"Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.” So said Thich Nhat Hanh when he described breathing as a miraculous tool. And the breath of Mali Harrell, Atlanta artist, is exactly that. Using molten glass and fire Mali literally breathes life into her extraordinary work. Mali is an artist whose work is elementally miraculous because, with each piece she achieves exactly what Thich Nhat Hanh is referring to--the link of consciousness to the miracle of breathing.
What emotions drive the creation of your art?
HMMMM…depends on the day. Most of the time it is joy and happiness. Bad days are always better with a little touch of glass. I do find that the emotion of the moment is translated into the work. If I cannot let go of what is stressing me out, the work will be affected and often ends up on the floor instead of the annealer…that is a BAD glass day.
My Mother supported all of my artistic whims. I started dancing at the age of 5 and continued thru college and beyond. Mom also enrolled me in numerous art classes through the years. . I always had an affinity for glass. I tried stained glass in college, but did not pursue it. Much later, I discovered ‘kiln formed glass’ aka ‘fusing and slumping’. In late 2002, I had the opportunity to take a paperweight class…I had always wanted to know how those beautiful glass balls were created. The first time I touched the punty rod to that molten glass I was instantly hooked (like a drug), bitten by the glass bug…I had found my muse.
Is your art goal-oriented?
I wouldn’t say my art is goal-oriented…my art is journey and process oriented. It is the process of creation that fuels my passion.
What are you passionate about?
I am, of course, VERY passionate about glass, which consumes most of my musings. I am also passionate about Tai Chi. Glass blowing and martial arts both require a certain focus that keeps me balanced emotionally, physically and mentally.
How would you describe yourself?
I am diligent, loyal, and trustworthy. Actually, I think I am an upbeat person. I try to live in harmony with my environment. I love to help people. To make someone happy or just to brighten his or her day…that makes me happy. I am also a good teacher.
What artistic challenges do you face?
The top most challenges are time and money. Glass is an expensive craft. I still must have a real job to support my glass habit, which makes it difficult to find time to create. The second challenge is also time related in that I will never live long enough to learn all that I want to know about glass.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as an artist?
”Push the limit, but know when to stop.”
I discovered that I am not cut out for mass production, or for work that is ‘trendy’. I have to create for myself and if someone else loves it, then I am happy. Each piece is personal to me, even to the smallest paperweight (still one of my favorite things to blow). I like James Loftus’ quote…”I make a piece for 2 people; myself and someone I have not yet met”... I hope to meet many people.
What’s your proudest artistic achievement?
To date, I would say that my dress series is my highest achievement. It takes me back to the days when I would fashion clothes for my Barbie dolls from my Mother’s silk scarves. Still working on that series.
What artists have influenced you most and why?
My mentor and teacher Tadashi Torii is first on that list. Not only because of his skill, but his ability and willingness to share his knowledge as well as encouragement to challenge myself.
What’s been your best decision?
First was the decision to take the paperweight class that started it all. Second was years later when I decided that I needed to start selling…my house was beginning to sink from the weight of all the glass.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Again, this probably depends on the day. The first person that comes to mind is The Dalai Lama. I would also like to have met Madame Wu Ying Hua, the daughter of the founder of Wu Style Tai Chi. I am surprised that no great artists leap to mind…maybe tomorrow…again, depends on the day.
What are you currently reading or listening to?
I have to admit that I am not a reader…other than instructional books and periodicals related to glass and Martial Arts. I listen to classical and jazz music for the most part, although I will listen to just about anything…as long as it is good. I also listen to audio books…great for long drives.
Who would you like to trade places with for one day? Why?
My cat Miss Sophia Lily Grey…if you met her you wouldn’t ask why.
What dream do you still want to fulfil?
I would love to have my own ‘fully equipped’ hot shop. Barring that, at least a studio with a place for everything and everything in its place. (Currently, my preparation happens in the attic, the assembly and firing happens on the back porch and blowing happens offsite. This leaves a trail of glass through the house and out to the car.)
What subject would you like to portray in your art that you have not yet attempted?
Dragons. I have created several dragon pieces, but want to explore them in more detail. Dragons are elusive.
How perfect that such a primal, mythical creature as the dragon would be born of breath and fire. We look forward to your dragons, Mali.