Catching the Light: Contemporary Glass
Despite the snow, and several aborted attempts during December I found myself driving in the shadows of Helvellyn the day before this exhibition ended determined to see what was on offer before it was taken down. Blackwell The Arts and Crafts House is an inspirational place to visit, particularly for those of us who are involved in art, craft and design. Wherever you look craftsmanship and beauty shine out, from the window latches to the fireplaces, artisans have had a hand in both the contents and the fabric of this building. I arrived wondering if the glass in this exhibition would or could reflect such perfection.
Blackwell was designed by the architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott (1865 – 1945) and it offered him an opportunity to explore his ideas on space, light and texture. It is fitting then that Alison Kinnaird MBE, who co-curated this exhibition with Dr Kathy Haslam, the curator at Blackwell, chose to focus this selection of work based on the artist’s response to light.
The three rooms in which the exhibition was staged were flooded with natural light, and the glass cabinets that the majority of the work was displayed in were spacious. In two of the rooms the cabinets were flat against the walls, reducing the transmitted light through the pieces and therefore their impact. However, in the third room the cabinets were coming out at right angles from the walls. This enabled people to examine the work more closely, there was more light play on, through and with the pieces, and the layout created more of a journey, forcing people to stop, linger and engage with the work.
There was little information about the how the work was made, and whilst absorbing the work and making notes I found myself drawn in to becoming an unofficial guide to glass making techniques as I overheard people asking ‘I wonder how they made that?’. I believe that as makers it is our responsibility to create opportunities to educate our audience, as it is only then that our work will become valued for what it is. It is paramount that we start sharing more information about our design and making process when we exhibit whether that be by literature, audio or visual.
In the main I thought that the selection of work was successful when appraised against it’s interaction with light. However, I had a personal struggle with one or two pieces. Vanessa Cutler’s Cartwheel discs felt flat and vapid against the other work on show, even displayed in a cabinet with light coming from both sides, and Alison Kinnaird’s linen fold series of opaque cameo glass possessed limited light play, although I would have been very happy to take them home and hang them on my wall.
The work that provided me with the most pleasant surprise was that of Annica Sandstrom and David Kaplan of Lindean Mill Glass. I have seen images of their work on invites and the web, but to be honest, these images didn’t succeed in gaining my interest. However, as I walked into the second room of the exhibition I was faced by two large panels of glass set on plinths, placed in the centre of the room and back lit by the natural light from the large windows behind. The work was radiant; it brought a smile to my face and reminded me of the reason I fell in love with glass. Once in a while I see something that moves me and gives me inspiration to explore new ways of working. This work provided that inspiration. Disappointingly, there were some further pieces displayed in glass cases against the wall, and these just looked drab and lifeless in comparison. Once again it reinforced to me the importance of where and how glass is displayed and photographed.
Yoshiko Okada’s cast pieces looked slightly lost low down in the large cabinets, and I felt that all that enclosed but empty space around them took away from their powerful solidity. However, when the sun shone in through the windows and onto the pieces it created a wonderful play of light and shadow on the wall that was a beautiful work of art in its own right. In contrast, the smaller works by Alison Kinnaird and Anthony Scala had been grouped together and displayed on Perspex blocks to raise them up into the space in the cabinets and these were far more successful.
Despite these financially precarious times it was reassuring to see that many pieces between £350 and £500 had sold. However, whilst I was making notes I heard one or two ‘disgusted’ comments about the price of a piece of Anthony Scala’s work, which at £450 they felt was ‘ridiculous’. If only they could understand the hours that go into making, finishing and polishing our work, and realise that many pieces don’t even make the grade. If they could be made aware that the gallery will take their cut and the makers can receive as little as half the price on the ticket, perhaps then they would be more understanding of the prices we have to charge just to scrape a living.
I always make a beeline for the comments book at an exhibition, and amidst the many positive comments there were only three that mentioned price. Two people ‘wished they could afford it’ and one man said ‘lovely exhibition, cannot work out how the items on display are priced though!’ And indeed, if we don’t tell them, or provide information to explain the techniques, the time and the materials needed to make our work, how will they ever know? And how, as makers will we begin to get the public to understand that we can justify what we charge for our art?
The work displayed in the Catching the Light exhibition held its own in the context of Blackwell. There was the same sense of passion about the making process that came across from the selected artists that you see in each of the rooms in the rest of the house. I’m glad I risked the snowy journey to get there, and thoroughly recommend a visit to Blackwell The Arts & Crafts house at any time of the year.
Thursday, 7 January 2010
BRRRRRR! I'm afraid going to the studio is still out of the question, I would get brain and finger freeze before you could say 'icicle'. It was -13.5 degrees C in Carlisle last night, -9 at 8am this morning and the weather girl said that the best we can hope for today is -3 degrees C. As my studio was originally built as a slaughterhouse, warmth was not a top design priority, and although a false ceiling has been put in and insulated with kingspan foam board it is impossible to heat effectively. The concrete floor pulls any body heat straight down through your feet, and as my snow boots died towards the end of last year and haven't been replaced with anything as effective yet it would be silly to try and work.
The pretty ice patterns from Ed's studio windows that I posted a couple of days ago were on the inside of the kitchen and bathroom window this morning. When I opened the shutters in the living room to let some light in this morning I received an icy blast of air and promptly shut them again. Although it will be a little gloomy in there today, I would rather retain the heat in the house than let it fly out of our old single glazed sash windows.
I spent most of yesterday writing a series of art and craft courses for the local borough council. Hopefully I will be delivering them to groups of adults from March. These courses are provided free to anyone who cares for a child under 5 years of age, but I suspect that this isn't widely known as it seems to be a regular group of twenty something ladies who come along. I have proposed courses in ceramic bead, button and broach making, yo-yo patchwork, glass etching and sandblasting, glass fusing, mixed media collage, personal visual diary making, printing and mosaic. As Children's Services budget has been cut by £140k this year I hope that I will be able to find most of the materials I need from Free For All the arts and crafts scrap store that I help to run. I will have to buy some clay, but by concentrating on making small items, one bag should go a long way. I will encourage participants to bring along scrap fabrics and glass items to supplement the ones I can provide from my stash, and I know that I can find tile grouts and fixatives in the Community Re-paint scheme. I will just have to wait and see which courses are selected to go ahead now. I am also going to contact the local adult education centre and Spinning Yarns, an art group for isolated older people with the list and see if they are interested in taking any of them up.
I'm going to plod on with my website today, and also finish off my article for the CGS magazine. I have to condense it into 300 words, which is always a struggle for me. Need to get all the computer work finished by 4pm when the sun goes down as that is when my fingers get too icy cold to type.
Wednesday, 6 January 2010
Tuesday, 5 January 2010
We awoke to another covering of snow this morning on top of the compacted ice that has been hanging around since Christmas. It looked pretty so I tottered outside first thing and took this picture before it had been disturbed. It doesn't look much, but it was rather pretty, and eerily quiet at that hour. In lieu of Sunday working Ed and I had planned a half day off today, and were aiming for a walk in the snow, and as he had stuff to do on the computer this morning I went into town to talk to the accountants office where I going to 'curate' a window of art and craft this year. It didn't take me long as it is only around the corner, the white building you can see in the background of the photo! I had planned to set up the first exhibit of the year this morning, but as I needed to get the plinths from the studio to the accountants in our van, which is dodgy in the snow and ice I have put it off until better weather. The window is 10ft wide, 2.5ft deep and taller than me (I'm 5ft 5) so it is an intersting space. The only problem is that the window gets full sun all day long so we need to make sure that any work that goes on display is not going to get sun damaged, so that means that we are unlikely to show textiles, which is a bit of a shame. Hopefully we will be able to take over the front window on the high street too which doesn't get any sun, although instead of being a full plate glass window it is made up of panes about 1ft square, however, I have a cunning plan for that if we can find some funding. After lunch we got a call to say our log delivery had finally arrived, but the man couldn't drop the logs on the drive because of the snow and ice, so he was dropping the pallet on the pavement. That put paid to our afternoon walk, but we got plenty of excercise carrying the logs through to the yard and stacking them. I must admit it was very therapeutic, and most satisfying to see the stack grow and the pallet empty. It was pretty good timing as we only had enough logs left for a few hours in the log burner tonight. We have now turned the heating off again to conserve what oil we have left in the tank to heat the water and we are back to being reliant on long johns, vests, fingerless gloves, plug in USB feet warmers when working on the computer and a good old electric blanket! Talking of which, I'd better go and switch it on!
Monday, 4 January 2010
The cold weather just doesn't seem to let up and the oil and logs are running out, but when you see these beautiful patterns created by nature it makes it all worthwhile. Not sure that Ed thinks so though, these were on his studio windows this morning and his heater had packed up so cold metal tools, cold metal lathe, cold plaster.....cold fingers!