Through the use of innovative techniques and the mastery of an ancient art form, Houston Llew has risen to the top of the long list of America’s most talented and collected young artists. Llew will be showing his work in Breckenridge this weekend, introducing collectors to the rare medium of vitreous enamel and sharing his youthful exuberance with visitors to the Art on a Whim gallery.
Llew was 7 years old the first time he got lost in the world of art. He was on a family trip, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Wandering along alone, he planted himself on a bench in front of Sandro Boticelli’s “Annunciation” and began silently sketching a rendering of the painting. At once, Llew was lost to his family (who would soon find him) and beginning to find himself and his calling as an artist. In subsequent years, Llew found the same quiet reflection and love for art in Holland, studying the works of Vincent van Gogh, and in France at the Louvre, pondering Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”
It was a journey westward that marked a transformative experience in Llew’s life. Fueling his Winnebago along the way with the occasional poker game, Llew eventually landed in Santa Fe, N.M., and met his mentor, the master enamellist Zingaro.
Zingaro introduced Llew to the ancient world of vitreous enamel. Vitreous enamel is the luminous combination of fired glass on metal. Its history dates back to artifacts found in the ruins of ancient Greece, China and the Isle of Man.
In both Zingaro and Llew’s work, vitreous enamel is the application of molten glass layered onto blocks of copper. When Llew first experienced his own designs embraced in the fire of a kiln, he knew he had found himself as an artist and again felt like his 7-year-old self, contentedly creating away the day.
Llew’s discovery of vitreous enamel launched him to the forefront of emerging American artists and spawned his creation of Spiritiles late in 2008. Created with the vitreous enamel process, Spiritiles are timeless collectibles that capture the spirit of the enlightened moment. Llew begins each piece by shaping and sizing a block of copper mined from the American Southwest. Next, he forms colored bits of glass into the designs seen on his finished Spiritiles. The tiles are kiln fired to hold the glass in its final, beautiful resting place on top of the durable copper. For the final part of the process, Llew intentionally cracks each piece to provide a rustic look to an otherwise contemporary looking medium.
Perhaps the most interesting part of each Spiritile is the quote found on its golden sides. For example, Llew’s depiction of fluttering birds titled “Aloft” reads, “To our children we give two things — one is roots, the other wings.” His heart design reads, “I carry your heart with me. I carry it in my heart.” And Llew’s bicycle piece, “Brilliant Ride” states, “I thought of that while riding my bicycle.” The authors of the quotes have their names layered in glass on the top of each Spiritile. Hodding Carter coined the quote for “Aloft,” E.E. Cumming’s poetry is found on the sides of “Turner Heart 2,” and Albert Einstein had some great ideas while riding his bicycle. Llew signs the bottom of each piece to bring them full circle.
Llew is only 33 and is filled with the wit, whimsy and wisdom that shines in each of his pieces. The happiness that is ever present in the work he creates is very much a part of his personality, too. He will be inscribing pieces for gallery visitors on Saturday evening, March 15, from 4 to 8 p.m. and sharing that wit and wisdom with anyone who stops in to meet him.