PLAYING WITH FIRE

Drawing on a background in architecture, Texas native David Gappa transforms molten glass into works of art

by LESLIE J. THOMPSON

The University of Texas at Dallas’ center for BrainHealth may seem an unlikely venue for world-class art. But the research institute is home to one of artist David Gappa’s most notable works, a mammoth network of shimmering steel and glass called Introspection, which covers a 60-foot swath of ceiling in the center’s multipurpose room. Composed of 175 long glass spires and 1,050 handblown spheres illuminated by colorful LED lights, the masterpiece represents the brain’s activity as synapses send electrical signals to create thoughts and regulate the body.

“We are most proud of the Center for BrainHealth installation as a large-scale piece,” says Gappa, speaking on behalf of the talented glass artists who are part of his team at Vetro Glassblowing Studio & Fine Art Gallery, located in Grapevine’s historic district. Although Gappa himself conceived the design, creating glass art of such magnitude is a team effort.

Forming each of the 5-foot-long crystalline synapses required a carefully choreographed interplay between several glass artists. One would use a long metal pipe to collect a heavy globule of molten glass from a 2,100-degree furnace and blow it into an oblong vessel, then another would wave a special paddle to reflect the heat as Gappa used a blowtorch and steel tongs to stretch the fiery material into a spire.

“You have to be able to move with the glass,” explains Gappa, who has spent three decades mastering his craft. Forming any piece of glass art, large or small, is about manipulating how heat flows through the glass while it is malleable to transform it into a sculptural piece or a blown vessel. “It’s not just you telling the glass what you want to do but sensing what it is doing at the same time, and often making those adjustments and realizing, this glass is going to do something even more beautiful than I thought,” he says.

A lifelong student of the fine arts, Gappa draws inspiration from the challenge of working with glass in innovative ways. He discovered the art form while studying at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) when he took a glassblowing class as an elective. He was instantly hooked, but after completing UTA’s master’s program in architecture, he designed buildings for 10 years before shifting careers to pursue his artistic passion full time. He opened Vetro Glassblowing in 1999 and later created Gappa Glass to service luxury and high-end glass design.

On any given day, Gappa can be found in front of a blazing furnace, creating custom pieces for private clients in the United States and overseas, including cascading chandeliers, glittering wallscapes, and sophisticated glass sconces and vessels. He also has designed numerous installations for commercial properties throughout Texas and currently is working on a 20-inch glass raven for a museum in Houston.

“I don’t necessarily see my artwork as having a particular stylistic direction,” muses Gappa. “As soon as I master a technique or explore a particular direction, I am genuinely excited to move on and see what else I can create.”

Gappa especially enjoys collaborating with interior designers to conceptualize custom glass art for a client. “We kind of speak the same language,” says Gappa. “Designers understand the beauty of how these types of works of art can fit within the intimacy of a space.” Because of their strong relationship with their clients, interior designers also can help him better understand a homeowner’s vision for the finished piece, he adds.

During the design stage for custom glass art, Gappa reviews photos and architectural drawings of the residence and creates concept sketches for the piece. “A lot of my inspiration is derived from experiencing what a particular client space looks like and feels like—how you walk through the space and how my artwork can complement the design and engage the viewer’s experience within that area,” he explains.

Once the sketches are approved, he generates a three-dimensional drawing to convey a sense of scale and identify how many pieces of glass need to be created. He will also meet with the client in their home and invites them to choose color samples that reflect their personal style. During fabrication, Gappa encourages designers to bring clients to the studio and watch as he and his team of glass artists craft the components, carefully shaping what looks like liquid fire. “What’s beautiful about the arena of glass is that the creation itself becomes a story. It’s a very engaging art form, and customers love to see that process,” he says.

As the holidays draw near, Gappa is at the studio six days a week, crafting sculptures, vessels and intricate installations for the gallery and working on custom orders. From dazzling ceiling scapes of colorful glass rondels to tabletop figures resembling the skulls of prehistoric animals and pendant shades reminiscent of rain-soaked autumn leaves, the artist’s vision seems to know no bounds. With his passion for working with designers and homeowners, Gappa also offers clients the opportunity to turn their homes into the perfect venue for world-class art.

Leslie J. Thompson is a Dallas-based freelance writer with a passion for interior design and international travel. Read more of her work at lesliejthompson.com.

More Information

GAPPA GLASS FINE ART

701 S. MAIN ST., SUITE 103

GRAPEVINE, TX 76051

682.563.9828

GAPPAGLASS.COM