Innovative glass artist Cassandria Blackmore’s life just begs to be made into a movie. A film noir screenplay of the defining moment in her professional life might read something like this:
INTERIOR, CHEAP ONE-ROOM INNER CITY APARTMENT – NIGHT Seattle. Of course it’s raining. A cherished black-and-white photograph sits atop a refrigerator whose door hits the bed when opened. The photo depicts a sun-dappled, happy long-haired couple; the parents of Cassandria Blackmore, the starving artist who calls this room home. Blackmore sits on the sagging bed, contemplating while sipping an inexpensive Pinot Noir. Etta James moans the blues on her stereo. In the past few days, she’s been unceremoniously dumped by her fiancé and laid off from her waitressing job— on Christmas Eve.
She’s a California girl, more accustomed to sunshine and sea breezes than dreary, drizzly days. Blackmore stares at the photo, intermittently illuminated by a blinking red light from the adult video store across the street. Red…black and white… red…black and white. She catches a glimpse of her reflection in the frame’s glass: flash! Quickly dismantling the frame, she gets out her paints and begins to limn a self-portrait.
It’s finished. She hates it. Befitting her mood, Blackmore dashes the portrait to the worn carpet, shattering the pane into dozens of razor shards. “Hmm,” she muses. “Wonder what that would look like if I reassembled it?” Having nothing better to do, she sets about the task. As her likeness reassembles, the artist finds that she is actually rearranging her life…and creating a career.
A highly successful livelihood in the notoriously fickle fine art field was born on that dark and stormy night in the mid- 1990s. Today, Cassandria Blackmore’s work graces the walls of exquisite homes across the globe, in addition to many public and commercial spaces. But success hasn’t spoiled this enthusiastic, engaging, thoroughly friendly girl who describes her parents as “Berkeley hippies.”
“I’m continually surprised by the level of success I’ve attained,” she says in all humility.
As a true child of the 1960s, Blackmore’s early years were rooted in the counterculture prevalent at that time. Her English father and American mother embraced the bohemian ethos of self-sufficiency, living for a time in hippy ground zero Berkeley and travelling in a bus up and down the coast before settling down on ten bucolic acres in Oregon. “Mine was a childhood based in creativity,” the artist recalls. “I was lucky to have free-thinking parents.” With such a colorful family background, “I had no choice but to become an artist.”
With every rainbow comes a raincloud, and Blackmore was also given a major hurdle to overcome: severe dyslexia. She’s good at memorizing things, but not so much at reading composition. “It’s a miracle I got through college,” Blackmore says. Nothing gets this woman down, however. “My disability is a gift.” It allows her mind to visualize a painting from back to front. When painting on the backside of a sheet of glass, what would normally be applied last has to be painted first. “It’s painting backwards,” she adds. “The thought process has to be entirely reversed.” For instance, highlights—white paint strokes that delineate the direction and intensity of light—are applied at the outset. In the initial stages of a painting, it looks like a disorganized, unrecognizable mess.
And when a painting is finished? It’s beautiful, a sinuous symphony of color and composition. So, she breaks it. Into smithereens. Sometimes with a hammer, sometimes just by dropping it. Just like that self-portrait. Then she begins the painstaking task of reassembly on a plywood background, using grout to fill in the spaces. When reassembled a piece will grow in size due to the space that grout occupies between the shards. “I really like the way the process somewhat distorts the images,” the artist muses.
The morning following that Seattle studio apartment epiphany, Blackmore got right to work. “I couldn’t wait to do it again,” she recalls. Unable to afford to buy materials for her newfound medium, she headed out into the misty morning to go Dumpster diving for glass. She took classes in glass art, notably earning a full-ride scholarship for a two-week residence at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, co-founded by legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly. But she didn’t forget her roots. “I consider myself a painter who was adopted into the glass world,” Blackmore says, “and I’m lucky to have been adopted by that community.”
Things were looking up, and she amassed a body of pieces, displayed in her loft/studio/ galler y space in an industrial section of Seattle. A collector visited, fell in love with the work and purchase the entire collection— including that original self-portrait. Blackmore, now sure she was on to something big, was off and running.
There’s no doubt: Cassandria Blackmore is a game-changer. Verre églomisé—the art of painting on the back of glass—has been around for centuries, though that form usually involves metals such as gold. And people have been breaking glass (albeit mostly accidentally) since it was invented in the Bronze Age, around 3000 B.C. But spending hours and hours painstakingly painting on glass and then purposely breaking it? Completely original.
Blackmore’s work is highly laborintensive— no surprise there. Each painting can take between eight and 14 weeks to complete. She works with intensity—sometimes working straight through the night, music playing constantly in the background. The paintings would be exceptional and would probably fare well as fine art if she just stopped at that. The shattering and reconstruction adds a depth of dimension that takes them to a whole new level. The abstract works have a haunting, soothing effect that evoke otherworldly landscapes while her figurative pieces are infused with cheery light and photo-like clarity.
There are three Cassandria Blackmore studio locations: Seattle, San Francisco and Carmel. She somehow finds time to run all three, juggling her busy work schedule with family time with her husband and two children.
Oh—and that self-portrait? Years later, her angel collector fell on hard times and Blackmore was by then in a position to buy back a lot of her early work from his collection. That portrait was among those pieces. Today it hangs in her home—not to be sold again.
The Cassandria Blackmore Studio is on 6th Avenue between Dolores and Lincoln. For more information, visit www.blackmorestudios.com.