Radhika “Blows” You Away With Glass Art

Most of us tend to see glass as brittle and intimidating, but Radhika Krish, the founder of Goli Soda Glass Studio, is “cracking” that belief—one art piece at a time. “I always thought the “goli soda” bottles from my younger days were intriguing. I remember spending hours trying to get the goli (marble) out of the bottle,” Radhika recalls with nostalgia, “Making art with glass brings back those memories. Hence, the name.” (It is also because glass is made of soda-lime.)

How did glass art become Radhika’s true calling? She originally majored in management information systems, followed by jobs at Capital One and later at a pharmaceutical company. It was only during her maternity break—while she was looking for hobbies to pursue—that she stumbled upon a glass art class at Ohio State University. “I decided I’d take an introduction class on the weekend, and see if I liked it. It was just an extracurricular thing since I had to get back to work as well,” she recalls laughing, “One class led to another, and the next thing I knew, I had spent about six years here. I learned so much about glass through these classes. I took so many art classes at OSU that I decided that I might as well pursue fine arts and get a degree. Around this time, I started watching ‘Blown Away’ on Netflix (a reality show where glass artists compete for a residency at Corning Museum of Glass.) Watching it happen before my eyes was intriguing!”

 

OSU had a large campus but the glass blowing studio was in a shed at the back. “I had seen it a couple of times and always wondered what was behind the doors,” Radhika describes the incident that kindled her love for glass. One day, she opened the doors and stepped into a whole new world (an experience comparable to the Chronicles of Narnia.) Music blared from a corner as it enveloped a dimly lit room, drowning the low hum of a vintage neon sign that read ‘Blow Glass.’ Inside the shed were people of different age groups working with glass together—singing, dancing, and hi-fiving each other. “It was a very small, close-knit community, so we always got excited when someone else created something new in the studio. We talked about nothing but glass, so it was the ideal way to spend my ‘me time’,” she gushes. It wasn’t easy at first, as she also had to raise her three boys. “You’d think it’s going to be a few hours, but it takes a lot more than that. You have to give up some things when you want to follow your heart,” Radhika explains, “I left my job and became a homemaker by day and a student by night. Eventually, I graduated with a degree and became an assistant teacher, volunteering at various glass avenues, including a not-for-profit glass art organization.” She recalls how she would become easily bored with things, but surprisingly, this was something she kept coming back to. “My heart kept telling me that I was destined for this. That’s why I love glass. Not just blowing, but also grinding, painting, and mosaics.”

“Glass art is intimidating at first,” Radhika agrees. It is one thing to deal with such a delicate material, it is an entirely different kind of fear working with a torch at 2000 degrees. “You’re holding the molten glass on a rod, melting and shaping it till you get the right shape. You have a small window to manipulate glass when it’s red hot,” she paints a picture of the process, ”You only get one shot to get it right, so don’t miss your chance to blow the glass. If it all goes wrong, you just start over,” she says, making a subtle reference to Eminem.

Moving back to Chennai in 2015 was a very personal decision for this young woman. She wanted her kids to connect with their roots, get in touch with their grandparents, and allow herself some time to work on glass.

So, how did Goli Soda Glass Studio come to life? After moving to Chennai, she decided to let loose and enjoy herself. “I was a typical expat, doing what you would do when you visit a new country—traveling, eating, and just getting absorbed in the moment.”  After a year-long break, she decided to get back to her glasswork, only to realise there were no local glass studios. With a little help from Srinivasa Ragavan, a glass artist from Dakshin Chitra, she set up a make-shift studio on the terrace. “I couldn’t get everything I needed in one place. I had to go to Hindustan Trading Centre for painting supplies and snoop around Parry’s corner for most of the other things.”

In 2017, she had the opportunity to showcase her skills at Quest Learning Centre, where her kids went for summer camp. There was a skill showcase for adults as well, so she went to the Quest kitchen to showcase her glasswork in front of an audience, who were left with a curious admiration for the new art form. “It was a shame that no one was teaching this form of art in Chennai,” she sighs, “That’s when I met Srikanth, one of the members of Quest. He suggested that I teach glassmaking in their space. I guess when you’re surrounded by the right kind of people, you get the support you need!”

“I was used to having things set up for me, so when I had to do it on my own, it was scary.” She was not fazed. Goli Soda Glass Studio was built from the ground up and by 2019 she was attracting immense recognition for her work and her classes across Chennai. She had an average of forty students of all age groups, every month. “Most of them were women. I’d hold their hands while they worked with the blowtorch to ensure that they did not feel intimidated by the tools,” she explains. Radhika shines with pride as she helps women overcome their fear, and empowering them through this dangerously elegant art form, “Even if just one person wanted to learn more about glass art, I would feel like I had accomplished something.”

 

Just when things were looking up, the pandemic created a new challenge—non-contact engagement. Like everyone else, Radhika took to Instagram to post her artwork. “With social media, the whole world is your oyster!” While continuing to take classes now and then, she began to focus on her art and educating her followers about the material, the techniques and the process behind her work.

Radhika believes that running Goli Soda Glass Studio taught her more about management than her previous jobs did. She now knows the tactics and tricks to sustain her studio. When asked about how it felt to be an entrepreneur, she laughs and responds, “I feel like I’m less of an entrepreneur and more of an artist.” Besides her classes and studio work, her work has reached the realms of fashion design and film set design. Now and then an exciting project opportunity comes up and those are the moments she lives for. Sourcing material was difficult in India. “Living by the ocean and being a part of the beach cleanup has its perks!” She collects discarded bottles by the ocean. Every bottle behaves differently, so there were limitations, but it was all part of making a difference. Most of the goods in Radhika’s studio are upcycled from discarded glass bottles from the beaches of Chennai.

“Almost all glass artists in India and the US are men,” she concludes. Radhika is an artist and a revolutionary, encouraging more women to play with fire and break the stereotype. After having to prove her abilities to a series of men in the field, she has made a place for herself amongst the glass artists of the world.

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