Shayna Leib


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
09 Monday 09th January 2012

To start, we read that you balanced academic pursuits in philosophy and glass-blowing for quite some time. How do you think your philosophical background informs your art?

My philosophical background was in Contemporary European Philosophy and Existentialism, heavy and intellectual. My art is about something as simple and hypnotic as movement so they couldn’t be farther apart from each other.

I got into glass to get out of my head. When you are working with molten glass, it forces you to be present or you get very hurt. You can’t think about Kierkegaard’s take on the origin of existential anxiety when you’re a second away from being burned by something that’s 2000 degrees.

Charybdis (photo by Paul Meissner)

Would you say you're more inspired by other artists or by nature? And why?

I am far more inspired by nature than anything else. About seven years ago, I stopped looking at other artists’ work. My grad school art teachers would probably find 20 things wrong with that, but I work much better without influence. For me, the enjoyment of others’ art is a great experience, but one I don’t indulge in often.

I enjoy looking at fashion design, woodwork, metal and ceramics, but I stay away from looking at others’ glass art or sculpture. I want my art to come from me, channelled by natural phenomena.

Malvinas (photo by Jaime Young)

We love the fluid nature of your work, and have seen that it's quite an intense process to craft each piece. Which of your sculptural series have been your favourite to make?

My favourite piece to this day is one that was never popular with the public. It’s called Malvinas and was created with the circumpolar Antarctic current in mind. It’s devoid of colour, except for little ruby tips on each of the individual polyps. It’s minimal and was my first attempt at foregoing colour as the main element of my work. It takes out what can sometimes be considered flashy and extraneous colour and boils it down to its elemental flow. People who respond to that piece are usually artists.

6 species (photo by Eric Tadsen)

If you weren't glass-blowing, what do you think you'd be most driven to do?

If I wasn’t working with glass, I’d be doing two things: diving and working with animal rescue groups. Both are a part of my life currently, but I’d devote much more time to them if I wasn’t working.

Diving is an addiction, and I get like a kid at Christmas when I’m about to dive, although it used to be a huge fear for me. The work with animal rescue charities is even more important to me. I volunteer my time and donate my art to help fund rescue charities that help feral cats. It’s my destiny to be the old cat lady someday. Bring it on.

Emerald Organelle (photo by Jaime Young)

 Which characteristics of glass are your favourite to manipulate and play with? Why?

Definitely colour, hands down. I’ve seen a lot of glass artists get caught up in the glamour of the process which is fun, but colour is my specialty. I probably have about 200 shades of colour I create through layering, and I like to pay attention to subtle colour shifts in my work. It’s barely perceptible at times, and my assistants get a kick out of my near-obsessive insistence on shades of colour that are one coat of powder off from each other. It drives them crazy and one has insisted there’s no difference between the shades, but there is. It’s what allows for a transition in a landscape to indicate a source of light from within.

Charybdis detail (photo by Paul Meissner)

Finally, what projects do you have coming up for the New Year that you can tell us about now?

This New Year marks an important beginning for me. I am taking over the hotshop that I rent from, and running it as my own. It’s a commitment and a huge step since I’ve always rented. But it’s something that will allow me more freedom to experiment without the pressure of paying by the hour to rent.

I will be focusing on two main things in the near future: expanding the Meniscus series (see top image) and branching out to larger-scale public work for hotels, restaurants, etc. I’ve been itching to go big for years, and I’ll finally start putting those ideas to work. Just after I make a few hundred more glass chocolates to cover my living room wall.


See the rest of Shayna's work at

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