Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How I came to plasma neon.

How I came to plasma neon.
I’ve always had an interest in the underlying physics of neon illumination.  I began working in neon because there was magical the way the gas inside the tube vibrated and glowed.   I’d been a apprentice neon worker for a couple of years when a college friend built a Tesla coil with me one afternoon.  We used only wire, sheet glass , aluminum foil and some other basic materials, it was all powered by a neon transformer.  We were lighting tubes up without wire and striking 3” lightning bolts, which seemed to defy everything I thought I know about electricity.   That was a turning point for me and I knew there was more to this neon thing then letters and symbols for signage.  The next big step came when I became a T.A. for Cork Marcheschi at Pilchuck in summer of 1995, I’d already been working in traditional neon for over 15 years.  That session we began exploring the potential of single electrode neon and radio frequency transformers combined with off-hand glass working techniques what we now consider plasma neon.  The results were a revelation, the blown glass form was defined by its interior shape illuminated by radio waves.  In that Pilchuck course, I met glass artist James ‘Animal’ Nowak, he invited me to build a neon shop for plasma at his glass studio below Pioneer Square in Seattle.  
 Animal and I Teaching at Corning Studio 2004

That Fall began a intense creative collaboration to develop the methods of adapting exisiting neon tools and methods to make experimental plasma neon sculptures.   Together, Animal and I created the capability to use any combination of inert gas not just neon and argon but nitrogen, krypton, helium, xenon as well.  This required building high vacuum equipment to suit the needs of an artist working in practice of plasma physics.  This new way of working also necessitated creating glass techniques for attaching electrodes to blow glass forms.   I feel this media is still at an early phase of artist development.  I’m certain this summer at Pilchuck, we’ll invent new ways of working and forms I’ve never even considered possible before.

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