Louis La Rooy: still fascinated by glass after 45 years
Louis La Rooy (Amsterdam, 1947) studied at the Dutch Institute of Art and Design (Instituut door Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs, now the Gerrit Rietveld Academy) and the Rijksacademie (National Academy) in Amsterdam. In 1965, having started his career as a decorator for a company that produced materials for window displays, La Rooy went on to work for Glasindustrie Van Tetterode in Amsterdam where he mastered the flat glass techniques of appliqué and fusing under the supervision of his tutor Joop van den Broek (1928-1979). In those days, Van Tetterode was a glass studio with a range of facilities for techniques such as cutting, silvering and bending. It also had a separate department for insulation glass and even one for plexiglass, yet the real pride and joy of its owner Floris van Tetterode Sr. (1899-1985), who founded the company in 1919, was the glass art department run by Joop van den Broek.
By the late 1950s, Van Tetterode was experimenting widely with the glass appliqué technique. In early 1960, Van Tetterode developed the successful silane glass primer, which allowed for improved glass adhesion thanks to its excellent bonding properties. This gave many artists the opportunity to make coloured windows using a painterly technique that had previously not been possible.
Numerous architects were using this new form of glass art in their buildings at the time, and in doing so attracted renowned artists such as Karel Appel (1921-2006), Corneille (1922-2010), Jef Diederen (1920-2009), Marte Röling (1939), Antonio Saura (1930-1998), Jan Wolkers (1925-2007) and many others. So when Louis started working at the atelier, one of his tasks was to realize these artists' designs. He increasingly used a combination of techniques such as cutting, melting, etching and sandblasting, the resulting pieces then being bonded to a clear, standard window.
Although many lead and concrete stained glass windows had already been made, the problem of cutting lead strips and concrete rabbets continued to present an obstacle. The introduction of the new technique of appliqué, however, removed that obstacle and provided artists with greater freedom. While La Rooy was working at Van Tetterode, countless projects were realised for the Dutch government, municipalities, churches, prestigious buildings such as banks and hotels, and many private clients. Louis worked at the studio with no less than 14 colleagues in order to ensure that projects were completed in good time. The concept of art committees had not yet come into being and most projects were commissioned from architectural agencies. In 1969, the Willet Stained Glass Studio in Philadelphia (USA) bought the patent for the bonding technique and Louis was invited to spend a year familiarizing the studio's staff with the technique. Many commissions for this studio, however, came from religious sources. Clients therefore usually opted for the more traditional stained glass techniques and, as a result, the appliqué technique failed to become a success in America.
By the time Louis returned in 1970, Joop van den Broek had set up his own studio (Glasatelier '70) and Louis, as his successor, became the 'aesthetic conscience' of the Van Tetterode studio. The studio had by this time detached itself from the more commercially oriented mainstream glass industry and now concentrated entirely on realising glass art objects. It was during this period that Louis succeeded in managing to get the metal construction company run by Ab Hylkema (1940), who he had known since he started at Van Tetterode, to join the studio. Having its own metalwork department provided Van Tetterode with enormous potential, not least since Louis and Ab were good friends and had a natural synergy when it came to combined glass and steel projects.
Although Louis La Rooy continued to supervise and realise designs by artists, he was becoming
more involved with his own projects. His work became increasingly well-known through exhibitions and projects, which resulted in a range of commissions for clients including the Dutch government and various municipalities. In the 1970s and 1980s, Louis made a number of appliqué windows for bank buildings, churches and private clients, and he continued to hone his skills in this new glass technique.
In early 1980, the American architectural agency SOM asked La Rooy to go to Mexico to realize a large window that had been designed by Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991). One of the conditions made by this Mexican designer, who enjoyed a considerable degree of artistic fame, was that the window be realised in Mexico City itself, which meant that Louis had to set up a studio specially designed for this project. Although Louis flew back to Amsterdam on a regular basis that year in order to supervise projects already underway at the Van Tetterode studio, he spent a total of eight months in Mexico with the Van Tetterode team realizing Tamayo's window. It was here that he met the Mexican woman to whom he has now been married for many years. On his return to the Netherlands, Louis resumed his artistic activities. He often worked with Jan Wolkers, who had many of his outdoor sculptures realised in glass, and who was particularly fond of using a combination of glass and steel.
In the early 1990s, the Van Tetterode studio, which was located on the Kostverlorenkade in Amsterdam's Staatsliedenbuurt district, had to make way for a new housing project. Every effort was made to find a new location that was comparable to the original studio, but new, more stringent environmental requirements made it impossible for Van Tetterode to obtain the licenses required to remain in the city centre. They therefore decided to set up the studio on an industrial estate in Sloterdijk, just outside Amsterdam. It was not the most charismatic location for a studio, but there was certainly more space and potential available than before. Together with his colleagues, Louis managed to make it into an attractive atelier that was just as practical and congenial as the previous location had been.
In 1998, the studio was expanded to include a glassblowing workshop that focused entirely on flat glass techniques. Annelien van Kempen (1955), who had already proved her worth at Royal Leerdam Crystal, was an enormous help to Louis in setting up and establishing this aspect of the studio. Although the new hot glass department was set up with Louis' full backing, he had no particular feeling with this creative technique. Partly due to the significant experience he had gained in the field of monumental projects, which were usually realized on a large scale, he had little interest in the smaller-scale projects of blown glasses and plates, and therefore continued to work primarily with flat glass. In late 1998, Louis was commissioned by the Spanish city of La Coruna to realise a glass obelisk designed by Gerardo Porto (1925-2010), for whom Louis had worked previously. The obelisk was a glass tower measuring over fifty metres in height and comprising a total of 350 m2 of fused and bonded glass. It was to serve as a millennium object and had to be completed by the end of 1999; the result was a tour de force that Louis successfully completed together with his professional team from Van Tetterode. By this time, the artist and master glassblower Richard Price (1960) had joined the studio as a freelancer and Louis' enthusiasm for glassblowing was increasing due to the fact that Richard was open to experimentation. In a special glassblowing session supervised by German glass specialist Hans Ittig jr. (1967) and which included the entire Van Tetterode team, they experimented with the roll-up technique, bringing a new look and feel to this old Italian technique. Roll-up is a combination of fusing and blowing techniques that offers glass artists endless new possibilities with regard to shape and decoration. It is perhaps also important to mention that a number of Australian glass artists had already achieved spectacular results using this technique. The American glass company Bullseye also played a major role in this technique, partly by developing compatible coloured glass.
Firstly, a 'tile' of flat glass is made which is subsequently rolled up and blown out. Louis La Rooy had spent many years fusing and slumping flat glass, with which only two-dimensional objects could be made, but now he was able to take the first steps towards his three-dimensional work with fused glass. He was responsible for the flat glass sections, in which the colour concept and the various applications had already been determined, whilst the rolling and blowing out processes were carried out by a team of glassblowers. This was an international team under the supervision of Richard Price from England and comprising Mia Lerssi (1972) from Denmark, Frédéric Van Overschelde (1964) from Belgium, Peter Huntelaar (1958) and Gert Bullee (1970) from the Netherlands. During these roll-up sessions, Louis would attempt to explain his ideas using sketches and instructions, regularly driving the group to distraction in doing so! The glassmakers nevertheless remained inspired by these challenges because it offered them the opportunity to explore and stretch the realms of possibility. The glassblowing sessions for this technique last for one to two hours depending on the scale and complexity of the piece, after which it is placed in the cooling oven. Cooling times can vary from five to ten days depending on the colour and differences in thickness of the glass. Once the piece has been removed from the cooling oven, it must be cold before it can be finished, which includes sawing, cutting, drilling, sandblasting and bonding. These techniques were carried out under the inspiring supervision of master glass cutter Paul Groot (1960). The big difference with standard glassblowing techniques is that the colours do not tend to weep into each other but remain strictly adjacent to one other. Moreover, flat glass colours are usually much brighter than standard pot-metal colours. It is as if a coloured window is blown and deformed and in doing so remains almost true to the flat glass technique. Although Louis dearly loved the hot glass technique, he always continued to use the fusing and slumping techniques that required no assistance from other people. Fusing glass involves stacking together multiple layers of coloured glass and firing them at temperatures of around 800 C. Once the piece has cooled to approximately 700 C, it can be slumped (shaped) either in or over a mould. The temperature used in this process is significantly lower than that used for glassblowing, which ranges from 1100 to 1200 C.
When creating windows, Louis La Rooy generally uses a combination of fusing, appliqué and sandblasting techniques, and can always rely on the Van Tetterode team when it comes to large-scale projects. After all, it is not possible to realise very much in glass on your own. Firstly, it is practically impossible for one person to master all the skills required, and secondly, the pieces are often large and unmanageable, making assistance essential. With the exception of the design procedure, the realisation is therefore also very much a social process.
Despite the fact that Louis is strong-minded in his use of shape and colour, he gets on well with his colleagues and accepts their advice. Although they take their work seriously, they also have plenty of fun during the realisation process and the team's expertise can sometimes influence the end result to a certain extent. Although it is Louis' signature that ultimately goes on the pieces, he is acutely aware of the fact that his colleagues also make a significant contribution. Professional work with glass would be almost impossible without a well-equipped studio offering a comprehensive range of types and colours of glass, various ovens, cutting and sandblasting departments, and its own metalwork department together with a wide selection of tools. It is also important to remember that behind every such studio is an administrative department that arranges the orders, payments and communication necessary to ensure the artist has everything he requires, when and where he needs it. Given the large number of projects that Louis realises using other artists' designs, the question of whether it is frustrating to realise other people's art work can sometimes arise. His simple answer is, "if it is a good design and you have a certain feeling with the artist, then it is an honour to realize a design for a colleague." Louis himself uses the expertise of other people such as glassblowers and cutters, and there is nothing wrong with that. Working with colleagues is often inspiring and their advice can be enlightening; these are the things that make the Van Tetterode studio such a special place to work.
There is also a group of artists such as Ton Mensenkamp (1946), Bert Grotjohann (1939) and Daan Lemaire (1942) who realise most of their work themselves and only require assistance for specialised techniques such as melting, bonding or assembling the final project. Since 2007, Louis has become less involved with managing the studio since he often lacked sufficient time for his own work, but it is almost impossible for him to distance himself from the company entirely. Even after 45 years, Van Tetterode still holds a special place in his heart and, together with Ab Hylkema, he often supervises and inspires the team. Louis La Rooy says little about the content of his work. As a result of his past work as a decorator, his projects still feature decorative elements that are reasonably effortless for him to realise. His work is often exuberant, festive, can be a little "overdone", is often humorous and sometimes even a little cartoonesque. Having said this, he would be disappointed if his work was regarded as superficial, although he admits that this is something "only the observer can judge." After more than 45 years working with this wonderful product that combines sand, chalk and soda, he still finds glass a fascinating material with which you can produce the most awful kitsch, but also absolute treasures. Louis' theory is that, "as an artist, you're sometimes lucky, as if you've held the hand of Our Dear Lord for a moment". Just before this book was published, that theory was proved correct when Louis La Rooy received an official commission to realise a glass wall for the ACTA, the Academic Centre for Dentistry in Amsterdam. The commission is for an eight metre long and three metre high fused glass wall featuring a giant tube of toothpaste that is being squeezed. It is an assignment that promises to test the professional expertise of Louis La Rooy and his team to the limit.