“When it comes to creating a better world I feel like artists are the ones that are going to be in the forefront,” said painter Ari Glass as sun streamed in through the bay windows of Compadre Café on the first level of Artspace Mt. Baker Lofts.
Glass — blinged out in prayer beads and a tiny golden Buddha in a clear teardrop-shaped bead that hung from his neck — greeted me with a hug, though we had never met. I was there to learn more about the new paintings he’ll be unveiling at the Pacific Towers on Thursday, but our conversation quickly veered towards deeper waters.
“A lot of my first show was about migrations,” said Glass. “How did people get to different parts of the world? What’s the unity behind it all? That’s what I’m searching to find behind the artwork, behind the creative process.”
Through his art, Glass is seeking to deconstruct the borders in our head. Beyond creating beauty with paint and gold leaf, he hopes to inspire people to look beyond differences to find that spark inside each of us, uniting humanity.
“That liberation, that freedom, that creative vitality inside of us,” he elaborated. “What would the world look like if we all got to express that? And that is what I’m exploring.”
Glass grew up in Rainier Beach and Skyway and graduated from Franklin High School before attending Seattle Central College to study art. He describes growing up in the South end as “a mini world — super diverse.” Living in this community has provided him with a wealth of cultural influences to draw from in his art.
“Growing up around all these different cultures — whether Southeast Asian, East African, Polynesian — I’m really connected with all these people,” he said. “These are my brothers and sisters, so I’m able to take mental notes of all these cultures growing up and seeing what unites them, and that’s been the core inspiration of my artwork: what unifies all these cultures.”
His first show “The Sun is Made of Gold” opened in 2015 at Gallery 2312 in Belltown. Made possible by a grant from Artist Trust, the show featured a gold-adorned painting installation and video projection focused on stories of migration.
His first show paved the way to more opportunities that allowed him to exhibit with bigger-name artists and garner higher-profile commissions such as his new works at Pacific Tower, Glass said. After four months of hard work, Glass will unveil three new works that will be a permanent addition to the North Entrance of the Pacific Tower. Along with an art deco wall painting that will greet people at the entryway, two other works in homage to South end communities will be viewable to the public.
One of them, “Beacon of Hospitality” is a 64-by-64-inch oil painting with gold leaf and mica. His inspiration for it?
“I wanted to reimagine [the Pacific Tower] building as a light house. It’s got these big golden beams shooting out on top, these lights that represent the knowledge because I think that’s what gold can also represent,” said Glass.
His use of the 24 karats of gold in this painting is less about shine and more about what he views as a spiritual principle.
“It’s a value that goes beyond even monetary value: a deeper value. They say that they cover like the Buddhas in Thailand with it, not to make it expensive, but it’s just a more precious kind of item,” said Glass. “So I want to put that same thing on my work where it’s not just like a regular painting, it’s … a kind of sacred representation of my ideas.”
Pacific Tower, located in Beacon Hill, have long stood as a sentinel overlooking Jose Rizal Bridge. What began as a veteran’s hospital has become home to a variety of health education programs and nonprofit organizations serving all walks of the community, including FareStart, Neighborcare Health and Seattle Central College programs.
In the middle of it all, and connecting these worlds, Glass sees something more, which is reflected in another work to be unveiled, “Liberated Wisdom,” an 88-by-64-inch oil painting adorned with another 24 karats of gold.
“I see this central figure, and she has these flags draping down her arms to represent different nations that are coming into this building, and she’s stretching her hands out to the four globes that are on this painting, and it’s this knowledge that’s being understood and taken, this wisdom that is being translated from the building.”
To see Glass’s gold vision of Beacon Hill yourself, stop by his unveiling at Pacific Tower Welcoming Center at the North Entrance Thursday, Sept. 7 (tomorrow) between 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.