Alexis Silk is an American sculptor and conceptual artist who works in molten glass and metal to create figurative work that’s timeless yet thought-provoking.
She is one of the very few female glassblowers working in Murano, the home of Italian glassmaking. Through her work, Alexis discusses the beauty and objectification of the female form, the importance of nature, and the connection between all humans. Our Editor-in-Chief Melanie Sykes discovered her work on a trip to Venice and caught up with her to discuss her ground-breaking art.
Hi Alexis. Where are you at the moment – physically and metaphorically?!
Alexis Silk: Hello! Right now I am in the Dolomite Mountains in Northern Italy, where I live with my husband and two children. I am just north of Venice and the Island of Murano, where I work.
I’m at a very exciting point in my life. I just gave birth to my second child, which is an absolute joy. I’m gearing up to get back in the studio after taking a break for my pregnancy due to the heat and physicality of the work. I’m incredibly excited to be working with glass again with fresh eyes and inspiration!
What led you to move from training in fine art to becoming a glass sculptor?
Alexis Silk: While I was studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago my mother recommended that I try glassblowing, which the school did not offer. I’m very close to my mother and took her advice. I immediately fell in love with this hot flowing material and have been using it as the primary medium in my work ever since.
At what point in your career did you realise you could make a living as a full-time artist?
Alexis Silk: I remember distinctly. It was at the first art show I did. It was an outdoor festival in a park in Berkeley CA, the summer after receiving my BFA (Bachelor of Fine Art) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I had only been blowing glass for one year and my female glass figurines were flying off the shelf. I couldn’t believe it! It was so gratifying having people appreciate and spend their hard-earned money on what I was so passionate about. This has only grown exponentially in every direction since that day in the park.
What is it about the human form that interests you the most?
Alexis Silk: To me the human form is so expressive and beautiful! I’m in love with it and have always been drawn to it. It has always been the center of my artwork. In addition, as humans ourselves, we relate and connect to the human form. This helps the viewer of my sculptures relate more personally to the concepts I am discussing.
You describe yourself as having ‘a passion for fire and an unquenchable thirst for meaning’. Can you expand on that?
Alexis Silk: Glass is unlike any other medium; the ability to work it while it is molten and flowing makes it truly unique. The hot glass is alive. I have to be intuitive and in touch with it while I’m working. It is incredibly hot and physically demanding, which I also enjoy. It brings my mind and body, working together, to new limits.
Although I have this connection with glass the true reason that I am an artist is because of the meaning behind my work. I believe that my work can make a difference in the world, affecting society and humanity.
Have you experienced sexism working in an art form that is so male dominated?
Alexis Silk: I started living and working in Italy after meeting my now husband on vacation in Italy. (We met rock climbing, he has nothing to do with glassblowing!) I realized I would be spending more time here so I immediately looked for a studio in Murano.
This process of finding the right studio to work in was at times difficult. I received push back and skepticism that I could actually work the glass myself being both American and a woman. Also, fascinatingly, I had to adapt my style of directing my team to a more feminine or delicate fashion in order to be heard.
For many years I was the only female glassblower in Murano. It is a centuries old tradition that only men do this work. Although I experienced some very blatant and crude sexism as well as utter disbelief that I created my own sculptures, the overall response I received was ultimately very embracing from the entire Glass community. After people got to know me and saw my work, I quickly felt accepted and admired amongst my glassmaking peers and experienced great success with the fine art galleries of Murano.
Can you talk us through your typical day?
Alexis Silk: When I am working in the glass studio I wake up at 3:00 in the morning at my house in the Dolomites, drive two hours to Venice where I take a boat to Murano to be in the glass studio by 6:30 with my team. From the time we start working on a piece we are all 100% engrossed in it. A single piece can last more than five hours. We do not eat or go to the bathroom. It is incredibly gruelling from the weight of the piece and the heat of the environment. We work for eight hours straight in the glass studio with a short lunch break.
By the end of the work we are all completely exhausted, drenched with sweat and thirsty for a beer or three. Whether the pieces break or get in the oven we all have a beer together to celebrate the hard work. Then I clean up and make the journey back home, arriving at around 20:00. It is utterly exhausting but exhilarating.
My sculptures are only as good as the team I have. I have been working with the same team at ARS Murano for the past eight years. We support and care greatly for one another. I depend on them to make my dreams reality.
Alexis Silk: I have new ideas and concepts that I’m eager to explore in hot glass. These ideas include the importance of humans working together to help the world and the beauty of family and motherhood. I have several exhibitions and gallery shows scheduled to present these new works.
What words of wisdom would you give to any woman wanting to become glass sculptors?
Alexis Silk: Go for it, believe in yourself, anything is possible! I believe as an artist and even more true for women, that three things help to be successful: always follow your heart, be true to yourself, take risks.
Alexis’ work is displayed at Vetreria Venier in Murano Italy. Her work is also exhibited at other fine art galleries, exhibitions and museums around the world.