Ari Glass: Spiritual Painter

Photo by Lauren Max

Age 28
Hometown The Soufend
Happy Place 
“Above the clouds ”
Unlikely Influence 
James Turrell
Current Obsession 
Those honey biscuits at the gas station on MLK and Graham
Song on Repeat 
“We Don’t Care” by Kanye West

Ari Glass texts to let me know he’s running late: “I was reading a book on the train and got so involved I missed my Beacon Hill stop haha.” Fifteen minutes later, the young painter slides his diminutive frame into the seat across from me at the Oak, sets his Uwajimaya grocery bag on the floor and tells me about the book, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.

“I’m into different kinds of belief systems and how they interpret the world and what they can figure out to make it a better place,” he says. Glass does yoga, but practices on his own. He has no guru, he says, “or maybe I just haven’t met him yet. Or her.”

Aside from art class at Franklin High School and a short stint in the graphic design program at Seattle Central, he’s self-taught. Perhaps that’s why Glass’ paintings—whether a wall-sized mural on the side of King Donuts in Beacon Hill, a circular mirror at 2016’s Out of Sight exhibition, or an oversized canvas at his first solo show, at Gallery 2312 last year—exude such freshness. Glass’ style is studied but irreverent, brash but softened. He transforms the iconography he encounters in the South End—Buddhist, Hindu, traditional African—into stylized characters, emboldened with graffiti-like outlines and wild colors. His work features a pre-eminent hue—gold, as used by Gustav Klimt, who used gold foil in his paintings.

“Not something that looks like gold, but actual, real gold,” Glass says. “When I seen that, it clicked in my head, like, this is my medium.” He cites golden hour, Thailand’s golden buddhas, the golden crowns of royalty—all of them signifiers of the sacred, the divine. “It’s not just because it’s gaudy, though that’s part of it, but more so it’s a spiritual thing.”

Glass is currently painting a mural for Hillman City’s Black and Tan Hall and prepping a new gallery space in Georgetown. Lately he’s been obsessed with the three-dimensionality of ceramics, a new medium for him. But the glazing and painting interests him more than the sculpting. Painting has always been his thing, he says, and always will be.

“I’m trying to be the best—the Picasso of the South End. I’m trying to reference those old guys and then apply my magic touch. I feel like that’s synonymous with the task of this generation: We have to take the tools we’ve been given from birth and use them to affect people in a positive way.”