Local artist Denise Bohart Brown captures light and shadow with kiln fused glass.
Early in her career, Denise Bohart Brown learned that shedding new light on a subject can change everything. With a degree in photography from the Colorado Institute of Art, Brown set off for San Francisco with dreams of becoming a world-famous advertising photographer. It wasn’t until she stumbled upon a glass studio at the University of California at Davis that she discovered her true medium. Through glass, she is able to capture her impressions of the natural world through abstract sculptural works. Living in Steamboat with her husband and teenage daughter, the Yampa Valley offers more than enough inspiration in the natural beauty of her surroundings. Lately though, Bohart Brown is thinking about her art as a way to create more positivity in the world.
We caught up with Bohart Brown to learn more about this unusual medium and what she gleaned as a photographer in terms of seeing (and reading) between the lines.
Let’s talk a little bit about your background. Where are you from originally?
I grew up in Eastern Colorado on a cattle ranch an hour outside of Colorado Springs. I went to art school and studied photography at the Colorado Institute of Art. When I graduated I moved to San Francisco to become a world-famous ad photographer. Needless to say, it didn’t pan out the way I thought.
How did you end up in Steamboat?
I lived in San Francisco for six years and that’s where I met my husband. I moved to Davis, California where he lived, and stayed there for another eight years, but Colorado was always my home. My husband is a passionate skier, and the agriculture and ranching history appealed to me. The fact that Steamboat is a real town appealed to both of us. We knew it would be a great place to raise a family. We moved here when our daughter was only a year old.
How did you come to work with glass? It seems like a highly unusual medium.
My background was in photography. When I moved to Davis, they had this amazing facility called the Craft Center. I first went there looking for a photo darkroom and then I found the glass lab. I ended up volunteering and working there for four years. That was how I got started.
Tell us about your technique. It’s very different from more traditional methods.
Stained glass is very traditional and never really appealed to me. There’s also glass blowing, but I’ve never been keen on the dynamics—it’s a little too fire-in-your-face for me. I land somewhere between the two; I use a kiln to heat and then shape the glass.
Can you explain the process?
I usually start with one solid piece and build from that, adding and building layers. Sometimes there will be partial layers to get different textures, and sometimes I have to fire one thing several times, so it becomes one solid piece. Then I might flip it over and build it from the back side. It goes into the kiln at different temperatures depending on the look I want. A piece might go in and fire once and be done, or sometimes I have to fire several times to get all the layers built to get the look I want. Some pieces are shaped using a mold and some are flat panels that go on stands or in frames. It depends on the design and the idea I have in my head in terms of how I go about constructing it. I always have to work from hottest temperature down.
From where do you draw inspiration?
By and large the natural world, which is interesting because my work is typically more abstract. For the most part, the majority of my work is nature-based and might be inspired by trees or thunderstorms or raindrops or sunsets. Sometimes people walk up to my work and see entirely different things than what I intended, but that’s what art is, whatever each individual sees in it.
How did being a photographer influence your work?
Working in black and white, you have to work with composition, lines, shadows and negative space. I spent a lot of time working with old fashioned cameras on the tripod with the cloth over your head. Everything is flipped upside down. It helps me when I am trying to design something complicated and how to get to the end result. I think that experience in photography lends itself to the work I’m doing now in glass.
What are you working on now?
I just completed a body of work that are smaller pieces with words and quotes incorporated into them. They’re oriented around vulnerability, introspection, and personal growth and are intended to be positive and inspiring. I think this series came from feeling a very strong need to put some really positive energy out there into a world that really needs it. As I’ve been on my own journey and learned and grown and drawn things from art that have inspired me, it’s become important to me to return some of that, and to give back in a way that might touch someone else.
For more information about Denise and her work, visit www.denisebohartbrown.com.