Formerly a carpenter, Glen is a ceramic artist whose artworks incorporate destruction into the making process. Based in Ohio, Glen uses the Japanese artform of kintsugi to repair hand-made pottery and fine china which he himself breaks in catharsis. The classically beautiful gold, however, is exchanged for the abject - rusting metal, nails, scissors, barbed wire, or blackened soldering alloy. Through the delicate art of repairing broken pieces to rediscover their wholeness, Glen bravely demonstrates how the intimate process of healing one’s trauma is seldom pretty.
One of the first things I’d like to mention is the fearless vulnerability inherent in your work. Has vulnerability always been so central to your practice?
Vulnerability has entered my work in the last seven years. There were events in my life that brought about an urgency to be raw and honest, not only with myself but with my work.
It’s well-known that men can often find it difficult to express vulnerability, yet when you speak of your life and work, you seem to navigate with so much ease and honesty. Have your emotions always felt so accessible?
It’s not easy, but I’ve learned to access that flow of deep emotion when I’m working. My emotions have always been part of my inner life, but now I’m spilling it onto my work. And when I started doing that, I felt that I was finally the artist, and person, I should have been all along.
Your ceramic artworks deal with trauma, breakage, and finding a new wholeness through healing. Do you see their breakage as destruction or reinvention?
It feels like I’m opening my wounds to find the healing and all the meaning in the suffering.
A core part of your practice is kintsugi, yet instead of joining with gold you use soldering metal. What led you to choose to use a different joining material to the conventional?
The gold in kintsugi is very beautiful, but for me, healing is never pretty, it’s imperfect and often ugly and messy.
Some of my first impressions of your objects are how true they stay to the effect of time on an object. A lot of regency pottery - and traditional Japanese kintsugi - tends to be maintained or restored to a pristine condition, resisting the process of weathering. Your work tends to not only celebrate its breakage, but can also highlight an object’s rusting and decay. What relationship do you have to the effect of time?
My life, my time, my past, are very present when I’m working. I’m healing a lot of old wounds right now, and that requires time travel, in my memory and in my heart.
If kintsugi is a method of working with and celebrating an object’s history, your artworks show that process to be a perilous yet worthwhile undertaking. When I see your works, I see objects that proudly display the scars they’ve acquired, despite conventionally ugliness. Why do you think your work brings this reaction out in others?
My work started as my own therapy. I had to learn to embrace, even love the scars that this life leaves on our souls. I shared my work as a way of screaming that I was a survivor, that I was still here. When others respond to my work, it completes a circle of healing in me, to know that I’m not alone, but that I’m experiencing a very common and human process. Unintended, but [it’s] such a profound epiphany.
I’ve heard you talk about the dilemma of being a human being. Could you elaborate on this?
This relates to some of the personal bridges I’ve had to cross during the darkest times, the dilemma of remaining here, of continuing being a person. It’s very hard to be human sometimes.
I notice dichotomies at play in the end-products of your artistic expression - daintiness and roughness, labour and leisure, love and pain, etc. How do you grapple with conflicting ideas during the creative process?
Life is full of stark contrast, I’m alive and my friend dies, life is so richly beautiful and full of war and horror. It’s so fucking serious and all I can do is laugh somedays. Love hurts. I’m just trying to make sense of it, finding some grace within the chaos.
Is there an element of psychodrama to your work? Regarding my grandmother’s china (2022) for example, a teacup half-constructed from barbed wire leads me to imagine an aggressive domestic conversation occurring over afternoon tea. Do your artworks express specific moments of domestic friction?
Dinner time growing up was the hardest part of my day. My mother’s mental fragility and my father’s religious anger made those plates and silverware at the table, objects of great emotion for me.
I get similar feelings from much of your work actually. Instead of trying to internalise a traumatic episode and move on, your artworks crystallise moments where hate and love are at odds, leaving pain in their wake. Can it be a painful process for you to create these objects?
Yes. I have to go there and sit with some hard shit. But that’s the only way for the work to be authentic. And it’s therapy, I’m not going to work through anything unless I touch bottom.
Just as pain can be a necessary catalyst to healing, breakage is an integral part of kintsugi. Does your approach to an object change depending on how it is damaged?
I love the randomness of the breakage. Randomness seems like such an essential element to our journeys and all the trauma and pain.
Pretty healing, a piece of yours from 2019, caught my eye whilst scrolling through your website. The contrast of the text on the plate and the piece’s title struck a chord with me. So often does modern society attempt to sell you prettier ways to heal than its reality - wading through thick mental mud. Are there any artworks you’ve created which were responding to specific parts of your life or wider society?
Healing and self growth are hard, really hard, if anyone tells you different, they are selling you some bullshit. Almost all my pieces express specific moments in my life. My work is very autobiographical and personal. Currently I am working on a project about the war in Ukraine, but even that is coming from some very real and personal experiences and relationships.
If each one of your pieces represents a wholeness that comes with accepting time, work, and brokenness, does your practice inform the way you live your life broadly?
When I’m not working, I’m very present, in each moment of the day. Accepting and learning to love the scars and the journey continues to give me a sense of some kind of asymmetrical wholeness. And then I work some more.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects that we can direct our readership toward?
I will be exhibiting in Paris later this year and a show in North Carolina this summer. The details are still being worked out but I will be sharing them on my Instagram, @glenmartintaylor. I have been and will be working on a project very close to my heart about the war in Ukraine called Broken To Be Restored which involves a brave Ukrainian in the war zones collecting broken pottery from destroyed homes and schools and sending them to my studio for me to quote unquote mend and create art about the ongoing tragedy of the war. The eventual goal of the project is to exhibit the work in the U.S. and Europe to raise awareness and eventually to exhibit in Kiev for a charity auction to raise relief funds.