Whether you are familiar with the technique of glass blowing or not, the US competition series Blown Away is an instant hook for anyone interested in creative design. Heartwarming entertainment mixed with education, it explores the incredibly broad world of glassblowing, celebrating a group of competitors pushing the boundaries of what this temperamental substance can achieve. Earlier this year, the Netflix series aired its third season internationally – and I was (dare I type it) genuinely Blown Away by the creativity displayed! Little did I know that soon after, I would be chatting with Blown Away Season 3 winner: John Moran.
Spoken about in high regard by the other contestants and judges, John Moran is no newbie to the world of glassblowing. His aesthetic is refreshingly different. Focusing mainly on political commentary (but not without humour and wonder), his impressive talent for concept design is equally matched against product creation. I wanted to learn more. Why had he entered, what was the competition really like, how has this win affected his life as an artist now? Read ahead to learn his story.
Note: if you have not seen series 3 yet, it is still worth a watch even if you know who wins! Blown Away celebrates creativity and the unique interpretations to each challenge. Each contestant is an impressive glass artist in their own right.
John Moran: entering the world of Blown Away
“Honestly, I decided to [enter] out of desperation.” John shares. (Admittedly, this wasn’t how I was expecting our interview to start.) “It’s interesting how the show portrays each of us. Of course, in many ways, I am recognized in high regard in the small subculture of the glass community. But that definitely does not translate to sales or financial stability.
“When the call for the show came out, I was struggling with the surging gas and electricity prices, while trying to manage post-covid. When I left the USA for Belgium in 2013, I pretty much put my career on hold to build the community and studio in Gent. It was going pretty well until covid hit. Although [that] had a negative effect on the public side of the studio, it has given me the opportunity to refocus on my own work and find my way forward again.”
The call for the show (and the following release) came at the perfect time for John. The years of travelling around working in different studios opened him up to working with varying levels of professionalism and quality. Taking things to the next level, John Moran became the co-founder and operator of his studio Gent Glas. “One of the main focuses of the studio was to offer pubic events and create and communicate about the art I was making with the public.” He shares. “Our FRIDAY NIGHT LIVE events were focused around a five-hour working slot, almost mirrored by the challenges for Blown Away.”
Outside of these events, when I worked in my own studio, I was concerned with the bills and the stress of making sure that we were not losing money when working, in many ways stifling creativity. Blown Away gave me the opportunity to forget about the bills and ‘real life’ and focus on what I do best: making art and making glass.
Not for the faint hearted: creating under deadlined pressure
John had the experience in creating art in front of a live audience within his Gent studio. However, adapting to the whirlwind pattern of the show’s filming schedule – and of course, its timed challenges – ensured that feeling of heart-thumping pressure kept at a nicely energetic level. Excitement often comes hand in hand with adrenaline, and even though John felt the weight of the competition during the very first challenge, he soon found his equilibrium.
“I started to find comfort in the fact that I was there, doing something that very few people in the entire world had ever done, so no matter what happened it was a win. And as I said earlier, the fact that I was able to let go of my normal daily concerns and focus on making art was quite liberating. That being said, I was certain almost every elimination day that I would be the one going home!”
Creating a culture of Winners
As a viewer, one of the things I loved about Blown Away is that the programme doesn’t create unnecessary drama. In fact, it does a great job of showing how the contestants continued to support each other throughout the challenges, even though they were rivals to win. John assured me this wasn’t for show: “You know this is one of the things I find really special about the glass community. Because we work so closely in the studio and have such a tight knot community, there is very little direct competition. Throughout the whole competition, we were there to win, but not with the intention of beating everyone else. Every single person was there to do their best and to see everyone else do their best. No one wants someone to win or go home because of a technicality or a bad day in the studio.”
I find it interesting that there is a lot of criticism about the fact that it is a competition show and that art should not be a competition. But the fact of the matter is, that it is already so in every aspect of our lives.
The thing is, we can be in competition without competing against each other, but pulling each other up as we succeed and support each other – creating a culture of winners.
Even with the positive comradery, there were moments where the self-doubt and fear threatened to overwhelm him. The answer? To try staying out of his own head. Since all the contestants were so open with each other, John soon realized that many were feeling the same way. “We constantly reassured each other. I kept telling myself that no matter what happens, I am here for the ride, enjoying myself and doing what I want to do for a living – make art.”
Collaboration: a unique opportunity for any artist
Curiously, many artists live an independent life in solitary creativity. But the collaborative nature of glassblowing meant that John Moran had previous experience working with others in the studio. Most of the contestants already knew each other in some capacity due to the industry bubble.
I wondered how the fast-paced, mercilessly timed collaboration challenge may have differed from John’s previous experiences working with others. He grins:
“I was sure working with anyone of these artists would be fun and uplifting. When John Sharvin chose me to be his partner, we found our footing immediately. We knew we wanted to make something together as one piece, rather than a series of objects that fit together. We also knew we wanted to combine both of our styles. Once we began talking about Little Otik, it all fit together. The biggest challenge we had to overcome was how we would display it. I had the idea to flip the biggest pedestal on its side, bring the piece very low, and push it far off to one side – making it appear even smaller than it actually was. Sharvin believed in the idea, and we were very happy with the results. Even though the piece was visually and physically smaller than the other piece, it had a really strong visual impact.”
Not surprisingly, John is a firm believer in the importance of artists working collaboratively at least once in their lifetime. Why? “It gives you the opportunity to step outside of your own head, think differently, and experience working from a different viewpoint. On top of that, through collaboration and conversation, you may see things about your own work or working style that you would not recognize if you were not seeing it through the eyes of a collaborator.”
A new world
It turns out, when you win a pre-recorded competition, you have to wait until it is aired before you can publicly celebrate your win. Who would’ve thought it? Moreso, how frustrating! “It was like we had lived this entire experience, but nothing had changed. We had no idea when the show would come out until about a month before. It was definitely a tense period; trying to plan, but having no idea what for.”
Looking back on it, it seems like it was all a dream. Especially when watching it on Netflix, with all the editing that had been done.
Thankfully, John Moran is finally free of the restraints of the dreaded embargo – and as the show has aired, he has seen a huge shift in social media and interest within his work. “But [this shift] still seems to be growing and forming.” He muses. “The biggest change has been in my own working methods. Choosing to focus much more on my own work and process rather than fabricating for other artists.”
I don’t really feel like I ever had the opportunity to focus on smaller, more accessible work for people who could not afford the larger pieces. The show has opened up the idea that having contact with people through these works is hugely important – both personally and professionally to me as an artist, and for the sustainability of my practice.
So, what’s next for John Moran?
Since the show, John has put this new ethos into practice. Among his latest projects he is creating more collectable pieces, including a selection of 114 small glass hearts. While self-admittedly “riding the wave”, John is currently in the United States for a series of residencies at College for Creative Studies in Detroit, the Wyman Visiting Professorship at University of Wisconsin River Falls, and a collaborative residency at the Pittsburgh Glass Center with series 3 contestants John S and Minhi. To wrap up his trip John is also planning a residency at the Tacoma Museum of Glass, followed by a short visit to the Hill Top Program. The anticipation at how these experiences will grow John’s work further gets me tingling with excitement!
On the exhibition front, John Moran is enjoying the opening of his recent exhibition at Habatat Galleries in Detroit, plus another online exhibition opening through their online platform, NGG, on November 5. “Additionally, I am planning for “Undefined” to open in February and the residency from Corning Museum of Glass to follow the first week of April. It will be a busy few months.” He smiles.
The win was well earned, John. We can’t wait to see where life takes you next.
Blown Away series 3 is now airing on Netflix internationally. Follow John on his social media platforms below to keep up to date on his latest adventures and creations.