William Couig Essay

William Couig Essay

William Couig

Bio and images

One might speculate that Bill Couig’s distinctive use of identical blown glass modules to build larger complex structures might be related to linguistic communication. His original fields of study, in which he received a BA at Johns Hopkins in New York City, were literature and writing. Although the units which make up structures essential to linguistic communication are not identical, the relationships between them convey information that is bigger than and distinct from what can be learned from any single component. Phonemes build words; words are arranged in the syntactical structures essential to complex communication. In both cases, the basic building blocks do not in themselves embody a completed meaning; it is their organization which communicates.

Perhaps for Couig, a Fall, 2003 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America in Wheaton Village, the metaphor of complex structures based on individual elements has even broader implications of microcosm and macrocosm: molecular or astronomical. The resonance of order and organization is potentially infinite.

Couig became interested in glass during a backpacking trip around the world. Returning to the States in 1997, he studied glass blowing at UrbanGlass in Brooklyn and, later as a designer and gaffer at E-Glass Studio in Hoboken, NJ. He now works independently in the UrbanGlass studios. Although his work in glass is paramount, he has not abandoned writing, as he is also an editorial assistant at UrbanGlass’s Glass Magazine.

At Wheaton Village, Couig worked on eight or nine designs for multiple component structures. The individual parts of each of these works are identical (within the work) and relatively simple. Each combines curves, straight edges and a variety of angles. They are more elaborate than, say, Platonic solids or other regular geometric forms. In many works, the modules interpenetrate one another with “donuts and spikes” or interlayer concave contours with convex ones. Sometimes the effect is spare and open, involving as few as two or three elements. Sometimes the pieces are so densely stacked that only the ends and edges of most parts are visible. These stacking elements tend to be forms which, though curvy, seem more industrial than organic. Viewed individually, they look pictographic or sign-like.

“I’ve always been interested in tackling the taboos of glass,” Couig says. “Growing up, everybody’s told to be careful with glass.” Tightly stacking fragile pieces, especially the thin-walled ones Couig makes, is clearly a risky and delicate enterprise, though perhaps viewers’ perceptions may be contradictory. As Couig says, “A lot of my glass doesn’t have that ‘glassy-glass’ appearance. I like to think of them as celestial pieces that sort of fit together. In many ways they are just giant puzzles which examine how glass or light or anything fits together.”

The satin surfaces capture light as atmosphere, projecting insubstantiality, even in their regular, tightly controlled forms. During his residency, one of Couig’s goals was “to hone and refine the shapes and evolve the color palette,” a very nuanced one in which pale colors are evocative and elusive, as magical as the soap bubbles in a Chardin painting. This interweaving of substance and atmosphere reflects the paradox of glass itself: “When you work with it (hot), glass is fluid, graceful, then it cools hard and brittle.” Another goal at Wheaton was to work on a larger scale outdoors, possibly with “house-like” forms.

Couig’s completed structures are considered in “the solace of tranquility” while listening to music at live concerts or driving. “When I make something, I’m thinking, “How is it going to fit into my loft in the city? How is it going to fit into my own life? How will it fit into the lives of others?” The resulting geometries suggest a world view that is biological, industrial, modular, graceful, witty, cool, and sensuous: alluring components which easily conform to the hand but which when broken are dangerous. These are Cartesian puzzles: musical and mathematical—potentially linguistic. They hint at the beauty and limitations of our fragile world.