Creating beauty with fire, breath and glass, Joe Cariati designs and creates exquisite glass vessels that are thin, colorful and modern. Each glass piece is made one at a time using the “free blown” method, a Venetian glassblowing process that is purely hands-on.
Throughout the process, a small team of experienced glass makers assist Cariati in his creation process. Molds are never used, nothing is automated; the work is “puntied” (a process that cannot be imitated or replicated by molds or machines) and, finally, each piece is hand ground. All these elements make Joe Cariati works truly handcrafted, one-of-a-kind pieces.
We got lucky and caught Cariati out of the studio long enough to answer a few questions for us about his process and designs.
YLiving (YV): What inspired you to learn glass blowing?
Joe Cariati (JC): I was attending San Francisco State University. I knew that I would declare an Art major, even though I didn’t even know what that meant at the time. What I didn’t know was that I was a “maker.” Thank god for new and trending terminology to help find your place in the world! I saw someone (who became my first mentor) blowing glass, and thought simply two things: “That’s GLASS?” and “I have to try that.”
I spent one semester making leaded glass (stained glass) and working with flat glass. Finally, I broke into the hot glass class which was heavily impacted–only 18 blowers allowed per semester–and I was hooked.
YV: What was your first glass blowing experience like, and what about it captivated you?
JC: Everything about the process, and the way in which I approached the material fit my personality. It’s a group activity. There is a sense of control, loss of control, predictability, elation, defeat, satisfaction, discovery–all in the span of the average 20 minutes or so it takes to blow a vessel. It was insane, totally engaging, fun, active, immediate and very, very difficult.
There is no doubt that mastery of blown glass is one of the most difficult and longest journeys of craft mediums to master. I was in it for the long haul. I was no stranger to “practice,” being a former musician…only 10,000 hours of practice to go!
YV: What was the driving force that led you to start your own studio?
JC: Success comes in many facets and can show up in a number of ways. I believe that you have the say on what success means, and at the time, 6 years ago, I had hit a mark. Simply, it was creating a studio to support my brand, and people. My motivation to continue to create and grow is steeped in the caveat that I also am responsible for creating life for others in my business.
I taught in the university system for many years, participated in non-profit centers for glass, have taught at specialized workshops in the US and abroad…. Virtually ALL of my team I met out in the glass world, and asked them to come work with me to create, sustain and build themselves through my work and my business. The 4,500 square-foot facility is the foundation for the aforementioned vision and daily activity.
YV: Approximately how long does it take to create one of your larger vessels?
JC: My professor used to answer that question by stating the amount of time that he had been blowing glass…that is going on 25 years of experience for me. The real time is about 40 minutes. 🙂
YV: Where do you find your inspiration?
JC: Mid Century Modern design. There’s a period after that for a good reason, it is simply that much of a statement. I don’t draw from the multitude of other things you might think an “artist” would or might. Nature does not inspire my work, family history does not inspire my work; it is the giants of MCM that inspire me.
What transpired during that period is so specific and so powerful that I can only dream to become part of their interior landscape and visual brilliance. In 2002, the initial impetus for creating my very first line of bottles, the Angelic Bottle Collection, was simply this: create designs that accentuate the existing language and interior landscape of the new wave of modern design.
YV: Do you work in any other art form or craft? Do you find it influences your glass designs?
JC: I am also an abstract yet calculated painter. It is a totally different conversation as far as mediums are concerned. However, there are a few through lines. For better or worse, I’m still stuck as the same person inside the same body and mind while being creative. Beauty, pragmatism, critical analysis, body mechanics and movement, and engaging in “timing” are present in both mediums. Painting is wonderful, “paint hides all.” You can make a mistake and fix it, not quite the case in glassblowing.
In the glassblowing practice, one truly only has a short window to execute a given step or move. And you either make it happen, or you don’t. I attempt to employ similar challenges for myself as a painter (as I do in glassblowing), whether that be a brush stroke or simply a countdown timer set to get something done. I’m the guy that counts steps, guesses measurements, is never late–a double Virgo, at least. So, as much as I try to be fluid in both mediums, calculation and hopefully beauty wins.
YV: Who are some of your favorite/inspiring artists?
JC: Yikes! It’s been a while, but here goes. A mix of makers/designers/fine artists/architects:
- David Wiseman
- Hass Brothers
- Kelly Wearstler
- Lindsey Adelman
- Peter Macapia
- Greta Grossman
- Ettore Sottsass
YV: Given that you make all of the pieces yourself, how do you keep up with the growing demand for your designs?
JC: We stay calm! I mean we, because I am speaking to an entire team that participates on any given collection or production run. New to my business as of late last year, is a larger crew on the back end and front end. So I can focus on producing “one object at a time,” which is seriously a constant motto around the studio.
I have expanded the studio and staff; we now have at least seven pair of hands handling any one order that comes in the door. We have over 400 pounds of molten glass available per week, and we use it all! Not all that long ago, the team was just me and one other person. Times have changed and I welcome it.
YV: Thanks so much for your time, Joe!
Nicole is the Sr. Site Merchandiser for Accessories, Kids, and Textiles at YLiving. She is obsessed with great design in all forms with a special love for jewelry, wine bottle labels, and tableware. When she’s not exploring the many museums and art galleries of the Bay Area, Nicole spends time looking for and visiting obscure and unusual destinations (locally and abroad) while practicing her photography skills.