WESLEY NEAL RASKO: In Case of Emergency Make Glass
WESLEY NEAL RASKO is a Canadian born glass artist currently residing in the Czech Republic. Having studied at Alberta college of Art and Design, Wesley has since exhibited his glass sculptures and paintings at galleries all over the world and most recently at the Bruno Massa gallery in Paris. In this personal interview Wesley explains his creative process and how his work has been affected by cultural changes. He also shares the story of his near death experience and his ensuing life with epilepsy.
To check out more of Wesley’s work visit his website: www.wnrglass.com
Interview by Will Kitson
Have you always felt creative, or was there a particular point in your life – perhaps in childhood – where it became apparent?
A rather difficult question to answer, I know I have always felt creative so I don’t think that there is one particular point in in my life where it became apparent. More so it was a gradual evolution over time, one that to this day is an ongoing process of creativity and self-awareness. From the earliest that I can remember I have been drawn to drawing, sketching, doodling, painting and sculpting with clay. Being involved in the before and after school programs at elementary school, the Wildflower Art Centre and optional art classes throughout my entire formal educative life; I have expressed myself artistically.
After completing high school, like many I was uncertain of what I would do next in life. It was most natural for me at this point to continue in what I felt most confident at; this being my artistic ability and as such I enrolled in the Alberta College of Art and Design. The first year was one of ‘general studies’, one which was meant to clarify one’s mind as to the direction of his/her major for the next three years. I enrolled in the sculptural major, completed school at the end of April and flew to Europe with my father for what was to be a five week European adventure trip which eventually led us to our ‘home’ territory of the Czech and Slovak Republics, a place that we knew and one that always greeted us with the warm smiles of family and friends.
How did you first become acquainted with glass as an art form?
My father was an avid art collector. He had many friendships that developed over the years as a result of his passion for art and this too had a great influence on me. Upon reaching Prague in the summer of 1999 my father realized that he was running out of wall space where to hang more and more 2-D art and such the door opened into an entirely new world, one of three dimensional glass. Walking the streets of Prague led us to discover an interesting glass gallery which displayed glass works from all the leading Czech glass artists of the time. My father has always had an interesting approach to purchasing art, one that involved meeting the artist and thus getting a better appreciation from where the art ‘actually’ came from and what motivated the artist. Thus we left empty handed, but with a special name engraved in our minds: Bohumil Elias. We travelled towards Slovakia, stopping for lunch at Zdar nad Sazavou, a town known for its glass works industry. Here we came across an artist named Jaroslav Wasserbauer from which my father bought an amazing cobalt blue cast glass sculpture and through idle conversation came upon the contact for Bohumil Elias in Prague. Three weeks later we returned to Prague, not having any idea of what awaited us…
Upon arriving at Bohumil’s home we were greeted at the front gate by a friendly smile and welcomed into the family home and private gallery. I remember the next moment as if it had happened yesterday; through numerous light switches, Bohumil turned on a vast number of overhead lights which brought to life all the colourful glass sculptures which filled the space with a magical aura. My jaw dropped, I fell to my knees and and was left awe-stuck by the beauty that stood in front of me. Within a few minutes my life changed as Bohumil made me an offer which simply couldn’t be refused: to stay with him and learn as his apprentice. And as such my father travelled back to Canada on his own, leaving me with my new master and mentor in life.
You were involved in a very serious car accident recently. What impact did this have on your creativity?
Even with the once in a life time opportunity which I had with Bohumil, I returned to Calgary after a year and decided it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to get some kind of ‘formal education’. The wisest choice at the time was to follow in the footsteps of both my parents who were Civil Engineers and such I enrolled into the two year Civil Engineering Technology program at S.A.I.T. I graduated and moved to Australia, following my heart to be with a Slovak girl I befriended over the years. I lived on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, working in my profession up until the moment when my Work Visa ran out and I was forced to leave back to Canada. Broken-hearted, I began work for various engineering companies in Calgary doing six month stints of work during the summer and then returning to what was my safety net; traveling to the Czech Rep. to create and work with glass in the winter. I found my own studio in a town called Zelezny Brod, located 100 km north of Prague and one which is also renowned for its rich history in glass.
Up until the summer of 2004 when I had a triple roll over car accident I was what you could call a young punk, lost in a vast unknown world of choices and intersections; not fully knowing what the heck I wanted to do in life (or at least how I could go about achieving it). I wasn’t brought up in a religious environment but as I miraculously walked up the hill from which I just flipped down I knew there must be a God, for what I had survived was truly an unbelievable car accident. The car lay demolished, wrapped around a tree and neither I nor my younger brother suffered any visual injury. I remember at that point telling myself that there must be a God, why else would have Bohumil taught me what he did and why else would have I survived the experience which I just had? At this point it all became clear; what the purpose of my life was… to devote my life to expressing my creativity through my glass art. And such from that moment forth I strove to be the best, conceiving absolutely one of a kind, unique works of art that pay homage to the fantastic memory of Bohumil yet continue to push the boundaries ever further. This is my destiny in life; to create works of art that I am blown away in creating and thus I can only hope the viewer will have a similar reaction when they see my finished work.
You suffer from epilepsy; are there any meditative or calming devices you use in order to control it?
One week after the car accident I had my first epileptic seizure, one of many that challenged my life. In the beginning I was scared and asked myself how I will live with this mysterious illness; one which to this day remains shrouded in medical ‘fog’. I am an emotional person and such it left me depressed for a long time until I came to realize that nothing is impossible if one has a strong heart and determination. This I had.
My epilepsy is mainly controlled by anti-epileptic medication without which I think I couldn’t exist as I do; pushing myself to the limits both physically and emotionally. My glass art is my life, it’s my day job, my hobby and my fun all in one. From the moment I awake to the moment I go to bed I am always doing something in pursuit of my destiny and dream. Living a balanced life is of utmost importance. This involves regular sleep patterns from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. which provide my body with its needed energy. I can’t handle flashing lights or jet-lag and avoid ‘drugs’ and alcohol which most certainly have a harmful effect on my body and mind. Averting stress is critical too, seeing as my body doesn’t cope with it as a ‘normal’ person would and as such I have learnt to walk away from negative situations. I love to go for walks in nature, for it is there that I feel the negativity in my body flow away.
Culturally, Canada and Czech Republic seem very different. Tell us about how you’ve settled in and any challenges you’ve encountered in adjusting.
Yes, Canada and the Czech Rep. are very different. On the one hand Canada is a very modern, multicultural and open society whereas the Czech Rep. is culturally, historically and traditionally rich. Each has a different story to tell, from its historic and political background; each having had a great impact on how we see each country today. I cannot say that one is better or worse than the other, there are positives and negatives to be seen on both sides and it is this contrasting beauty that I relish.
Having grown up in Canada to immigrant parents from Czechoslovakia who escaped the Communist regime in 1968, I was raised in a bi-lingual, open minded and free thinking environment. We spoke Slovak at home and English outside. Having been raised by my father after my parents divorced when I was only 4 years old, my grandmother who too immigrated to Canada in 1989 after the Velvet Revolution, I grew up in a visual and auditory artistic environment. I was often told stories about life in Communistic Czechoslovakia from the perspective of an ordinary person. I remember sitting and listening to my grandmother speak of the hardships she had endured yet she also had a bright side when she sang to me traditional folk songs which I remember still to this day. I grew up appreciating the differences of both cultures and being non-ignorant to these two contrasting worlds.
Upon arriving and to Zelezny Brod I began to establish my own studio. In the beginning I lived and worked out of a humble hotel room at Hotel Pod Spalovem. The location was beautiful to say the least, idyllically snow covered and isolated during the winter months, affordable and soon I came across my first true friend: the owner of this small hotel who was of similar age. Living and creating in this hidden environment was surreal. I was able to focus 100% on my work, reading books on philosophy and relaxing. On the other hand I had a hard time getting to know people. I left my entire social community of home to dive ‘head first’ into the life of an artist, this being none more true than in 2008 when I decided to immigrate permanently and focus on this path with a rather do or die frame of mind. A quote that I find quite relative to this experience being:
“I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.”
-Robert H. Schuller
The beginnings weren’t easy. I will never know for sure why, whether it be due to my genuine and sincere love for the material, but eventually I became part of the local glass community and found support within it. This community became my ‘new’ family as we spent time working and experimenting together and shared a common passion for the magical material of glass.
It’s quite rare for artists of your generation to sculpt with glass. What appeals to you so much about this medium?
To a certain degree it’s true; it’s quite rare for young people of my generation to sculpt with glass or focus on it 100%. I think it requires a certain blind hope and naivety otherwise one would never venture down this unknown path of instability. I fully believe a certain ‘luck factor’ exists when working with glass; sometimes a piece turns out and others crack or break. Even though there still exist three high schools in the Northern Czech Rep. which focus on glass education, individually it’s hard to find work in this specialized craft after completing one’s education. The schools these days are becoming more design focused which fulfils a broader spectrum of the workplace. Glass is an expensive material to work with (raw material, electricity and cutting costs) and by no means does every piece started become reality. This is perhaps one aspect of the medium which appeals to me the most, the challenge of working with the material; and I must say that I love a good head-on challenge. When things don’t work out, I simply try to learn from my mistakes and head back to the drawing board and give it another try. It is a very fragile yet hard material, it requires great patience and respect to work with yet can be destroyed in a split second. It can be solid/liquid, can be formed using heat or through cold working processes. It is colourful, full of life, can be transparent or matte and is the ultimate sculpting material. It is also the only material other than a diamond which can create a rainbow.
Where do you most feel inspired?
Inspiration: a divine guidance or influence exerted directly on one’s mind and soul; a certain stimulation or arousal. I feel most inspired from travelling, experiencing different places, cultures, traditions and values. Contrastingly I love both nature (growing up so close to the Rocky Mountains where I spent a great deal of my childhood hiking and skiing) and urban centres including Vancouver, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Hong Kong, New York and Sydney. They each offer something diametrically different and it is this contrast which inspires me the most.
Published: January 7th, 2014