Simplicity of Form


David Naito’s handmade oil cans

I use glass to express my ideas. It’s a material with superb malleability and transparency that reveals and distorts in a surreal manner. Its fragility is also significant as it references the skin of our bodies—both protective and penetrable. And through my glass work, I attempt to understand and convey my ideas of human connections, preciousness, and simplicity of form.

The oilcan series began in 2001, after a flash of inspiration struck me with an antique collection I already owned. I like the minimalism of the shapes, the craftsmanship of the industrially-made object, and in the manner of how it works. While I was in graduate school, I read that as an artist one should pay close attention to the things around them–in terms of what we collect and the items we choose to decorate our homes. These details speak loudly of what our interests are and how they relate to back to the work we create. With the oilcans, I was fascinated with the connotations of industrialization and how their adaptation—the bent tip—implied a person on the job modified the oilcan to oil intentionally to maintain lubrication. It’s this implied function that I hope to express through the gestured tip.

The cans were originally made in clear glass only. The first piece was a glass replica of an actual antique oilcan, which was a formal study to understand the importance of material and residue. The next series, the black and white oilcans are more Venetian in nature, in which the cane patterns are borrowed in large part of what one would find in classic Venetian glass.

All the pieces are mouth-blown and hot sculpted, in other words, nothing is cast or mold blown. The pieces are made by hand while hot on the pipe at Urban Glass Studio in Brooklyn, N.Y. First the color application is developed and the main shape of the piece is established. Once the form takes shape, the glass is allowed to cool slightly to maintain its form. If the piece is too hot, the vessel’s shape will distort as the details are brought out. For all the detail work—the treading, grip texture and application of the spout—a small propane torch is used.

In creating this specific series, I enjoyed the process of designing the canes and using them, but, moreover, I felt the patterns gave the pieces two things: Beauty that the repeating spirals made, and they visually filled the void of an otherwise empty reservoir. In my current work, of the black and white collection, I created one set of variations, replacing the canes with vertical patterning with cross-sectional patterning, called murrini, that resembles moving through space in hyper drive. In another series, the reservoir is pattern-free and is made of a single transparent color.

The majority of my works are sculptural objects that follow two major veins. One is figurative, and the other is the object that has a relationship with the body. The oilcans are an example of the latter. Ultimately, these pieces attempt to make a connection with the viewer as it relates to his own hand and work. It was very important that the scale of the oilcans stayed true to an actual one because I want the viewer to see them as one in same approach only to discover what it is about the glass ones that are different, and that will lead them to their own memories and thoughts.

For more information about David Naito and to see his glass work, please visit