By Katy Carrier
Old-school hip-hop echoed throughout the space as Joe Cariati and his two assistants concentrated on transforming molten glass into Cariati’s signature decanters. The process played out like a well-choreographed dance, moving between the benches, tables and furnaces in Cariati’s El Segundo, California studio, with a gold chain-wearing glass bull watching from the front wall.
I observed, mesmerized, as he created piece after piece using the Venetian off-hand glassblowing technique, which involves blowing the pieces by mouth while they are attached to the end of a hollow steel blowpipe, as well as multiple trips into a furnace to reheat the glass, shaping the glass using a variety of hand tools, and a final trip into a furnace where the glass is gradually cooled. No molds are used, so there is a one-of-a-kind element to his work, yet Cariati’s skill level is such that he can almost identically replicate the pieces in his collection.
The influence of midcentury glass shapes and colors in Cariati’s work is clear, and he describes his own Los Angeles home as looking “like 1968,” thanks to a shared appreciation with his wife for that era’s design aesthetic. Cariati and family headed out to Palm Springs for Modernism Week last year, spending part of the trip on a hunt for the perfect pair of vintage Hollywood regency side tables, and he has also been adding to his personal collection of vintage glass pieces.
Cariati is quick to lay out some basic parameters for his work: first, he insists that it’s not “art.” Instead, he says that it is about performing a craft and continually improving upon the process and speed of outputting the final pieces. That’s not to say that he isn’t interested in innovation — new styles and colors are often in the works — but he rarely strays far from his signature style of simple decanters, bottles and cloches. Next is color and form. Each of Cariati’s pieces is a single color, and he’s not interested in surface decorations or what he describes as “frilly techniques.” The beauty of his work is in its simplicity — pure colors, clean lines and smooth, thin-walled surfaces that create the most stunning displays when lined up to slightly overlap each other in what Cariati refers to as his “cityscapes.”
The next specification is that each piece Cariati creates involves one “gather,” which means that one molten piece of glass is used to create the whole piece. The last requirement is that the doors to the “glory hole” furnace (used to reheat the glass while shaping it) do not ever open, which dictates that his pieces remain relatively small in scale.
It was love at first sight when I first saw Cariati’s pieces on display in the Trina Turk Residential boutique in uptown Palm Springs, and it turns out that this reaction was also elicited from designer Jonathan Adler when he stumbled across Cariati’s booth some years back at what is now the NY Now gift show (to be exact, Cariati says an astounded Adler blurted out “You make all of this shit?!”). Adler promptly placed an order for his boutiques, as did Barneys, with Cariati’s pieces now sold in an impressive roster of retail outlets throughout the U.S., as well as internationally. Joe Cariati Glass can be found in Palm Springs at Trina Turk Residential (891 N. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs) and online at Joe Cariati Glass and Jonathan Adler.
Studio images © Palm Springs Style; may not be used without express permission.