Glass artist Meng Du possesses a unique ability to harness light and emotion. She captures nostalgic memories and forever seals them in glass artworks that cast out a magical glow and vibrate with life. Stories from her past are expressed through rich textures and organic shapes formed in clay, metal, and glass. The kiln and blown glass elements have a unique warm hue achieved through staining with Chinese teas of her native country. She began her artistic career studying graphic design in her hometown of Beijing but soon realized that working with computers did not provide a sufficient outlet for her creative ideas. During a class trip to the United States, she was thrilled by a glass exhibit in San Francisco and delighted by the versatility of light passing through glass. Despite her limited English language skills and lack of prior glass experience, she made the bold move of enrolling into the prestigious School for American Crafts glass program at The Rochester Institute of Technology. She was the first student without prior glass experience accepted, but her focused determination and ability to persevere through fear and discomfort solidified her success. Her work has been exhibited in The U.S, China, and Japan and most recently a well-received solo show The Climb, The Fall at FOU Gallery in Brooklyn.
The influence of your Chinese upbringing is visible in your work; do you think your time living in the United States has affected your work as well?
Yes, definitely. In the year of 2013, I completed my MFA thesis work. Luckily, I got the opportunity to continue at RIT as the Artist in Residence in the glass program. It was a turning point to my work and myself. My thesis body of work was all based on the nostalgic memories of Beijing, I didn’t realize how deeply my thoughts and feelings were rooted in Chinese culture until I moved over to the States. I guess that’s what we call “trigger” when our life has been changing dramatically. Being far away from where I am from, always makes me reconsider my self-identity in both a physical and emotional way. Living in the States for several years also allowed me to experience a completely different life style from what I was used to. Especially after being in the artist residence in the program, I don’t have to take any classes anymore and can avoid the stress of final critiques. It helps me to schedule my time in a more reasonable way and allows me to have more room to slow down my pace and learn more things. It also gives me a chance and time to cherish and embrace all the little things that I am experiencing right now. For instance, I would never imagine that I could see deer in real life before I came to Rochester. My work always follows a narrative motif, or you could say that I am a “Story Teller” using glass as the carrier. From Beijing to Rochester to NYC, life is leading me to lots of undiscovered paths waiting to be recorded. Pages after pages, chapters after chapters, the stories are always continuing…
What excites you most about creating your art?
It is very exciting to see how people respond to it with their personal memories and feelings, much like having a silent conversation with the viewers. Particular moments, and treasured recollections all form into a poetic consciousness. Light not only passes through glass to cast shadows in the space, but also in people’s eyes and mind.
Where do you think your motivation and drive to create comes from?
I love working with my hands and everything hand-made in general. When holding an object in my hands, I can still sense the temperature from the making process, and the unique tactile sensation of the materials. After the economy blooming in China in the last decades, the manufacture of cheap; low quality “Made In China” production seems to slowing down in recent years. More and more people start to cherish a slow-paced yet quality guaranteed life style, which also includes the attitude and philosophy of hand-made spirit. It brings me a warm; gentle feeling that is touching but hard to describe. I want to be a person who can pass on this kind of moving feeling to the others.
You recently had a solo exhibition called The Climb, The Fall at FOU Gallery in Brooklyn. What feelings did you experience on opening day? What do you hope viewers will see your work?
On opening day I was extremely overwhelmed yet amazingly excited. I was so pleased and thrilled that so many people came to the reception, my besties who I grew up with flew from Chicago and Beijing just for the opening! I am actually very shy when I first meet someone, sometimes I stutter on words when I am nervous. But their kind feedback made me feel a lot more comfortable on talking about myself and introducing the stories of my works. I love the moments when people are curious about the secrets hiding behind the curtain. A lot of my works are trying to capture a certain moment that I would not like to let go of. The vanishing scenarios, the found objects, and the vaporous spirits from my mirror drawings; all of them are carrying a subtle sense of belonging that I want to share with the viewers. Every individual responds differently based on what he/she has experienced in life. I don’t expect the viewers to have the same feeling as I do, but am happy when their personal connections get evoked by the nostalgic content of my works.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of being an artist and how do you overcome these challenges?
It’s a big question… I think in my case, right now, the most challenging aspect is how I can balance my work and life to be able to continue making new works. The process of glass making is very time consuming and super expensive. Plus, we can only make our works in the shops that can provide glass working facilities and spaces. I was so lucky that I could work at the RIT glass program in the past few years, which offered me so much room to explore and experiment with all sorts of techniques and ideas. However, once we step out to the reality, we have to figure out how to support ourselves to keep working with glass. It is not an easy thing and I have been seeing so many people changing their minds to do something else already. Soon, I will go back to China and start working in a brand new environment. Since I have been away from China for 6 years, it may take a while to adjust my pace but hopefully everything will work out fine.