Rob Morey's glass bowls and other decorative pieces are lovely, but the artist considers that side of his work his living, not his love. Lately, Morey's passion comes when he's working on his new body of work—extremely delicate strings of glass he weaves into chaotic yet controlled abstract compositions of color and form.
"This work is real different," Morey says, chatting in his studio tucked inside a large yellow, metal building in San Marcos called Nottingham Artist Guild. "This work really comes from the heart, and it's really about just me creating and finding that sweet spot inside . This stuff, I don't even care if it sells, I just make it for the joy of making it."
Morey's studio is basically split in two. His more commercial work, like his dragonfly triptychs and glass panels, are up front, and his laboratory is in back, slowly filling up with experiments: Melted glass that's frozen into sculptures he describes as music or poetry in space.
Two small kilns are mounted about eight or nine feet off the floor. He checks the temperature—1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. It's too hot, so he turns the temperature down and waits to demonstrate his process. He grabs a small flowerpot filled with chips of glass, which he'll put inside the kiln. When the glass begins to melt, it starts dripping slowly through a small hole at the base of the flowerpot and out through the bottom of the kiln.
With his safety goggles on, a pair of pliers in one hand and a heavy glove on the other, he pulls at the molten glass, swiftly twisting and turning it into loops and other shapes as it slowly oozes out of the kiln. After he gets a basic structure, he sets the mounds of stringy glass on his worktable and tweaks the pieces until the composition feels right.
"I talk about my work being a choreography between the artist and the material because glass is molten," Morey says as he pulls at the gooey, wispy strings of glass, making a dance-like motion as he works. "Typically, glass artists . they try to take that chaos, that molten glass that's like honey on the end of a stick, and control it to make these beautiful things. I'm more about allowing the glass to partially control me and partially decide what it's going to do.
"It becomes more accidental sometimes, although I know that when I take it and pull it down and take it back up I can do different things with it and get that kind of a curl," he adds. "I can generally control what I'm doing, but not always, and that's part of the philosophy of what my work is about—letting go."
A little more than a decade ago, Morey was a high-school art teacher. He was content, but not happy. He'd always wanted to be a fulltime artist, but he never had the guts to make it happen. Then came his illness— Churg Strauss vasculitis, a rare autoimmune disease that first disabled him, then nearly killed him. Doctors recommended chemotherapy, and Morey found himself getting treatment next to folks with cancer who were in far worse shape than him. Every week, it seemed like another person didn't make it back to their next treatment.
The chemo worked for Morey. His wife swiftly convinced him to give up teaching and go after his dream.
"She said, Go do it; you barely escaped death, so now's the time,'" Morey recalls.
And so he did, settling on glass as his medium because he likes the way it reflects light. He built a studio in his garage and struggled for months to find his particular style and voice. A year went by before Morey was back at his doctor's office, this time to receive a shocking new diagnosis—testicular cancer. He started on chemotherapy again and was particularly affected—not by the possibility of his own death, but by watching those around him die.
Morey's experience, mixed with his time in the Art Pulse Mentor Program, which takes mid- or late-career professional artists and offers them guidance and advice in taking the next step in their careers, inspired him to change the trajectory of his work. He began his attempts to capture the fragility of life—the fine line between life and death and the beauty and enjoyment that can still be had, even with the possibility of a certain end looming not so far away.
Morey reaches out and snaps off a tiny piece of glass from one of the latest in-progress sculptures sitting in front of him.
"Everybody's got a clock in them," he says. "And when the time is there, it's there, and it's part of this cycle . So, this work is supposed to be joyful. But when you talk about fragility, people often think [it's referring to] cancer and death and all these things, but that's not what it's about. It's about rising up off the ground and rising out toward space and reaching up and saying, OK, I'm fragile, but screw you, look at me, I'm joyful.' It's about fragility, but despite fragility, there's growth, there's life, there's existence."
At an opening at Art Pulse gallery a few months ago, Morey's new work was on display in public for the first time. One of his pieces was set on a pedestal, another mounted on canvas, held in place simply with dried paint. Several small bits of glass from both pieces had broken off and were collecting on the ground around the work. Indeed, the sculptures are so delicate-looking that it's almost like they're asking to be touched and tested. It's tempting to reach out and poke them to see if they're as fragile as they look.
"It's kind of a compliment in a way," Morey says. "People are being drawn to the work. They want to touch it and be a part of it."