Art is meant to create a response, evoke emotion or promote thought, and for glass artist Matt Robertson, that means distilling happiness into pipes. Originally from Canada, Robertson grew up surrounded by art. In his late teens, his first attempt at enrolling in animation school was met with rejection, leading him to another art class at Sheridan College in Ontario, were he had his first true exposure to glass blowing, something he describes as an “epiphany.” Watching a classmate stretching a piece of glass cane he recalled being mesmerized. “I said fuck animation and I took a three year soft glass program making sculptures and vases. I met my wife there, and after we graduated we moved to Eugene, Oregon in 2007,” said Robertson.
Robertson and his wife decided to move to Oregon with no idea of the history behind Eugene as the epicenter for the modern heady pipe culture stretching back to godfather of the scene Bob Snodgrass. “We had no idea Eugene had a pipe history, didn’t know about Snodgrass, we moved there because I wanted to live in California and she wanted to live in Colorado, and we just decided on Eugene, Oregon. I remember we drove out there all night from Canada and we didn’t know anything about it,” said Robertson.
Shortly after the move to Eugene, Robertson hadn’t begun making pipes, still focusing on his soft glass work that included vases, cups and smaller items. Within a few weeks of getting to Eugene, he made his way to the Eugene Glass School. “I still had no pipe knowledge at the time and the house we moved into, the landlords name was Sativa and I couldn’t really pay the bills from soft glass — from the goblets and vases and stuff like that — so I started working for Dichroic Glass Alchemy,“ recalled Robertson.
“That’s where I got introduced to pipes and realized I could make them too.” His first pipes lacked the flair we now know him for, but it sparked the creativity of making functional borosilicate work. Before that introduction, Robertson’s experience with pipe culture had been limited, although he did catch a lucky break early in his career. Through a friend, he was able to make his first ever custom bong for comedian and Hollywood legend Adam Sandler before Robertson made functional work full-time. “So, my first bong sale was actually to Adam Sandler when I was 18,” recalled Robertson. “A friend of mine worked for him and I sculpted him a bong with his face on it. Apparently, he was drinking and riding around on his golf cart with the bong I made him and he would put the bong on the front page of his website and that was a big help in me creating more work for people like that. I got paid $200 for that bong back in the day. When I look back at it, that was definitely a big push for me.”
Robertson began to focus on functional glass full time in 2007, making some basic sculpture pipes with orbs and spikes. “I started making pipes and started going to the galleries and they wouldn’t buy my pipes because there was so much competition. We actually tried sending my wife in and they would buy the pipes from her. Eventually we moved to Portland and I got a studio setup. But then my car was robbed with all my glass work and tools and we decided to move back to Canada. There wasn’t a pipe scene in Ontario and we took what we learned in Portland and Eugene and brought some pipe culture to Canada and opened my gallery EDY ROY around 2011. Then I had an issue with US Customs regarding shipping drug paraphernalia and it was basically illegal for me to ship my pipes, so we decided to pick up and move and wanted to focus on the glass pipe side and moved to Colorado in 2014,” said Robertson.
rowing up in a rural part of Canada, there were animals and inspiration everywhere. As a kid, Robertson would go to the fair and always had a love for animals. “When I was younger, I used to have these toy figurines of giraffes and animals around me my whole life. I was always drawing and sculpting — I was into ceramics before I got into glass — and I guess I just have a special connection with animals, I just love them,” said Robertson. The giraffe, which has become central to his style, was just something that people responded to. Robertson mentioned, “The first glass functional giraffe was made around 2009. And then I remember one day I was lying there and I thought of silver-stripe with honeybdager and I started this new color combination and started to perfect the pattern and the pattern really clicked for me. The idea of the pattern gave me a new passion to attack the sculptures again. I think they were released at JOP’s show at EDY ROY in Ontario and I had a little corner of them, probably around 2011-2012.” JAG, or Just Another Glassblower, an artist based in Philadelphia, was also a big early inspiration for Robertson. “JAG made those women sculptures with the baskets on their heads and then he tricked everyone and sold it at an auction. In retrospect I was like, wow, that’s a pipe, and I just remember thinking that was epic. It was probably around 2007, and it was a story like a myth. And then when I met him and he told me the story it was just amazing,” said Robertson.
When you talk to Robertson, it’s clear he loves glass, pipe culture, cannabis and borosilicate in general. When talking about the medium he said, “You can get so much more detail into a piece with boro. With soft glass you had to work on it from start to finish for the most part but with boro you can work on it, put it away and come back to it. I really like the medium itself, and I am a pot smoker so it’s just epic to be able to help mark this time in history.” He was first introduced to cannabis by a snowboard instructor with his brother when he was around 12 or 13.
“I’ve been into pot my whole life; I was kicked out school for selling weed. As early as I can remember it was a part of my life,” said Robertson. “What gets me excited is seeing people’s faces and trying to add a little comedy to my work. We make people happy; they bring my pieces to the zoo and they get high out of them and they bring smiles and just try to put happiness into my work. I do it for myself but I also really enjoy seeing people’s reactions to the work,” said Robertson. Going into 2020, he has a ton of things planned and recently held a show in Denver called Giraffes and Laughs. He is also working on releasing a new website this year as well as a Vegas show in January 2020 and other large projects including a show in Ireland. To see the giraffes and happiness behind the work, you can find additional pieces by Matt Robertson at various glass galleries across the country, or check out his work on his Instagram at@Robertson.Glass. (interview fromhcmagazine
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