Arjan Boeve: meet the Dutch artist bringing stained glass into the 21st century

The creative known as the Stain Glass Geek reveals how he's making the traditional art form accessible to a younger generation

The ground floor of Arjan Boeve's studio is filled with wooden crates full of coloured glass, cradled in strands of packing material.

Alongside these are shelves of tools and long wooden tables on which lie works in progress: delicate panels of glass held in place with horseshoe nails.

One is a tri-panelled window. To the right and left, panels of clear and dark green glass are held together with strips of lead, mimicking traditional Dutch window designs. In the middle of each floats a golden coin with a raised oblong bar in its centre, as though the glass has been embossed.

The middle panel contains a symbol familiar to a generation of childhood gamers: the carnivorous flower from Nintendo's Super Mario video games, its sharp white teeth peeping out between lips extending from a red bud.

Combining traditional crafts with characters from video games and comics is Boeve's niche.

The Dutch stained-glass artist has spent five years striving to inject new life into this traditional art form. Having completed an art degree and explored drawing, painting, sculpture and animation, he first ventured into working with glass while living in France in 2016, creating a small green mushroom – another of the enemies from the classic Super Mario games.

He has gone on to create a whole raft of eye-catching works that combine the luminous beauty of traditional stained glass with contemporary Pop Art imagery.

Nicknaming himself the Stained Glass Geek, Boeve, 34, tailors his artwork to the tastes and interests of his own generation.

“The people who like video games and comics are educating your children at school. They might be your doctor or your dentist. They are the people buying their first, second or third house right now … I think that will also shape the art that’s being bought and the imagery that’s looked for,” he says.

“So there’s a new world being shaped right now and I want stained glass to be part of it.”

From his studio in Zwolle, Boeve explains how coloured glass is made. Formed at 1,000ºC, the best glass is fused with metallic salts – including gold and silver chloride – that permanently change its colour.

Riddled with subtle imperfections – tiny bubbles, bumps and variations in tone – the old-fashioned look of the glass he uses creates an interesting tension with his bold, contemporary compositions.

“I was pulled into this because nobody was doing it and, for me, this is the greatest potential, the hazy quality of the glass and then the crisp, modern lines. There’s something that’s really new and pleasing,” he says. “It’s really delicate and it’s really tough work. But it’s fun.”

Upstairs, in a spacious office above his studio, three of his delicate sculptures are on display in front of a long row of windows, the afternoon light making every detail glow.

One shows the characters Tintin and Snowy, shaped into a circle of glass a metre in diameter, the compelling delicacy of the composition offset by a sturdy circular wooden frame and stand.

The famed Tintin – created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, or Herge, and first published in 1929 – wears vivid yellow Nike trainers, a reflection on art, branding and consumerism, and how, as Boeve puts it, “some Nikes are more valuable than cars".

“At first it was a brand and you fit in or you don’t fit in – sports and social groups. Now it’s becoming an art form. It’s becoming something that you can collect,” he says.

The Tintin piece, part of a series called Parachutes, which features other famous cartoon characters in Nike trainers, took him about 200 hours to make.

Boeve sketches his designs digitally before cutting and shaping each piece of glass by hand, scoring lines with a special knife before snapping the glass and shaping the edges with his electric grinder. Finally, the glass is assembled using soldered lengths of lead or delicate copper foil.

Despite its cheery colours and Pop Art symbols, much of his work has serious underlying themes. Take a piece from his first collection, Rise, which depicts a dismembered Lego character floating in space.

“It’s about our social media use and how from that angle we’ve become detached, so our real self is so different to what we propose to be online," he says. "The web is like space. We can write our own narratives, so we can tell the world how we want to be perceived, and I think we will learn in the future it has not only benefits. It can also hurt.”

But he takes care to keep his visuals light-hearted.

“For me that’s the fun; to touch something that can be serious, but that doesn’t have to be perceived very seriously. I want what I make to be funny, to be enjoyable.”

Another ongoing series, Sunny Side Up, has a more personal slant. Last year, Boeve’s son was born with a serious illness. Amid his stress and fear, he began sketching emojis as the yolks of fried eggs – a metaphor for breaking out of his own shell.

“The first seven months of his life we were together in the hospital and his life was in danger ... We kind of lost everything, but he was saved, so it has a very happy ending. But at that time I was dealing with it by creating these eggs,” he recalls.

“That’s how we survived those seven months. Every day I lived to make my wife smile, even though everything was terrible.”

The glass eggs he is now creating are full of joy. Gently rounded in the kiln to mimic the curves of a freshly fried egg, they glisten glossily in the light.

In the long-term, Boeve hopes that his work will help to inspire a new generation. He has now uploaded 100 of his patterns to his website to encourage people to make their own versions of his designs.

He has also created an online video workshop and has begun selling starter kits with all the necessary tools to cut and shape glass at home.

“From day one when I was back in Holland I immediately started educating people,” he says. “I felt – I still feel – like I really need to pave the way for a new generation of creative people to arise and to get interested in this craft. I think this is 50 per cent of the reason why I chose to work with pop images, as well, because I wanted to appeal to my generation and to combine their interests with stained glass.

"I really think that’s how it will survive.”

More information is available at www.arjanboeve.com/art

Updated: July 8th 2021, 4:04 AM
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