The objects of David Gignac’s creation range from the industrial to the anthropomorphic. Black steel chicken coops that lean like the Tower of Pisa, brimming with etched glass “eggs.” A glass teapot shaped like a full moon, glowing through the bare branches of steel trees. A four by six foot canvas dominated by a pair of sensuous pears. Tools that sprout steel arms and legs and seem poised to run.
“I was really young when I started to realize I liked the work of Magritte and the surrealists,” says David. “Their stuff was bizarre and strong and it had this sense of mystery.
“[Magritte’s] philosophy was that inanimate objects actually may have a life that is totally unknown to us,” David explains. “So there is a mystery to the objects that we don’t knowthat has always been an element of my work and my approach.”
A Sense of Mystery
The same words David uses to describe the work of the surrealistsbizarre, strong, with a sense of mysterymay well be applied to the sculptures, glass work, and paintings David creates in his art studios in Washington State.
His latest pieces incorporate glass etching and staining, as well as metal forging techniques, and include interpretations of classic vessel shapes in glass and steel. He’s also exploring anthropomorphism in an evolving series of fruit paintings.
Metal & Glass
David’s work in steel, tools, and metals is varied and distinct. He has favorite recurring themes, such as industrial forms and factory images. “In a lot of my pieces, vines have developed as a metaphor for the passage of time,” he says. “The vines bring life to the piece in the sense that rather than a static frame, you have the living material around it, which keeps the spirituality around it.”
In David’s metal shop, tools crowd the surfaces. There’s a large metal worktable, and a basic forge. He’ll work in the studio for three days a week for awhile, turning out forms.
In his glass and painting studio, David takes clear glass through sandblasting to achieve a frosted texture. The glass is then stained with oil paints, leaving each piece with a matte look, which appears to glow.
“I wanted people to feel, ‘This is not what I know glass to be.’ I wanted it to look odd and mysterious, and feel different,” says David.
David typically rents a glass shop and hires a team. He starts with drawings and an idea of what he wants, and observes, “Sometimes you just have to let things happen. There are pieces you know, and there are pieces you discover. There’s got to be room for the unexpected,” he says. A session will start with simple shapes and there’s an evolution to more complex shapes, such as those with cascading handles. For some shapes, David will work with two teams and they’ll crank out 120 pieces in a day.
“I’m learning more about factories because of the choices I’ve made in my art, because suddenly it becomes about numbers. How much handling is involved? How many steps are there? If I do this one thing, I’m actually saving myself a hundred steps because I’ve cut one step out of a process.”
David got back into painting when he was asked to do a show four years ago, and produced a series of fruit paintings. “I liked painting but in college felt like I needed to know what I wanted to say and it wasn’t coming, so I abandoned it.”
David admits he was glad for a chance to go back to painting and says he did the first fruit painting using an architectural approach. After that first one, he started going to the store and looking at his subject matter. “That looks like musculature; that looks like a back,” he remembers noticing. He started buying fruit and setting them up, and photographing them as a step to constructing the images on canvas. The mystery element started growing, as well as the anthropomorphic qualities. The result is fruit that seems to move on the canvas in distinctly human evocation.
Before settling in Washington State, David grew up in rural Alfred, New York, and lived what many might describe as an idyllic childhood. He’s the youngest of four children, one his twin sister. His dad taught photography at one of the local colleges.
David remembers when he was six or seven he knew then he was going to be an artist. He observes, “I don’t know why I chose art [at such a young age]. Maybe it chose me. My older sister Jill took art classes in high school, and when she was learning things like perspective I picked it up immediately. To me, it was fun.”
Because his dad worked at the art building at college, it became David’s second home. “I’d hang out there to see what was going onceramics, pottery production, and incredibly detailed sculpture,” he says.
“The glass studios were in the belly of the building. It was a mysterious place. We’d go through the furnace room, which was huge and had a kind of industrial quality. The juxtaposition of all these creative ideas was very influential because all my work has some tangent with industry.”
When David was 12 years old, he started what he calls his first careerworking in summer stock theater. He credits set director Frank Cornelius as a major artistic influence. David and Frank worked together for nine summers, designing sets for six shows a summer. “He taught me about the process of getting from an idea to finished work.”
Learning Along the Way
David got his Bachelor of Fine Arts at New York State College of Ceramics in Alfred, a school recognized throughout the country for its programs in pottery, ceramic art, and high-tech ceramic engineering.
College exposed David in more depth to the mediums of glassblowing, welding, forging, ceramics, and sculpting, and he found himself focusing on steel and glass sculpture. He was interested in the industrial aspect of each medium and was fascinated by the mechanics of how things were made and put together.
After graduation, David took time to work with other artists. He assisted with glassblowing, or did projects and odd jobs. After three years, David says, “I arrived back to the inquisitive individual that I originally was. I stopped trying to make earth-shattering ‘important’ workit’s more about my own investigation of life. When I came to that, it was a big exhale. That’s when I really started to open up because then there were infinite possibilities. ”
Two teachers, Fred Tschida and Steven Dee Edwards, who had connections to Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash., encouraged him to attend. That summer, he took a class at Pilchuck and worked as a furnace technician at night.
Someone he met at Pilchuck invited him to come out to Langley, and David traveled to the place he now calls home.
“It just felt like the place I was supposed to be,” says David of his move to Langley on Whidbey Island in Washington. “It reminds me of everything I love about everywhere I’ve lived. It’s many, many places all at once.”
Thirteen years after his move to Langley, David is philosophical about the balance between art and making a living as an artist. David observes that his unique take on everyday objects is not easy to understand and says, “Some pieces people get, and others get bought because they match the print on the couch and that’s fine, too.”
David Gignac’s work is available through MUSEO gallery in Langley, the Kimzey Miller Gallery in Seattle, SOFA Chicago (Ferrin Gallery), and by private commission.