Austin Turley is a Portland, Oregon-based artist whose objects and
images investigate themes of presence, memory, language, and time. He
works in multiple formats, using the act of collecting as a point of
departure. Turley received a BFA from Pacific Northwest
College of Art. After graduating he worked as a glass caster at
Bullseye Glass Company for four years. He has been awarded multiple
residencies, including Hangar [Lisbon, PT], Pilotenkueche [Leipzig,
DE], Hinge Arts [Fergus Falls, MN], Arquetopia [Puebla, MX], Glean
[Portland, OR], Yucca Valley Material Lab [Yucca Valley, CA], and
Hafnarborg, [Hafnarfjörður, IS]. Grants have been awarded from
Regional Arts and Cultural Council, Oregon Arts Commission,
Springboard for the Arts, and Working Artist Org. Turley is
represented by Gray Contemporary [Houston, TX] and Alfa Gallery
Spontaneity, improvisation, and techniques of the bricoleur are the result of keen observations, which can lead to finding relevancy in the unexpected. I believe my modes of making are parallel to those of the bricoleur, exploring the notion that science and mystical thought are equivalent approaches to understanding the world around us. I am interested in the transformative character of objects as they evolve, erode, and alter throughout time. I seek out rhythms, patterns, and curious formations as a way to connect to the inherent systems around us. This act of collecting builds on ideas of repetition, transition, and disruption. I believe materials possess the capacity to act as a proxy for things beyond itself and its seemingly simple physical existence. My aim is to create presence within the overlooked and challenge how we view, experience, and navigate our conditions.
Jen Bacon: Hey Austin, thank you for taking the time to work on this feature with me, and thank you for your submission to OTC’s first Web Feature Open Call. We were really excited by the turnout and we’re so glad to be able to feature you and your work on our platform -- again! Just to mention, you were a featured artist in our first online exhibition, Art From Afar: The Shape of Content, which launched in April 2020. To start, I’d like to hear more about your material choices; how did you find glass and integrate it into your practice and when and how do you choose other materials to incorporate into your overall process?
Austin Turley: Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it.
I was introduced to glass through a casting job I received at Bullseye Glass Company. The job was an education in itself. I had the opportunity to not only learn hands-on about a new medium but was able to conduct my own experiments.
I have always collected objects, images, and sounds from my immediate environment, that’s usually where an idea or series of work starts. As I continued to learn and experiment with the complexities of kiln-formed glass, I discovered that I wasn’t really interested in making something out of glass, but rather my interests revolve around the behavior, characteristics, and the language of the medium itself. It was the rhythms, patterns, and formations that became the emphasis.
I like to think my approach to art-making is similar to making music, well, sample-based music. In high school and my early 20’s I dedicated a lot of time to digging for records, searching for samples and sounds that I could manipulate, layer, and recontextualize into sonic compositions. This was in the late 90’s early 2000’s, the internet had little or no presence in my life. This meant a large part of the process was physical. I found myself in a lot of used book stores, thrift shops, garage sales, really any place that I might find a stack of records to sift through, the more obscure the place, the better. There were countless hours of listening and searching before anything was discovered. Once a sample is found, it becomes the stimulus for a song, mixtape, or even an album. As I transitioned to making objects and images, that familiar hunter-gather technique spilled over to regard the materials around me as samples, full of potential and history. So, a pile of discarded glass chunks in a dumpster acted as a catalyst for the series, Shape of Things to Come. I believe it is through this active engagement with my surroundings that materials and ideas present themselves.
JB: What does this mining process for materials look like? What are you specifically looking for, i.e. what makes the next project work the best?
AT: The past several years my circumstances have changed. My family has moved around and I haven’t had a consistent studio. These conditions have greatly influenced the type of work I am able to accomplish. Here are a couple of examples of the mining process amongst different situations.
One. The series, Heat Signature started from a lack of accessibility to any kilns, but a desire to keep working in glass. I had recently left my casting position at the glass factory to travel with my wife for her job. When we were not on the road, my work area was a small space in our loft; it was basically an office. As I was going through some of my gatherings I acquired from the glass factory, I came across a milk crate of mottle glass scraps. This style of glass is generally used for stain glass production. Understanding the unique nature of the patterned glass, I decided to scan it and run the image through a series of applications. One particular program isolated the forms into topographic line maps. Because the glass is hand casted, each scrap was different but had a similar language, comparable to fingerprints. With the help of a trophy engraver, I had the extracted patterns etched into glass billets. More recently, I started to use the patterns in toner ink transfers using acrylic gel.
AT: Two. As I was preparing for back-to-back artist residencies in Europe for 2020, I made a discovery with the help of my one and half-year-old son about a month before leaving. In our adventures outside he would collect small stones and insist that I put them in my pocket. This was an ongoing ritual. I decided to use these small stones as a mark-making tool for some two-dimensional works. As I was conducting a variety of experiments, I noticed that some of the versions resembled the language of my recent glass series, Influx. This visual kernel provided a springboard for the work I would do in residence at Pilotenkueche in Leipzig, Germany. One of the draws for me to apply was the large studio spaces there, something I had not had access to in quite some time. I had the opportunity to really spread out and make some larger works. While there, I collected small stones from the playground outside our building complex. It ended up being a family affair to collect, clean, and transport all the stones. The new technique took several weeks to really harness. The end result was not only a series of works but a strategy that I am continuing to build upon today.
JB: What is the most difficult facet of your making process?
AT: Working within a budget.
JB: To counter, what/where do you discover in your making process that is the most rewarding?
AT: All of it. The moment the idea becomes an action, the dance with the material, the final execution, the install component, the documentation, all contain small victories. Over the years I’ve come to find the more problematic details of the process rewarding. Those setbacks, adjustments, and complications are the moments of learning and refinement. The more experience, the more reward.
JB: What resources are available in the area for those who are interested in working with glass? Where is the hub for the glass community in Portland?
AT: My reach does not extend very far in the glass community. I started working in kiln formed glass at Bullseye and have continued to do so. I like the community there; it works for me. They offer a range of classes, free online videos, and technical resources. It’s a good place to start, if interested.
JB: Looking back, when and how did you choose the path you're on now, as a working artist?
AT: Creating has always been an important aspect of my life, whether it was visual or audio, so naturally, I wanted to have that part of my daily routine. The older I got, the more I wanted to make it full-time. When I was in my mid 20’s I was at a sort of an introspective crossroads. Due to the requirements of a day job, the time dedicated to creating was limited, so it was either music or visual art. In my mind, I couldn’t be successful at both because I didn’t have the time to dedicate. When I made my decision, it took me about a year to fully transition. Ironically, I started creating audio compositions using field recordings of my travels when I was in residency at Hangar in Lisbon this past summer.
JB: Do you have any resources that affected you and your practice you’d like to share with other artists, members of our community?
AT: Going through the grant writing process has had a huge impact. I am grateful for Regional Arts and Culture Council [RACC] and the free class they provide for first-time grant applicants. After going through the process, it gave me a baseline for what organizations are looking for, require, and will provide. I found the more I go through the submission process of any organization, the more capable and confident I became. But, my greatest resources are the people I’ve met along the way and fostering those relationships.
JB: What advice would you give to those who are just starting to pursue glass and their medium?
AT: Put in the work. Keep experimenting. Find your team. But most importantly, be kind to those who you come in contact with. Making is a gift.
1. Shape of Things to Come [Sequence 22]
50” x 20” x 10”
glass, acrylic, wood, paint
2.Correspondence [Solo Exhibition] at Grey Contemporary
Shape of Things to Come [Sequence 18, 5, and 9]
glass, metal, wood, paint
Photo by Mel DeWees
3.Twenty One [Solo Exhibition] at Grey Contemporary
Shape of Things to Come [Sequence 15 and 17]
4” x 10” x 4”
Photo by Mel DeWees
4. Twenty One [Solo Exhibition] at Grey Contemporary
Shape of Things to Come [Sequence 13, 14, and 4]
4” x 10” x 4” each
photo by Mel DeWees
5. Twenty One [Solo Exhibition] at Grey Contemporary
Shape of Things to Come [Sequence 4]
4” x 10” x 4”
photo by Mel DeWees
6. Twenty One [Solo Exhibition] at Grey Contemporary
Shape of Things to Come [Sequence 13]
4” x 10” x 4”
photo by Mel DeWees
7. Heat Signature #7
11” x 14” x 1”
glass, acrylic, screws
8. Heat Signature #7 [side view]
9. Mass Heat
14.5” x 22”
toner ink on acrylic medium, metal pins
10. Influx [Sequence 2]
12” x 9” x 1”
11. Influx [Sequence 1]
12” x 9” x 1”
12. Pilotenkueche studio 2020
13. Pilotenkueche studio 2020
photo by Pilotenkueche
14. Memory Palace #6
60" x 48"
acrylic, varnish on canvas
15. Memory Palace #27
48” x 39”
acrylic, varnish, on canvas
16. Influx [Sequence 5]
9” x 12” x 1”