We had the good fortune of connecting with Percy Echols II and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Percy, is there a quote or affirmation that’s meaningful to you?
The Breadth of All Things,
A passion, a flame.
To tame the impossible;
an idea, a bolt of lightning.
To observe the inner and outer worlds;
You are inspired to show it.
To seek knowledge and experience;
You are compelled to build it.
To hone one’s understanding;
you are empowered to share it.
To arrive without discord;
Find overlap in connection.
The Breadth of all things.
What I like about Mir’s work is that they could be any and everybody, because their work is an ask for self-reflection. Be a mirror. In particular “The Breadth of all things” is about the true interconnectedness of one’s breath and one’s breadth. What you take in and what you let go in life and it’s the relationship to others who do the same, but perhaps differently. It encourages action to learn, to develop, and to share.
When I am unsure of what to do, I often read this poem out loud, and it helps me create space to consider my next move.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a glass artist, but I would consider my practice that of Alchemy, where I combine ideas, materials, and processes to produce new items, expressions, and or knowledge. For the most part, I try to find intuitive ways to explore ideas.
I’m most passionate about Plasma Light Sculpture, which is a process requiring the technical and artistic expressions of glass blowing with the alchemical and scientific application of electrified gases and specialized equipment that you would also find used in neon.
Plasma brings something unique to glass, and that is to invite touch, something that is very difficult. By producing light it removes the barrier between the viewer and the art with its animated glow, allowing an invitation for play as it responds to the viewer’s proximity and touch.
Thus this process has challenged me to balance the form and surface of the vessel that holds these gases, and the expressions of light that can be produced in and by its interior. My curiosity encourages the exploration of interactivity and subjects that benefit from plasma illumination.
Additionally, podcasting and education have been a big part of my art practice. In which my independent project, Taming Lightning, helps promote artist working with plasma illuminated work, seeks answers to a seemingly unknown process, share bits of history, and educate on related fields.
Where did this all begin? We’ll I was introduced to glassblowing in 2011 at the Illinois State University, and during my undergrad in 2014 I was introduced to plasma illumination when I took a summer workshop at the Pilchuck Glass School under artist Patrick Collentine, which lead me to shift gears and produce my first plasma works for my graduation BFA exhibition in 2015. In 2016 I applied for the 1-year Technical Apprenticeship at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, which had received two donations of neon equipment within the first few months, and I was encouraged by Patrick Collentine to write a proposal to develop neon and plasma accessibility at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, which lead to starting the Taming Lightning Podcast.
In the last 5 years of being in Pittsburgh, I have received an opportunity to pioneer accessibility of neon and plasma art and education at the Pittsburgh Glass Center as an independent Plasma and Neon Technician. Where I help facilitate the development of that accessibility, and network to similar facilities, educators, distributors, artists, and professionals.
I’ve still got a ways to go in terms of curriculum and classes, but have been able to provide the necessary environment for residencies and summer workshops taught by professional artists.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Oh! To be honest I have a hard time with things like this since I spend most of my time working…but I typically end up expanding and trying new things when I have visitors. Let’s start from where I live in the East Liberty neighborhood in Pittsburgh and go from there. So one of my favorite places to grab breakfast or brunch is this little kitchen and bakery in my “backyard” called Food Glorious Food, a variety of homecooked items and freshly baked sweets in a cozy dining space, I was introduced to this place by one of my good friends and love it’s food, staff, and affordability. Also, I live a short walk from The Pittsburgh Glass Center which is where I make my glass artworks, I’d give a tour of facilities, check out the current exhibition, and if they are interested we could schedule a hand-on glassblowing session since working with glass is quite a unique experience. If they have never been to Pittsburgh there’s definitely something they should try which is a Primanti Brothers sandwich. They are known for having one heck of sandwich where your typical sides such as fries or coleslaw packed in between the bread along with the meats, cheeses, and other “toppings”. I highly recommend the original restaurant in the Strip District, which has a ton of other restaurants, bakeries, small shops, and historical spaces. I lean heavily on Arts, so I would recommend Andy Warhol Museum as part of the visit as well, it rotates items on a quarterly basis so no one experience is the same. Now there are two places I haven’t visited that have been put on my list, that is Heinz History Center (Also located in the strip) and the Duquesne Inline that leads up to the Mount Washington area of Pittsburgh, with lots of restaurants and a nice view of the city. There’s definitely a lot of places to grab a bite to eat, plenty of places to checkout, and when it comes to museums you can spend 2-3 days checking out the same place. Since moving to Pittsburgh I’ve commuted by bike (even though I currently have a car), Pittsburgh is very accessible by bike, so I would recommend bringing or renting a bike and taking to some of the trails.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are so many who have contributed to my success and accomplishments today. The journey starts with family, the encouragement of my Mom, Warneta Grant-Echols, and my late Dad, Percy Echols Sr. so that I could pursue art and do what I needed to continue it. The Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC) for supporting me as a community and place of research, inspiration, and opportunity with Residencies and grant support has taken me across the globe several times and have helped me connect to a growing network of artists, experts, and people that have helped me grow and learn. The Plasma Art Alliance where I have access to the well of knowledge and connects me to some amazing and supportive people such as Patrick Collentine, mentor and friend, who introduced me to the world of neon and plasma, and has encouraged the development of neon and plasma at PGC and podcast Taming Lightning; Ed Kirshner whose mentorship has opened up a lot of unique opportunities beyond being an artist, and provided a flexible model for teaching workshops; Wayne Strattman and his extensive knowledge in this field of plasma and illumination encourages curiosity and learning and has always been approachable for questions and generous with his support; and Mundy Hepburn has been a great source of inspiration, who’s an example of where true self-study can take you, and who joys of life have provided grounded support and wellbeing.
Instagram: @glass.percy, @taminglightning
Other: Patreon: www.patreon.com/taminglightning