Interview: Tim Tate

Tim Tate is Co-Founder of the Washington Glass School and Studio. Tim’s work is in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Smithsonian's American Art Museum and the Mint Museum. He is the subject of several articles in American Style, American Craft, and Sculpture magazines, as well as The Washington Post and Times newspaper reviews. He was also the 2010 recipient of the $35,000 Virginia Groot Foundation Award for sculpture.

 He taught in Istanbul in August 2007 and at Penland School on several occasions. In 2009, he received an award from the Museum of American Glass in New Jersey as one of the “Rising Stars of the 21st Century”. He received his Fulbright Award from Sunderland, University in England in 2012. He is also the founder of “Glass Secessionism.” Tim shows his work at numerous International Art Fairs, such as ArtBasel Switzerland, Art Miami, SOFA and Frieze, London.

What was your early interaction with glass and endless mirrors? Tell us about how you got involved with the medium. 

My interest came from an odd place, Spencer Gifts. When I was a kid, Spencer Gifts was a kind of toy store for kids, filled with weird things. I had received my catalog and saw my first endless mirror. Somehow, I convinced my parents to drive me from Washington, DC to the Pyramus, NJ mall where the closest Spencer Gifts was located, so that I could take it apart to see how it worked. Thus began my fascination with this strange art form. 

Did you study art early on or did you have other interests and pursuits at first? Briefly tell us about your creative journey.

I was a maker all through my early years. Since I am from Washington, DC, I practically lived in museums. But when I announced to my parents that I wanted to attend Cranbrook Academy, I was completely shut down. I was heavily veered away from making art as my primary living. Then I sadly got a terminal diagnosis. They were ultimately incorrect, but for almost ten years I was told I had one year to live. A very odd way to live your 20's. I realized then that I was living someone else's idea of what they thought my life should be instead of my own. I made the leap of faith that I could make it. If I didn't, I wouldn’t die without at least having tried. Fortunately, I was incorrectly diagnosed, and my art caught on. The best possibility of all outcomes.

What inspires the imagery within your pieces? 

In the earliest days, my work focused heavily on loss and memory, as I was battling my imminent death. That soon broadened to the world around me, with gun violence and the plight of refugees being my current interest. But anything can trigger my imagery. I am constantly watching the world around me for inspiration.

Give us a glimpse into your process from research to execution. 

Most of my ideas come to me around 4 am. I wake up around then almost every night. I used to force myself to go back to sleep. Now, I don't allow myself to fall back asleep. Instead, I force myself to focus on my current artwork for as long as I can stay awake. This seems to access the creative part of my brain the most easily. After I come up with a concept, I then try to decide which narrative objects I can use to tell my story. It's important that even the most difficult issues I am dealing with be wrapped up in a beautiful piece. Beauty and difficulty (like gun violence) tend to both be amplified when wrapped around each other. Then begins the decision on which technique and material to use for each object. I also take into account where it will be heading. 

What are your interests outside of the studio? How do you replenish your creativity? 

If I weren't an artist, I would love to be a baker! I love baking pies. Though I also love post-apocalyptic fiction and obscure music. I also do a huge amount of video work… that always gets me going. I am surrounded by some of the most creative folks on the east coast. This helps a great deal.

If you could collect any artist's work, whose would it be?

Oh my lord… so many. I would own a ton of Mark Ryden's work. I'd love an Ai Wei Wei giant glass cube. I'd love to own the new David Hockney video piece. A Sally Mann photograph. AKohei Nawa Deer. That's a pretty good start. :)