Mike Bokrosh is talking to me in cluttered, machine-heavy studio in south Seattle. Next to me an old wood stove is burning pine, and waves of heat feel good to me; it is late October, and Seattle is cold, wet, and damp.
He is saying, "Up until six years ago, I could only see myself as a 'glass technician'. It was through self-discovery to integrate myself that I started to become more creative."
All around me in the cavernous space are small bundles of glowing clear masses - they stand out even more for being so, so pristine while resting on dusty shelves of unpainted wood. The contrast between the studio and the work he makes is astonishing. The work itself seems so, so precise.
Yet, Michael tells me the finished pieces aren't always that precise. Indeed, there is a large element of caprice inherent in the cold-working process. "Everyone always sees the spontaneity that is part of hot glass. Yet 'going with the flow' is an important part of my art. The breakage, the chipping, the checking - even though cold-working is such a tedious process, some aspects happen very fast!"
We turn to one specific piece: "Prementura". Prementura is a beach in Yugoslavia, he tells me, "one of the first beaches I've ever swam in. The water was crystal clear, it's a part of the Adriatic Sea." In 1979, Mike studied with a traditional master beveler in Yugoslavia. The techniques were antiquated, the equipment backwards. "But", Michael went on, "more importantly, I learned from him the 'zen' of beveling and engraving. I learned the proper attitude, the patience and the respect. It was very important, what I learned from that Master engraver."
Patience, indeed! Mike tells me he has, conservatively speaking, 80 hours of work in "Prementura". That is on an object that ends up 12 inches long, 6 inches high, and 6 inches wide.
What meaning does a piece like "Prementura" hold for Michael? He replies immediately, "Contrasts. Contrasts between rough and smooth, mirror and clear, planed and unplanned. For instance, I rubbed gold-leaf over partitions of the exterior that were rough - the contrast between the thin richness of the gold over the roughness of the surface, it speaks to me of harmonies and conflicts."
He then returns to the theme of the spontaneous in his work. Prementura uses a water jet to carve away the interior of the lead crystal. The water jet process is hi-tec yet imprecise. A thick mixture of water and sand comes out of a nozzle at Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound). It carves deeply, and is not very controllable. For Michael, it balances well with the thick pieces, yet counterpoints the tediousness of exterior work with the abandon of the water-jet cut process. The polished outside contrasts with the matte-finished inside.
He finishes by telling me he works from the inside out. "Basically, I reveal the inside form by working to the outside. For me, the inside and the outside are both equally important." I ask him why he named a piece in 1990 after a beach he visited in 1979? "I am honoring a time in my life, and a gift, that I received from my mentor. I am honoring that time inside myself."