Artist Lisa Swerling is renowned for her 'Glass Cathedrals': beautiful boxes that capture moments and thoughts in miniature. Having been commissioned by stars such as James Corden as well as our own Creative Director Alice Stone, Lisa has found a niche that merges art with nostalgia. Here we chat to her to find out how she came up with the concept.
The concept of Glass Cathedrals is so wonderfully unique. How did you come up with it?
When you look down from an airplane at city lights at nights, you feel like a giant. Then you look up at the stars, and you feel like a tiny speck. That you can feel like a giant and a tiny speck at one time, in one body and mind, is endlessly interesting to me. That was the conceptual backdrop for the particular circumstances that led to me making my first Glass Cathedral.
Many years ago, an architect friend gave me a small architect figurine. Despite being moulded in a victorious pose, his forearms had been chewed or snapped off. He was pitiful. I kept him in a drawer for years, ignored, and then one day I impulsively put him in an empty wooden box, much like the ones I still use for my art. He was instantly transformed. He commanded attention. He owned that space in the box, and as I looked in from the outside, his armless yet triumphant situation suddenly became a story worth listening to, and telling.
And what made it art? Well, those classic dichotomies - small and big, inside and outside, powerful and vulnerable - they were all amplified and yet somehow resolved in that space, and that is the space where magic, poetry and art happens.
What has been your favourite piece that you have made so far?
I love “It’s all magic” (pictured above). The zebra and the unicorn in the piece create a new breed, a ‘zunicorn’. I love the title in particular, as the magic is threefold (at least!):
1. that an extraordinary stripey animal such a zebra can exist
2. that humans have the depth of spirit and imagination to invent a unicorn
3. the primal spark of creation that forms new life.
What inspires all the different scenes that you create?
About 5 years ago, I began to make totally custom Glass Cathedrals, portraits of particular people, places or events, for clients. This not only gave me an endless source of inspiration, but also meant I had the luck to be able to connect to the happiest and most profound moments in peoples’ lives.
As well as Glass Cathedrals, you have published books and founded a children’s clothing line. How do you find the time and inspiration to juggle all the different aspects involved in each project?
I work really hard (probably because it doesn’t feel like work), and I get a big buzz from being really efficient with my time. And now that I've found the perfect format (the boxes) through which to channel my ideas, I don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time I want to try something new. I think as your life goes by, and you’ve been a person to make things happen, you just get some cool experiences and ventures under your belt.
I am not conventionally ambitious - I think small - but I get massive inspiration from big ideas, and finding a way to express my personal passions through my work. For example, I have a brand new initiative: “This is what Humanity looks like”, based on my newly-awoken activist spirit. I’m adding 1 protester holding a banner every day to a sparkly pink Glass Cathedral, for Trump’s first 100 days and raffling it (that anyone in the UK and USA can enter for $5) to raise money for Earth Justice. This took just a few days to conceive - but in a few years I hope to look back on it as a good thing that exists in the world.