Glass Act: Getting to Know Bryan Northup


Patch.com art critic and columnist, Ken Reif interviewed me for his weekly column in 2012

As former president of I have had the privilege of working with Bryan Northup. Bryan’s artistic and marketing skills have been a great resource for OPAL. Bryan’s eco-friendly glass creations continue to amaze. It’s not surprising that Bryan’s artworks are gaining in popularity. Let’s learn a little more about him.

Ken Reif: Who are you?

Bryan Northup:

My name is Bryan Northup, I have been working as a professional glass artist since 1999. I grew up in California and lived there until 2008 when I moved to Oak Park. I love the process of creating and have worked with many art mediums including photography, painting, ceramics and sculpture.

My mom is very creative, sewing and making quilts, my grandmother and aunts were talented painters so I was influenced by them when I was young. My dad is a self employed CPA and financial consultant and I learned a lot about owning my own business and got my work ethic from him, a huge gift when you are an artist.

Tell us about your artwork and the medium you use.

I decided to focus on glass as my primary medium after graduating from art school. I was moved by the way light and the glass combined to create a translucent painting. I originally worked with stained glass techniques and did many custom pieces for private residences and churches. Traditional stained glass tends to fall into genres of distinct styles like Victorian, Prairie style, Liturgical, Deco and I want to do works that do  not fit into any of those categories, pieces that don’t come from pattern books. I now make pieces that are my own abstract designs, paintings to be hung in the window. One of my early day jobs was working in a retail stained glass shop where I was exposed to all the different techniques of mosaics, fusing, bead-making, casting etc and it was this experience that opened my eyes to all that can be done with glass.

Have you had any formal art training, if so where?

When I was young, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do “when I grow up” but I was fortunate to grow up in a supportive home where my artistic interests were and still are encouraged. After graduating high school I took many courses at a community college trying to find my direction, creative writing, horticulture, biology, psychology, lots of art history and ceramics. I got my AA and discovered that what I really lost myself in and loved was creating art.

I then went to California College of the Arts in the San Francisco Bay Area and settled on photography as my major. I was very drawn to photography and still use it daily in my work. When I was in school there was a lot of pressure to decide what to focus on and get through because of the cost. If I had it to do again I would probably concentrate on glass and sculpture.

Tell us about your collaboration with the Garfield Park Conservatory.

It has been just a year since the devastating hail storm struck the Garfield Park Conservatory. The opportunity to repurpose some of the broken glass from all the hail damage fell from the sky as well. I was contacted in September last year after being scouted on Etsy and was asked if I could do something with the glass. I knew right away that I could, so I agreed to work on an edition of bowls to help raise money and awareness for the rebuilding efforts.

I feel really honored to have been the only artist invited to come in and collect glass and make something positive out of the destruction. It is a historic landmark and national treasure so a really big deal to work on that. The project changed the course of my work for awhile and certainly garnered some attention. I love growing plants and gardening. For me the conservatory is my escape when the winter gets to be too much, so I was so happy to do whatever I could to help.

How did you get involved in glasswork?

Quite by accident really. When I was in high school I was an “art geek” and felt that was the place where I was most comfortable. I took every art class offered at least once. I took a class called “Art Workshop” which turned out to be a stained glass class. I loved working with glass, building a translucent 2-D piece with these age-old techniques really appealed to me. Even when I was working on my degree in photography I was helping pay my way by doing custom glass windows for people. I kept coming back to it ans realized this is what I love the most.

Where did you get the idea for the name of your company?

My studio name is biolumglass, which is a hard-to-pronounce head scratcher for some people. “Biolum” is the first part of the word bioluminescent, which literally refers to plants and animals that can produce light from within their bodies. Many creatures living in the abyss of the deep ocean glow with a light that is soft and electric blue or red, sparkling and blinking like distant galaxies.  My first inspiration for fused glass jewelry and stained glass panels hatched from imaginings of the deep sea and outer space. In 1999 I chose biolum as my studio name, to encompass both the beautiful and alien, space age and primordial. This vision continues to challenge me to create a collection of one- of-a-kind designs in glass.

Tell us about your role as assistant director at Oak Park Art League. 

About a year after I moved east to the Chicago Area I was feeling home-bound and disconnected. I joined the Oak Park Art League and soon after saw that they were looking to fill a gallery assistant position. Having recently run a very large retail art gallery and in San Rafael, Calif. with my partner, I felt the job would be a perfect way to use my administration skills while making new connections and friendships in my new home town. Artists are everywhere and they are all looking for other artists to share the creative experience with. I found what I was looking for and more at OPAL. I’m working there now in the capacity of Assistant Director and Marketing Coordinator.

I like creating and maintaining websites and doing graphic design work and these are the main duties I work on though I am also helping out with class sign ups, exhibits, sending out our newsletter and meeting lots of artists of at all levels.

Your artwork seems very eco-friendly, is that a common thread throughout your work?

Nature to me is sacred and has the power to not only sustain human existence but inspire works of art. When I see wastefulness, pollution, oil spills, landfills, and littering, I feel sick with anger. I didn’t always have a goal of creating eco-conscious art but in 2007 I started working with bottle glass and over the past five or so years have developed a new line of work I call “bentbottle” that is 100 percent recycled glass. Bottles are so ubiquitous in society that to see them transformed into something else really stops people in their tracks.  My hope is to bring an awareness not only to new art that is made from recycled materials but the need for everyone to do whatever they can to conserve and preserve nature. When I am making my bottle pieces I am offering each one as a “thank you” to planet earth. These bottles will not be buried in a landfill or broken on the roadside but be a reminder to others to do their part.

Are there any artists that inspire you?

Yes absolutely! I was fortunate to work as an assistant to an incredible artist named Lee Brooks of Alex and Lee Jewelry, who became famous in the 60’s and 70’s for making opulent found object jewelry. He and his partner Alex Mate were discovered by Salvador Dali who nurtured their career and made them famous. I was out on my own after art school when I met him and had the privilege to learn from him. Lee is a huge influence on my artistic mindset.

The illustrations of microscopic organisms by 18th century German naturalist Ernst Heackel continually inspire me. Other favorite inspirational artists I must include would be Louis C. Tiffany, Ansel Adams, Dale Chihuly and sculptor Andy Goldsworthy.

Where do you get your material for your artwork?

Since my focus has been on the bentbottle line of work lately, I find my material all over the place. While walking my dogs I find bottles, neighbors and friends collect certain brands for me and they show up on my doorstep, bars save bottles and other “recycle” artists give me bottles they don’t need. Coming up with a specific color in a large quantity, like I have had to do for a project for amber bottles, is a challenge. Most of the time I have no shortage of material and in fact have many many wine bottles stashed under the house.

What are your goals for Biolumglass?

Everyone knows the name of one glass artist and most times that is Dale Chihuly. My goal is not to be a household name but I am aiming for a goal of more exposure, especially with my recycled work. I would like to do large-scale sculptures with recycled glass and just keep turning out quirky new work that makes people look twice and remember. I have had an incredible year with so many opportunities offered to me. I would like to build on that and get to the point where my artwork supports me and lets my other half quit his day job to manage my business.

Where can we see your work?

You can find my work on my website www.biolumglass.com and my Etsy
shop www.bentbottle.etsy.com are always a good place to find my work.

Locally, I show my work at The Oak Park Art League, the gift shop at the Garfield Park Conservatory.