Maker Crush: Introducing Kacie Lees. "Fire Lust is Real"

Kacie gives a title to a condition that all benders experience: Fire Lust.  Bending glass in a fire is intoxicating for us - the challenge, the danger and then that rewarding feeling of doing something really really hard and succeeding at it.  Welders and solderers probably experience the same thing.  I know I've experienced this attraction to the mediums I use in my own practice, but I could never put such a precise name to it, until now.

During the course of my search for females in neon, I found Kacie.  She's a friend of the Museum of Neon Art, having taught workshops with them in the past.  She started bending in 2008, around the same time I did.  I feel I have a lot in common with Kacie, our views on the process and the need for fluidity is present in both of our approaches to our work.  It's a very interesting compulsion that many young benders have - to push away from the rigidity of the medium (both the glass itself and the process from start to finish) and achieve a more experimental practice that feels less commercial.

One way to get away from the commercial is not to make letters or text based work.  Kacie explores shapes that she free-forms in the fires.  This transforms the process into a more painterly practice and relieves the bender from such rigid constructs such as pattern making, measuring and marking bends, doing a shit-ton of math and planning, cutting acrylic etc.  The work feels more playful to the viewer as well.

Kacie's interview is below.  I really hope that these interviews provide a new appreciation for this material for you.  You'll find that what is such a ubiquitous material in our world really is unique from bender to bender, if you know the right questions to ask.

MP: Kacie, how did you learn how to bend neon?  What were your initial thoughts about doing it for the first time?

KL: In 2008, I took a Neon class in a closet, in a basement, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As many teachers do, Greg Mowery demonstrated bending by letting the glass slip around in the fire to produce curves and bends that resulted in a word. It appeared very simple. It was not. Words were hard, so I focused on bending pieces without a rigid pattern. In Chicago, in the Winter, that hot closet and I got very close in open lab hours - I practiced till I burnt off my fingerprints. 

MP: Will you walk us through the process of making neon?  I'd like to give the readers an insight into the process and the science behind.

KL: It's really only you, glass and fire. Start with a 4-foot tube of glass and a pair of glasses. Mark the tube and rotate it in a crossfire (to make tight bends) or over a ribbon burner (to make long, soft bends). After the piece is bent and electrodes are sealed onto the ends of the tube, a bombarder sucks out the air inside the tube and replaces it with gas. Attach the piece to a transformer and the electrodes pass the current through, exciting the gas and producing a glow.

MP: What has been the biggest challenge of the medium for you?

KL: All the small things that can go haywire. When making a functional piece, there are a hundred challenges that could get in the way, hurt the glass or hurt your pride. A leak; an unfavorable gas/air mixture; reading a mark backwards; getting caught in a flame trance; bombarder issues; a crack; tube wall thickness/thinness; too much coffee; finger cuts; materials cost; bend on a splice; too little coffee; the list goes on.

MP: I'd like to get a sense of how neon took a hold on you.  What made you addicted and how does the medium lends itself to your work and ideas?

KL: Fire lust is real. Bending neon is a set of skills you can't practice outside the shop and can't use for anything else. When you hit your marks, float through a day of tricky bends, and see your new objects take their first glow, it's a feeling you can't get enough of.

When I first started making neon work, I would give them as gifts or sell them to my friends at a steep discount. I got to see a new side of my friends as proud owners and object nurturers. Seeing that happiness in them definitely feeds the desire to make more and better work. Added bonus is that now, whenever I hang out at their homes, kitchens, or studios, I get to visit the pieces and check in on them. 

In life, I like routines and patterns - obsessively. My studio work however, is not a search for perfection, it's reactionary and based in discovery. The free-form nature of pattern-less bending suits that "go with it" nature.

MP: Any plans in the future to set up shop for yourself?

KL: Would love it. If I ever stop moving around I think a shop will just spill out of me.  

MP: Your small works, tampon and pizzas, are they a series because they sort of go together in my life.  Haha.  Tell us more about them, what color glass are you using on the yellow/green pizzas?  Are there interesting stories behind these?

KL: Yes! They are solidified moments of time in my life as well. My bud Shannon Hassett and I sit around and talk at each other for hours on end and from those meetings, some kind of idea pops up that I can't get out of my head until I spew it out into illuminated glass. Hence, tampon. Shannon is the jubilant owner Giant Tampon, 2016 - the largest tampon sculpture to date, measuring in at 36" long. The yellow/green tube is my favorite chartreuse-y color I like to call "Grello." The tube's official name is "Bright Lemon." 

MP: I'd love to dive into your concepts of your video works (see videos below).  I love work that explores the actual material it's made with.  I will try to remember these videos when I break something in my own studio - just imagine it being fun with glitter everywhere so as not to be frustrated!!  Tell us your intention. 

KL: Even though I focus on bending free-form and pattern-less shapes, I wanted to teach myself how to bend letters. At the time I was in LA for Winter and not so interested in carefully escorting the work back with me to Brooklyn. Fearing future breakage, I decided to fill them with glitter and smash them open. My dope bud, Dakota Loesch spent a sunny day with me on the first shoot and we found otherworldly harmonies while in slow-motion. Surprises make me work harder, so I made as many as I could in the last few weeks I was there. We had a blast making these videos.  *(Here for more of Kacie's videos)

MP: You'll be hosting a neon workshop at museum the weekend of the show opening, correct?  Tell us what people interested need to know about what to expect and what you'll teach.

KL: Yay class! In the One-Day Neon Art Immersive we get into the fire and start arranging the new feelings of melting glass tubing into shapes. We make an experimental piece and practice the key concepts to bending; right angels, joins and soft curves. Each student goes home with a piece made by their very hands.