By Greta Cobar
Venice has always fostered creativity, having drawn and inspired countless artists in endless media for over a hundred years. One such current story of bewildering, shining and colorful beauty is daily unfolding as John Mooney blows and sculpts glass, adding and mixing colors in infinite and never the same variations.
Putting color on canvas, building a castle out of sand, immortalizing a sunset with a camera or putting words on paper can, and often do, produce beautiful creations. But when Mooney puts two hundred pounds of powder in the 2100 degree furnace and draws out a fiery ball of molted glass that he then blows or sculpts into a bowl, a sea creature, or a light fixture, the transformation is one of overwhelming wonder towards the finished product and of admiration and respect for the craftsmanship that is required.
Watching him blow a bowl seemed like a series of thousands of perfectly timed and flawlessly executed movements. “Working with glass helps me become a non-perfectionist, it’s good therapy,” he said. Funny, I guess we are our own worst critics.
It takes hours, sometimes many hours, of an extremely intricate, split-second timely dance to bring to life the splendor of each piece. It also takes talent and consistent practice over a long period of time to master the art of blowing and sculpting glass. Mooney has been at it for 26 consecutive years, but he feels that “the lesson is never over, you have never learned everything.” And so he continues on his path, as if no other path was ever even possible. “The problem is keeping the furnace on,” he said regarding the expense of running his own studio, Moonlight Glass, and having to pay the $500 monthly gas bill to keep the glass molten and ready to play with. “I like the fun and freedom of playing with glass,” he said.
“Venice is cool, it’s the only place to live,” according to Mooney. Originally from Colorado, he spent his first spring break in Venice in 1983, and returned in ’86 after finishing his BA in Philosophy from Pomona College, in Claremont. It was during his last year at Pomona that he got the chance to take a glass-blowing class with renowned glass artist Therman Statom. Once in Venice, he worked with Richard Silver for ten years before building his own furnace and opening his own studio, Moonlight Glass, in 2000.
“Abbot Kinney created Venice to be how we like it, he made it for us,” is how Monney expressed the sense of belonging and the inability to fit in anywhere else that many of us feel towards the little town we call home. “Money is a really powerful thing – but so are people. I’m not going, I’m not gonna sell out,” he said when asked about the latest wave of gentrification taking over the neighborhood surrounding his studio. Located at 705 Hampton Dr., Moonlight Glass is only a stone-throw away from the recently-transformed-into-Rodeo Dr. Abbot Kinney Blvd. “Abbot Kinney would be happy seeing what I do,” Mooney said of his studio and his art.
Venice, Italy, is of course famous for its Murano glass, with a strong tradition going back several centuries. However, the small-studio glass blowing movement, which is different from the factory-like system still operating in Murano, originated right here in the US of A in the 1960s and exploded in the ‘90s and 2000s. It is these small studios, like the one Mooney is operating, that took glass from the decorative, mass-produced mentality still flourishing in Murano and opened the door to self-expression, experimentation, creativity and autonomy.
“I like the freedom – glass is free – there’s no limit to what you can do with glass,” according to Mooney. Not only did he purposely avoid the constricts of other media and of the Italian glass factories, but also those taught by conventional education. After just one glass-blowing class, Mooney proceeded to teach himself the art of glass. “In a school-like setting, people feed off each other and steal each other’s ideas. By not being submerged in art schools, I started fresh with my own ideas,” Mooney said.
And off he goes, to another full day spent blowing glass. His Moonlight Glass studio also serves as his showroom, with over 300 pieces available for admiration and purchase. The selection is almost as wide as the possibilities: tumblers, Betta fish, fish bowls on lit pedestals, his unique candlelit “Moon light bowls”, hanging lights, shot glasses, sea creatures, bowls, vases, and many, many more, each different and distinct like a non-mass-produced piece of art ought to be.
Following the stream of endless possibilities, the glass enthusiast is not limited to admiring or purchasing Mooney’s art pieces, but can also take one of the classes Mooney is teaching out of his studio. That offers not only the experience of working with molten glass next to the 2100 degree furnace, but also of walking away with two of your own original glass pieces of art.
When asked for a quick description of his endeavor, Mooney described it as a “life-long exploration of color and shape through glass and time.” And then he said that he wants to keep it going, because “there’s a lot to explore.”
To view a sample of Mooney’s artwork and find more information about taking a class, visit www.johnmooneyglass.com, call 310-399-0999 or stop by 705 Hampton Dr.