Photographs Courtesy of Star Barn Planetarium
Joshua Dopp has his head in the clouds.
The glass artist’s body of work illustrates his interest in ethereal things. Among his collections are faceted forms, arches, domes, spikes, squiggles and of course, clouds. He is especially fascinated with the mystery of the shapes that float above our heads.
“There’s a transformative power that they hold on us,” says Dopp, noting his hope of one day being commissioned to turn clouds into public artwork. “One of the first types of clouds that I got into making was a repurposing of an old material. I would take transistor diodes—electronic components—and solder them into non-functioning sculptures. It was referencing a bunch of different things using technology and kind of rendering it more as an art form.”
Dopp discovered glassblowing in 1987 while studying fine art at Santa Barbara Community College. In between drawing classes, he would watch glassblowers through windows down the courtyard. He knew right then and there that he had to try it out for himself—and he was immediately hooked.
“The thing about glassblowing is that it’s a very immediate medium,” Dopp explains. “It requires your full attention when you’re working so you’re completely engrossed in what you’re doing and that really appealed to me. I needed that focus and I guess I still do. It’s very dynamic and it uses all of your body and mind. I love that about it.”
Glassblowing is unique in that it not just engaging for the artist, but also quite fascinating to watch. It is not unusual for a crowd of about 300 people to gather around Dopp as he is working at Highway Hotshop, a mobile glass studio with which he travels to festivals, schools and other venues.
Dopp is currently using his mobile glass studio to teach a seven-week glass-working class to juniors at Desert Marigold High School. He has been offering the class to students for the past three years.
Highway Hotshop will briefly drop anchor Jan. 19 at Mesa Arts Center, where Dopp will demonstrate glassblowing for attendees of spark! After Dark, a free monthly event that features live art, music, food and more.
Dopp also teaches a beginning glassblowing class Wednesday nights at Mesa Arts Center, during which students get hands-on experience making drinking glasses and developing other skills. His classes fill up fast so it is best to reserve spots early. He has been teaching the class at Mesa Arts Center for the past 10 years.
In addition to affording Dopp more opportunities and flexibility with which he can create his artwork and leading to serene inspiration, Highway Hotshop gives him an easy way to beat the heat—a rarity when it comes to glassblowing. Each summer, Dopp escapes Phoenix and enjoys the cooler temperatures of Pinetop for a series of weekend workshops and other events.
“I see it as an artist-in-residence opportunity for myself,” Dopp notes. “I get out of my own studio and I am able to go somewhere else. I’ll always try to work on new bodies of work while I’m at remote locations. It’s just a nice way for me to kind of separate studio time from producing products, to a time where I’m actually developing new products.
Dopp loves the fine art aspect of his work but admits that glass better lends itself to utilitarian- and craft-based pieces. Therefore, he has always seen himself straddling both sides of the fence when it comes to his creations.
While clouds and other ethereal things fuel Dopp’s imagination, his bread and butter is decorative art. This includes dazzling ribbed bowls, exquisite flower bouquets, beautiful butterflies, elegant vessels and a variety of gorgeous pendants, chandeliers and sconces. His most popular products are his spikes, sublime glasswork that add color and personality to gardens.
“People often say the spikes that I sell are very [Dale] Chihuly-like,” says Dopp, referencing the world- famous glass sculptor who has had art installations at Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden. “I don’t mind that comparison. But spikes have been something that I’ve worked on and produced for the past 30 years. I came to it naturally on my own.”
Nonetheless, Dopp admits that he—and all other glass artists—owe a debt of gratitude to Chihuly as the artist has promoted the field to such an extent that school programs and collector bases have grown as a result. He also admits that glassblowing is a privilege due to the tremendous amount of energy and natural resources that are required for the medium.
“This material has a huge footprint when it comes to its energy consumption, Dopp explains. “It’s not well-known, but early glass blowing factories were largely responsible for the deforestation of the European continent, and now there are no naturally standing forests left in Europe. Nonetheless, this 2,000-year-old art form has a rich and varied history. It was arguably responsible for the industrial revolution.”
In response to these revelations, Dopp started a series of pieces in 2002 which he titled “The Last Piece I Will Ever Make.” The pieces are the artist’s attempt to make a sociological statement on human nature and our relationship with petroleum and energy consumption.
Despite the existence of alternative energy sources, Dopp maintains a belief that he must have respect for the glass and be a good steward. Glassblowing has taught Dopp to be a more resilient and resourceful human being.
When he is not on the road with Highway Hotshop, Dopp can be found at his design studio, working on everything from $20 objects to $20,000 high-end sculptures that he sells to galleries and museums. He also does repair work for people who have damaged glass objects and assists other artists to actualize projects that they are not capable of completing themselves.
However, Dopp’s favorite memory is when one of his colleagues purchased a collection of irises for her mother, who loved the flowers. Shortly thereafter, his colleague’s mother passed away and her dying wish was that she would be buried with his irises.
“I was just honored,” Dopp says. “I see a lot of what I do as an opportunity to give back. It’s sharing what I have. I don’t do this in a bubble or in a vacuum. I have a gift and I have to share it. It doesn’t belong to me. It comes through me. And it’s an honor to just be part of that.”
Doppler Design Studio
5448 E. Washington St., Ste. 5, Phoenix | Visits Welcome by Appointment | 602-320-6071 | joshdopp.com