Enter at own risk…



(above) the work of Benjamin Armstrong

This post is a bit of a backtrack – but it warrants visiting, nonetheless.

Some time ago our attention was drawn to a Sebastian Smee pontification in the March 1st Weekend Australian regarding the relevance and/or vigour of the painting scene in a contemporary environment more attuned to mass multi-media ‘fusion’. He finished up with the following gush over a Benjamin Armstrong show at Tolarno…

“Finally, the most dazzling show of the new gallery season — 32-year-old Benjamin Armstrong’s show of glass and wax sculptures and linocuts at the new Tolarno Galleries in Melbourne — reminds us that painting has been only one among many options for ambitiously original artists. Armstrong’s sculptures sit on the floor like empty, inflated condoms or giant eyeballs. They are entrancing objects, eliciting physical responses that flicker between disgust and sensuousness.

Armstrong plays with degrees of transparency and opacity, etching thin lines on the blown glass or lavishly wrapping it in turbans of gorgeously textured white wax. The linocuts are almost, but not quite, as impressive. Their rhythmic, linear designs are printed in metallic pigment or black ink on hand-dyed paper.

The two sets of work — sculptures and prints — speak to each other, generating layers of intrigue. But there’s no doubt that the sculptures are among the strangest, most beguiling works of art produced in Australia in the past 10 years.”

(http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23279040-5013572,00.html )

Wethinks Sebastian needs to get out a bit more. 

Not that we aren’t into Benjamin’s work – it’s kind of Patricia Piccinini-meets-Roger Rabbit, and the icky abject condom/sprog/flesh component frankly wouldn’t be out of place in the glassworkshop of every art school across the country as we speak. The difference being that such playful investigation is considered immature faffing about, and generally ‘discouraged’ by the time a student advances beyond second year. Craftsmanship – and all that that implies; tradition, technique, skill>virtuosity – takes precedence over dabblings into visceral existentialism. All the more so in this era of aspirant consumerism, where the arts are peddled as a viable and respectable(!) career option and craft is predominently a calculated marketing game.

Very few currently practicing glassies allow themselves the self-indulgence of artistic compulsion in a contemporary art sense – mainly because it’s not fostered by a glass establishment still firmly entrenched in the maw of the decorative arts. So this is a field ordinarily left to artists from other disciplines who are able to blithely trespass into glass territory and casually use the material with impunity, unencumbered by enforced craft historic regulation.  

[It’s nigh time that glassies broke loose and followed suit.  n(Ed)]

Which brings us to another concern – who made the glass component of Benjamin’s work, and why is there no accreditation? Surely there ought be some professional courtesy in this regard. There has, of course, long been an unfortunate trend even within glass circles for practitioners to have their work blown (or kiln-formed, or coldworked) by others, without any acknowledgement of the gaffer et al (but that’s another pandora’s box entirely…)

All good grist for the mill, me hearties.

Have a squizz at Benjamin Armstrong’s exhibition at… 


and wait, there’s more…


2 thoughts on “Enter at own risk…

  1. There’s a book in it! What a great story there is to be told about the necessity of collaboration in contemporary studio glass – think of the reversal when mentor becomes gaffer (Dick Marquis and Nick Mount and other long-term relationships) and then trace all the subtle consequences for the practice of each over time. Klaus and Scott, Stephen and ?who?. And look at Neil and his practice with found glass… For the coincidence, go to

  2. Yes, although with Dick and Nick it’s also a long term friendship, and the work that they’ve blown together over that time would have developed along the lines of a scintillating conversation. There would, indeed, be a book in that.

    In the main, however, the use of the word collaboration in terms of the hotshop is somewhat misleading. If an artist works on a casual/hiring basis with a gaffer, the latter facilitates the work and blows under instruction. In this regard the gaffer is merely the master technician realising the design of the artist. And so it’s not really collaboration in the accepted sense (ie. in intellectual property terms.) Certainly the piece can’t be made without him/her, but he/she doesn’t necessarily have any artistic input into the piece at all. It’s their skill that has been hired, period. We do maintain that they ought to be acknowledged (most particularly if the artist is incapable of making the the work themselves – after all it is the technical prowess that brings the piece to fruition.) However it’s not a ‘collaboration’, as such.
    A bone fide collaboration (in terms of the overall artistic process) in blown work would be the de la Torre brothers, for instance. Or Ben Edols and Kathy Elliot (with Kathy at the cold-working end). Or Joey Kirkpatrick and Flora C Mace. It’s a very different kettle of fish altogether.

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