Guy Kemper, Painting with Glass

Episode #401 | First Aired: October 24, 2010

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Guy Kemper sums up his approach to making glass art in plain and simple terms:

“It’s not your mother’s stained glass window.”

“Painting with Glass”, the Kentucky Muse presentation of a film produced and directed by Mark Pengry and written/edited by Guy Mendes, profiles one of the most recognized artists in the field of glass art—Kentuckian Guy Kemper.

From the artist’s wooded Kentucky home, to the glass studios of eastern Germany, to the hustle and bustle of Mount Baker Light Rail Station in Seattle, “Painting with Glass” closely examines Kemper’s inspiration, conception, and construction of a work of public art. Viewers can watch as this talented artist’s visions come to life, beginning with a few strokes of paint and culminating in luminous panels of stained glass.

The story begins in Kemper’s studio, located on 52 acres near the Kentucky River in Versailles, Kentucky. The artist’s home and workplace offer vivid scenes of color and light that consistently return with him after strolls through the woods and along the creek nearby.

“My work springs from this landscape,” he says, “the way the light comes through the trees…it’s the same mystical experience you’d find in a cathedral.”

Guy Kemper's Seattle SunriseHaving absorbed the natural beauty of the area, Kemper conjures—via pen, pencil, brush, and other media—striking expressions that evoke the various visual elements compiled to suit his current project’s purpose. In the case of his composition for the Seattle light rail station, Kemper invoked two specific images in his colorful brushwork: the dynamic power inherent in the train station’s setting for the work entitled Rain, Steam, and Speed; and the magnificent and beautiful image of a Seattle sunrise in a work of the same name that rises from the platform in bright green and yellow. Yet, these paintings rendered to scale were just the beginning.

Seattle Station Exterior“Painting with Glass” travels with Kemper to Germany to complete the second stage of his project at two of the oldest glass studios in Europe. At Lambert’s Glass in Waldsassen, master craftsman blow the sheets of glass that become the canvas for Kemper’s painted visualization.

From there, he takes his work to Derix Glass studios in Taunusstein, where he engages a team of specialized artisans in the painstaking work of coloring the panels, cutting the pieces to fit the design layout, and finally installing them in a mock-up of the finished product.

The process is meticulous and laborious, full of trial and error and second-guessing, and dazzlingly beautiful to watch at every stage of the project’s development.

Finally, the film travels to Seattle and the Mount Baker light rail construction site, following Kemper as he advises the careful installation of his finished pieces.

At that point, and as he guides viewers through the fully functional train station adorned with his radiant creations, we learn more about how he understands his own work: “It’s what I call refractive expressionism.” The program traces Kemper’s work with context and the spirit of the place through experimentation and careful conceptualization.

GUY KEMPER BIO

Guy KemperLouisville native Guy Kemper began working with glass as a hobby in college, doing some repair work here and there for friends and a few projects creating stained glass pieces.

Early on, he worked with Mal Burnett — a student of Frank Close, another professional glass artist in Lexington — until finally Kemper’s workload and skill level had improved such that he could open his first studio on Broadway in Lexington. There he worked primarily for residential customers and his projects mostly included stained glass designs for homes. “I hung a sign out,” he told Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Tom Carter in 1989, “and I’ve been busy ever since.”

After creating a new piece for the Ohavay Zion Synagogue in Lexington and selling a few pieces at a “Glassworks” show in Louisville that also gained him several other projects, his big break came in 2000 when the Orlando International Airport asked him to create a work for one of its terminal buildings. He has gone on to create large works of public art in glass for Bellarmine University in Louisville, the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero in New York City, and the Mount Baker Light Rail Station in Seattle, Washington.

Another Herald-Leader article in 2009 said this about the artist: “Kemper describes himself as a refractive expressionist, translating his drawings and paintings into blown glass and then adding color. It’s a merging of fine art and architectural ornament, he said. His works literally explode like giant translucent paintings on huge walls of glass.”

From where does all this inspired illumination emerge? Kemper relates it to his love of his Bluegrass home. “My work springs from this landscape.” His working studio sits on 52 acres of forested farmland in Versailles near the Kentucky River, where the colors and lights found in the beauty of nature pour out and onto his painted sketches for new projects. “The way the light comes through the trees…it’s the same mystical experience you’d find in a cathedral.”

Seattle sunflare reflectionAs “Painting with Glass” mentions, “Kemper’s aesthetic is contemporary; his process is more or less ancient.” From the colorful brushwork experiments with shade and shape in his studio, Kemper’s process takes these scaled conceptions from a sheet of paper laid over an architectural blueprint to some of the oldest glass studios in Europe. Working in collaboration with craftsmen and designers there, his shimmering and luminescent visions emerge on sheets of hand-blown glass.

He is also quick to point out that he does not simply “paint on glass.” Instead, the colors found in his pieces are etched away by acids applied in layers—a process that only a few specialized craftsmen in the world still know how to do with proficiency.

In the last 10 years, Kemper’s distinctive technique has put his work in demand around the world. His pieces are seen by millions of people: travelers, churchgoers, library patrons in places like Chicago, Baltimore, Orlando, New York City, Japan, Dubai, and Germany.

Find out more about Kemper and see other examples of his work at the Kemper Studio website.

MARC PINGRY BIO

Marc PingryPingry produced and directed “Painting with Glass” in collaboration with former KET producer Guy Mendes, who helped write and edit the documentary.

Marc Pingry’s 30 years in broadcasting began with a visit to Studio A at WMVS-TV in Milwaukee. The visit was the inspiration that led him to earn a degree in broadcasting two years later at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He was hired on the WMVS crew and began honing his skills as a videographer. In 1978 he moved to KCTS-TV in Seattle to supervise the remote truck operations.

In January of 1999 Marc left his home at KCTS and started his own production company, working with Discovery HD Theatre, HDNet, NHK, PBS, and independent producers, as well as on his own productions. Specializing in documentary work and aerial video, Pingry got assignments that took him to Russia, Africa, Europe, India, China, Japan, Canada, and all over the United States. He earned national credits on PBS, as well as 19 regional Emmys in Seattle.

In 2004, he launched The Fantastic Festivals of the World series. Every month he travels to a different country to shoot a traditional festival in HDTV. Discovery HD Theater began broadcasting the series in March, 2004.

Find out more about Pingry and his work at the Mark Pingry Productions website.