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Painting with Glass

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.

Kemper: Seattle Sunrise

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.”

Having 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.

Sunrise Detail

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.