brings together wood, metal, and glass into a small-scale home object that evokes Japanese Zen gardens and traditional floral motifs as famously portrayed by artists Kanō Sansetsu, Ogata Kōrin, Kitagawa Sōsetsu, and others.
Read below to learn about Burton’s inspiration and some of her favorite exhibitions at The Met.
Can you tell me a bit about what inspired you to start creating?
I’ve been making things since childhood and found from a young age that I am torn between thought and art. For a long time I was on an academic path and thought I would be a professor, but I was always drawn back to art classes. The idea of being able to pick up an implement, be it a pencil, a brush, or a tool, and use it to make something out of what may as well be thin air has a very powerful allure. In the end that allure won out; I kept coming back to it. For most people the impulse is to admire or criticize what they see around them, but for me the first thought is how: I want to know how things are created, how they are combined, put together, formed.
What interests you in making things by hand?
I think everyone has an interest in making things by hand, whether it’s doing something considered by the greater populace to be “artistic,” or engaging in the resurgence of the craft movement, or doing something one doesn’t even consider “by hand,” like cooking or gardening or building or even doing something as simple as wrapping a present. There is something integral in using your hands to create that everyone has an interest in, even if they aren’t aware they are doing it. In a world that is increasingly digitized, making something by hand creates a connection to something tangible and tactile. For me it’s a very calming activity to make things. Even if I weren’t so lucky as to do this for a living I would still be making things with my hands.
What interests you about working with glass in specific?
Glass is the greatest material I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with a lot: paint, wood, clay, metal. All artistic forms have a nature all their own, but glass is special: it’s a liquid and a solid. It reacts to heat and cold. It bends to gravity and pressure and manipulation in a way that I think no other medium can do. You can draw with it. You can encapsulate in it. You can work with form, with light or a lack thereof (transparent, translucent, and opaque), and with space. The materiality of glass combined with different techniques to manipulate it provides an endless opportunity for creativity. I went to art school to study illustration, but once I took my first glass class I was hooked.
Your flower sculptures bring together wood, glass, and metal in a very organic way. Can you tell me a bit about what inspired you to create them?
My husband and I went to Japan for our honeymoon. There’s not enough that I can say about inspiration in Japan: it’s in everything and everywhere. We found ourselves constantly attempting to buy things that were “special” and not for sale. One of these attempts turned into an adventure through the woods above the town of Matsumoto in search of a ceramicist who made these tiny exquisite houses. On the hunt I found some pieces of old wood that I instinctively picked up and pocketed. One of the pieces had a hole in it in which I put a tiny flower seedling that I also found, which sat on display in our home. One day I found myself staring at it while sitting in the living room, and as often happens to me I decided to see if I could make something like it out of glass.
Have you ever visited The Met? If so, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite exhibitions or objects.
I lived in New York for almost 10 years so there are almost too many exhibits to remember, but a few artists whose work I have seen at The Met that stand out were those about Chuck Close, Kara Walker, Henri Matisse, and Paul Klee. I was also deeply inspired by the Japanese kimono exhibition. The thing that always astounds me about The Met is the sheer breadth of the collection: that you can wander for hours and always see something new. Walk through the Temple of Dendur and end up in photography of the early twentieth century, and then find yourself engrossed in the elegance of modern industrial design. I find myself paying a visit to the dancer of Degas, whether I’m at The Met or The Getty in Los Angeles, every time. And of course it goes without saying that I will always go visit whatever glass is on view. A trip to The Met is always an inspiration.