Worth the Wait: A Conversation with Blown Away’s Elliot Walker

With the release of Blown Away Season 3 now just days away, there’s no better time than the present to check in with Season 2 winner Elliot Walker to discover all the ways that winning the hit Netflix series has changed his life and how he prepared to work with our glassblowers during his winner’s residency in Corning.

So, settle in and prepare to be BLOWN AWAY again!

In March 2020, just prior to the pandemic heating up in North America, Elliot Walker was facing a different kind of heat in the finale of the Netflix series Blown Away. The pressure was on the two finalists to fill an empty gallery space with work representing their points of view as artists, and the Museum’s Hot Glass Team had arrived on set to assist.

Elliot Walker (third from left) and the nine other contestants at the start of Blown Away Season 2.

Elliot’s installation, Bodge Job, was a reaction to seven intense weeks of being asked to churn out new idea after new idea in rapid succession—combined with the pressure of creating his best work for each new challenge, which would ultimately be streamed to millions around the world. No sooner had Elliot been named winner of Season 2, than the set was “literally being torn down around [his] ears” as he gave his final interviews, and he quickly left Canada for his home in Stourbridge, U.K., before the borders closed.

Elliot and his partner Bethany in Corning, April 2022.

When Blown Away Season 2 was released in January 2021, the U.K. was in another wave of lockdowns, which meant no celebrations, watch parties, or travel to America to complete the Blown Away Residency at The Corning Museum of Glass, his prize for winning the show. But a buzz of excitement rushed toward Elliot online. “I could feel it in my phone,” he said. “I could see it all coming from this little thing I was trying to hide from so much of the time. It was very, very intense, but completely positive.”

Fast forward to April 2022. With borders open, Elliot and his partner Bethany could finally travel to Corning to work in the Amphitheater Hot Shop and complete the residency after nearly two years spent thinking about what direction he’d like to take as an artist, post-Blown Away.

I sat down with Elliot to chat with him about his time on the show, the work he made during his residency, and what’s next for him artistically.

Kim Thompson: How did you get into glassmaking, and what intrigues you most about the process?

Elliot Walker: I think I was always going to be an artist in some way. At school, I was more academic, but there was always art in the background. I was always painting or sculpting things. I think glass itself—the nature of the material—entraps most people. It just has a special something about it that no other material has. For me personally, the process is a means to an end. A lot of people love the glassmaking process and I do love it—but I also hate it. It’s very unpleasant, it’s very risky, and it’s very labor-intensive. It’s a real labor of love. 

Kim: Let’s talk about your time on Blown Away. What made you want to apply?

Elliot: I was strong-armed into applying for the show. It’s not something I’d naturally do. As soon as I was into the application process, I started to get excited about it because it is such a special thing to have been part of. There are only a few people who will ever be a part of that show and that experience. [Blown Away] did a fantastic job. I think it’s a great representation of glass, and they had such a broad variety of perspectives from the different artists and makers.

Kim: What are some of the highlights from your experience on the show?

Elliot: The best thing for me was working with the other contestants. I see it as we were all working together to make the show happen, rather than competing against each other. There was a bit of competition, obviously—a healthy sort of pushing of everyone—but I never felt like I was competing. I was experiencing everything with them. And coming from the U.K. which has such a small community working with glass, it was great to meet a whole new bunch of people from all different areas and walks of life.

Kim: Do you think being on Blown Away influenced your future as an artist?

Elliot: Being on the show has definitely influenced a lot of things in my career and thought processes. I don’t think there will ever be a time again where, within seven weeks, I have to make 10 completely new, random ideas and bring them to life in such a way. That sort of ‘enforced creativity’ and the pressure that you’re under to do it to the best of your ability, it’s going to influence everything, I think. A lot of ideas and concepts that I was drafting out on the show, I’ve taken forward when I got home.

The other obvious thing that the show has done is sudden global exposure—which is fantastic, but it’s been like a whole other job. It’s hard to remember what things were like before Blown Away, since it’s been such an intense change.

Kim: What have you been up to since the show launched?

Elliot: Since the show launched, we’ve been working. I was very lucky I’ve been able to work continuously throughout the pandemic since I live and work with my partner, Bethany. It’s been a really busy period. A lot of people are requesting new work and commissions. I mainly work with galleries, so suddenly being in contact with people who are interested in my work is a really lovely and special thing. Before [Blown Away], I would never speak to the collectors because it was all filtered through a gallery. I love that personal connection with people.

Kim: Tell us about your creative work process and the direction you’re taking as an artist?

Elliot: I tend to work quite organically. The thinking process doesn’t really start for me until I’ve started making. I can have as many ideas and conceptual shifts as I like, but until I’ve started the process of making a sculpture, I don’t know whether the material will agree with any of my ideas. I’m going through a big conceptual shift at the moment and trying to focus my work in a new direction. That has shifted during the residency as well, so it’s really nice to be able to have the freedom to be that organic and follow any sort of little path that you want.

Kim: Can you describe the work you created during the residency, and the messages you were trying to convey?

Elliot: The work I’ve created is really quite varied. The first piece we made is the one I had the most planned out because as a technical exercise, I knew it would be really tricky. It’s a human vertebra with the pelvis section and an impossible loop in the spine. That piece was really focused on the societal pressures of work and how we built everything on the backs of people, but with a positive twist that it hasn’t broken us down; as a collective, we’re still pretty much in one piece, but it’s a delicate thing and it’s not always comfortable.

I made some things I hadn’t planned for at all. I started looking at Neolithic artifacts and modern artifacts. One piece we made is a mop head with a shaft and a spear at the other end, so it combines two objects, one from our past and one from our present, and nods to the negative things that have happened since we’ve become so civilized. And the other is a toilet or sink plunger with an antler handle. I’m really excited about this series, and I think they’re fun to look at as well.

Kim: What did you hope to get out of your residency? Do you think it was a success?

Elliot: I feel like it’s been a huge success. I’ve been able to do everything that I wanted to do. I’m hoping that I’ve made the most of the opportunity, really. There’s a smoothness to the work, which has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the facilities and team, which has just been beautiful. Sometimes I feel like I’m passive in the process because I’m watching this thing come together and it is such a team effort. The whole thing has been a great success.

Kim: What do you like about working with the Corning team of glassmakers?

Elliot: It’s been really interesting for us—I’ve come here with my partner Bethany, which is brilliant for not only the making side of it, but the ideas, too—we work together all the time, and it’s usually just the two of us. Suddenly having three expert, professional people is quite hard because I don’t know what they should be doing! I’ve tried my best to really take advantage of the team. On all of the pieces, there’s no way we could have done them without the team there and without their expertise and knowledge of the equipment, material, color, etc. It’s been really good, and a privilege obviously to have the opportunity to work with these people.

Elliott and Bethany were assisted by the Museum’s glassblowers during his Blown Away winners residency. The demonstration was narrated to our visitors by gaffer Helen Tegeler.

Kim: What’s next for you in terms of your work?

Elliot: We’re actually in the middle of setting up our own studio. Once we’re through that process, I’ll have full control over my environment, and I think that’s going to change the way I work, and the output of my work. It’ll give me the opportunity to try all these new processes I’ve never done before. When I started working with glass properly, all I wanted to do was cast. I wanted to be a sculptor and I wanted to work with cast glass because that was how I saw people making sculpture at the time with glass. I made a few waxes and molds, but they never got touched again because I discovered hot glass, and found the immediacy suited me better. I think when we have our studio set up, I’ll turn back and work with clay, plaster, and wax, and try new processes out. We’ll shut the furnace off in the summer so we can work in a cold environment.

Kim: People got to know you on Blown Away, but what would you like people to know about you as an artist going forward?

Elliot: For myself, I’m quite open about the fact that I don’t know a fat lot about being an artist. I don’t know what it is, really. I’m learning it. And I’m learning through doing. I’m learning through making. I’m researching art history through some of the work I’ve been making. So, the main thing is just to watch things develop. I’m doing the same thing—just watching myself develop.

Visit the Museum’s YouTube channel to watch Elliot Walker making glass during his residency and follow him on Instagram at @EWalkerGlassArt.

This is your last opportunity to visit the Museum’s Blown Away Season 2 exhibition and see objects from each of the season’s contestants, including Elliot Walker and local favorite Cat Burns.

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