Michael Aschenbrenner: Honorable Discharge

The glass sculptor braves emotionally charged art



The role of the artist in times of war, historian Howard Zinn wrote, “is to transcend conventional wisdom, to transcend the word of the establishment, to transcend the orthodoxy, to go beyond and escape what is handed down by the government or what is said in the media.”
   
Even Picasso said, “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”
   
None of this crossed Michael Aschenbrenner’s mind as he lay in a San Francisco orthopedic ward for 11 months, recuperating from surgery to his knee. A paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division on a reconnaissance mission in Vietnam, he fell down a mountain and tangled and twisted the knee in some vines. He walked on it for two days before being airlifted to Japan for the first surgery and then to the United States.

Aschenbrenner knows war is hell. And so is making Damaged Bones, the series he started (and stopped and revisited) seven years after returning from Vietnam. Ten years had passed before he confronted the source of his subject. “I saw a lot of people die,” he says. He also saw a lot of amputees. “It was haunting me in dreams.”

The glass sculptor’s process is a metaphor for his war experience. Rather than blowing the glass, he expresses himself physically and emotionally by stretching and pulling it. “Pulling makes for pieces that are substantial,” Aschenbrenner says. “They’re solid and heavy.”

Working from a puddle of molten glass, he must act fast and make quick decisions, which now seem intuitive. “Making art depends upon noticing things — things about yourself, your methods, your subject matter. [In my process] there’s a fluid movement, like a dance — through the hands, the tools, and into the piece. I learned how to control the material. I learned that I was doing this dance.”

And, like all good abstract artists, he learned when to stop, which bespeaks his integrity: If Aschenbrenner deems a piece overdone, underdone, or generally displeasing, the work never leaves his studio.

Each expressionist limb is bandaged with cheesecloth, surfaced with wax, which he sometimes colors with powder. He also affixes splints with “field-expedient” twine and rope.

Aschenbrenner’s other series represented in this month’s show at Denise Robergé Art Gallery include Sighting Devices. “I was a forward observer [in the military],” he explains. “We used our eyes and ears to locate where shots were coming from.” He also created hollow, blown, and stretched Flotation Devices and biographical Portraits. “Sadly, they’re all appropriate [images] today,” he deadpans.

Aschenbrenner’s 25-piece Damaged Bones installation appeared in Glass: Material Matters at LACMA in 2006.

Michael Aschenbrenner shows at Edenhurst Gallery

This article was originally published November, 2006 and updated for the web June, 2007.

More Art

Edit Module
Palm Springs Life
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Articles

Sage Francis Looks for 'Memorable' Show At The Date Shed

Now a 40-something white guy from the rural area of Rhode Island, Sage Francis still channels his lyrical writing roots into his music, and plans to share it with Date Shed fans on Jan. 24.

David Brighton Brings Electrifying Glam Rock Act for Modernism Week Party

The world’s best David Bowie tribute artist, David Brighton, will bring back 1970s glam rock during 2015’s Modernism Week on Feb. 14 to benefit the Palm Springs Modern Committee.

AC/DC, Jack White, Rapper Drake Headline Coachella 2015

Metal rockers AC/DC, alt rock king Jack White, and smooth rapper Drake headline the released lineup for the 2015 Coachella Arts and Music Festival set over two consecutive April weekends in Indio.

Director Jeremy Garelick Draws His Own Buzz for "The Wedding Ringer"

Jeremy Garelick, whose words have provided the one-liners to some of the funniest comedy films in recent years including The Hangover, has caught the attention of Hollywood’s elite with his directorial debut of "The Wedding Ringer".

PSIFF: Your Insider’s Guide

Here’s all you need to know about this star-studded, high-profile Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions + Contests

Fashionista Friends

Fashionista Friends

Experience the glitz and glamour of Fashion Week El Paseo 2015.
2014/15 Best of the Best

2014/15 Best of the Best

Palm Springs Life’s annual Best of the Best. Readers tell us who their choice is for the “Best of the Best” of the Coachella Valley in over 40 categories.
GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

GuestLife Magical Monterey Bay Experience

Food + Wine Festival Grand Experience

Food + Wine Festival Grand Experience

Enter for a Chance to Win a Food + Wine Festival Palm Desert 2015 Grand Experience
Cartoon Caption Contest

Cartoon Caption Contest

Each month, we provide a vintage 1950’s cartoon illustrated by Alice Rovinsky. You are invited to submit a caption or vote for your favorite caption.