By Jennifer Myers
“I needed to know who she was,” said Zimmerman. “And if she was cute.”
Over the next year, the glass artist and the painter were friends. Friends who flirted.
His studio was across from the gallery. Whenever she was gallery-sitting he was pulled in – like a moth to a flame or . . .
“She was a flower, I was a bee,” said Zimmerman, eliciting an eye-roll from Lévesque, as the two sat on the couch in the loft they have shared for the last two years.
Zimmerman was a little shy, so finally Lévesque took control.
“He was being grouchy, sitting in his studio and I just said he needed to get out and we should go see a movie,” she said.
They went to see “The Great Gatsby.” The deal was sealed.
Zimmerman grew up in the small town of Centralia, Washington. While in high school he scored a part-time job working at a glass blowing studio that uses ash from Mount St. Helens.
“I became fascinated with glass and its potential,” he said. “I loved working with my hands.”
He worked as a production glass blower with set routines and designs, but wanted more. Influenced by the work of glass artists Ginny Ruffner and William Morris, Zimmerman became interested in producing one-of-a-kind work and using more color.
In 2007 he moved to Lowell because the woman he was dating lived here.
“What sold me on Lowell was Western Avenue Studios,” he said. “It was the only way I could have a studio of my own at the time.”
Glass is a dangerous and unforgiving medium that requires high heat to become pliable.
“There is the danger of burning your house down,” he said.
“Or everyone else’s,” added Lévesque.
Zimmerman recently began working with borosilicate glass, a strong glass known for its use in making Pyrex measuring cups and baking dishes. It is also used to make scientific glassware like test tubes.
It is shaped by using a torch rather than a furnace.
“It is still pretty new to me so it may take four to five hours to finish a piece and get the proportions right,” Zimmerman said.
In contrast, with 23 years of furnace work under his belt, he can make a vase using that method in 30 minutes.
“It’s a new challenge and I’m enjoying it,” he said.
Lévesque grew up in the Berkshires, where she was always drawing something. She discovered paint in high school.
“I loved the way you can blend the colors,” she said. “You can get lost in painting, like meditation, lost in the textures and lines. Everything else fades away.”
Plus, she hates erasing.
“I never used an eraser when I drew, I had to get it perfect every time.” She said. “With paint, it goes down the way it goes down.”
Inspired by the landscapes of her native western Massachusetts, Lévesque brings familiar scenes to life in a new way. Her work is bubbling with vibrant colors, whimsy and hope.
“Whenever I look at anything I see the outlines and colors,” she said. “I also see how I feel, everything is heightened, more dramatic. My work is about capturing a moment in time that is not always realistic or accurate, but more emotional; something that takes us out of reality.”
Lévesque, who had studio in Boston for years, heard about the burgeoning artist community in Lowell and came to check it out.
“Lowell is a fascinating reuse of a town that was solid manufacturing and that is attractive to artists and it is a lot cheaper than Boston, which is a huge allure to an arts community,” she said. “As much as Lowell isn’t quite the booming city we want it to be yet it has a lot going on. There are always new venues.”
An artist depending on selling their work to make a living rides an emotional roller coaster. What happens when there are two artists in a relationship living and working in the same space?
“It is great because you are with someone who truly understands what it is like,” Lévesque said. “He’s dealt with the same situations with customers, galleries and the finances and politics of the art world.”
But, it can also be frustrating.
“As an artist you live with this trepidation that you’ll never sell anything again,” said Zimmerman. “The hardest is when we are both down.”
Earlier this year the duo collaborated for an impressive show at the Loading Dock Gallery called “The Glass Man and the Painted Lady.”
“It took over our entire life,” laughed Lévesque, adding it took some navigation at first to get their work styles to gel together. “But it was really exciting because you don’t usually get that kind of close collaboration with someone.”
“I can’t imagine living any other way,” she added.