Tour de Force: in case of emergency, break the glass…

Look out, darlings – it’s coming to a berg near you…




The Gang’s major excitement of the moment is the recent posting of the Visions of Australia grants round from the Ministry of Arts and All Things Heritage, Holy Water and Creatively Environmental (which is classic tautology and don’t we love that!)

But on a serious note, Megsie’s curating a contemporary art show for Artisan (formerly Craft Queensland) and she’s about to embark on the preliminary development round…she’s off to Adelaide today for an action packed gab-fest with three of her eight artists.

What?…Glass?…Contemporary art?…we hear you mutter…and yes, we do understand your skepticism.

But wait.

Listen to the rationale…


Tour de force: in case of emergency, break the glass.


At this juncture in time Australian Glass enjoys, without doubt, an enviable international reputation for both the quality of design and the technical expertise of the sector. The majority of practitioners are highly respected masters in the field and the various tertiary teaching institutions have programs in place that, at the very least, will ensure a continuation of the status quo. But after some three and a half decades post the initial exciting emergence of  ‘studio glass’ in this country, the glass scene appears to have lost the progressive impetus that had originally triggered the nascent movement. It has, when all’s said and done, settled into an established and comfortable convention. This is neither a great surprise, nor is it confined to glass – it’s merely the cyclical, generational phenomenon that has underscored the broader arts historic timeline since time immemorial. The glass scene, now securely rooted, is in conform and confirmation mode.


Hardly immune to the socio-political and economic forces of the day, the Craft sector has been driven for the last decade by an aspirant, conservative market place where Commodity rules and Zeitgeist Design has taken charge of the reins. ‘Glass art’ has become decorous and quantified – a trophy race of sorts, where focus is entangled in an interminable loop of academic semantics over material, technique and status. It’s become a sophisticated, media savvy industry in which makers now command extremely respectable, sometimes colossal, prices for their work. But is it art or is it high end product? Has the Arts vs Craft debate finally been derailed by the specious demands of the bourse (whereby practitioners are coralled into a competition for virtuosity alone.) It would seem so. But worse – courtesy of a stiflingly narrow and tightly controlled commercial reality (where collectors acquire ‘glass art’ like so many stamps), artists are obliged to quickly develop an idiosyncratic stock-in-trade with which to be yoked for the term-of-their-practicing-life. (And consequently become stuck in a rut of their own devising.) Australian Glass has in fact become so self-reverential and derivative – almost to the point of a creative stalemate – that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that it’s future development has hit a critical watershed. So where to go from here?


What is required is precisely the kind of generational resurgence that ushered in the studio glass movement in the first place. Now that the prototypical craft foundation has been well and truly laid it’s time to kick things up a notch. There needs to be a paradigm shift beyond the parameters of  ‘heritage’ craft principles – beyond the inanimate object on wall or plinth, beyond the predictable. It’s time to re-introduce the development of strong conceptual practices that engage on a broader, humanist level – in a way that pushes the boundaries and intelligently interrogates the art-craft dichotomy. In other words, it’s time to encourage the upcoming generation of glass artists to spread their wings and start considering their work in terms of a bona fide contemporary art practice. And art isn’t about dexterous technique or material properties – art is the eloquent visual expression of the human condition.


Only a handful of practitioners tackle it, but those few who do have mastered and sublimated the craft in such a way that they have indeed succeeded in transcending the constrictions of the guild. There’s an indefinable quality to such work – a spark of creative genius – that communicates itself to the viewer on a purely intuitive level. These artists, though small of number, are a tour de force on the local glass scene. They, might we suggest, are the way forward.


Timothy Horn has a sculptural practice that transfigures historical decorative arts into a conjunction with contemporary cultural entendre. By altering scale, context and material he loads his work with playfully subversive nuances that explore the articulation of exquisite vulgarity.





Deb Jones’ practice encapsulates a post-minimalist aesthetic courtesy of her early grounding in sculpture and graphic investigation. In many ways much of her work reflects precisely that – pared back, conceptually drawn sentiments held quietly in the shelter of a solid glass block, and though her practice is broad enough to include public art installation, she is perhaps best known for the interior expressionistic cast work.




Jacqueline Gropp works with scientific glass to produce, through an intertwine of metaphysics and empiric investigation, iconological arrangements redolent of the melancholic lyricism of sixteenth century Vanitas (a collection of objects chosen and arranged as a reminder of the transience and uncertainties of life.) The work, which more often than not includes ‘experiential’ elements such as liquids and Memento Mori-esque beading, has a stark, enthralling quality and haunting beauty.




Nicholas Folland is an installation artist who stages dramatic vignettes with an edge that precipitates and harnesses ambiguously unpredictable ‘events of nature’. His work, an intriguing blend of media and metaphor, has a wonderful sense of nihilistic elegance.




Neil Roberts was the first Australian glass artist to move into a fully-fledged contemporary art practice. His extraordinary practice is an intelligently provocative evocation of the (often poetic) frailties of human nature. His assemblages resonate with formidable sensibility. We will be borrowing work from the Neil Roberts Estate for this exhibition.





Tom Moore has long broken with convention to evolve a wonderfully eccentric practice that runs more along the lines of ‘the theatre of the absurd’. This is a mixed media construct amply laced with wit and ‘alternative’ wisdom; his imaginative narratives and his growing cast of unlikely protagonists –the autoganic enviro-hybrids – pose moral conundrums of surprisingly epic proportion.




Ian Mowbray inverts the conventional spectacle of glass by drawing the viewer into a sphere of voyeuristic intimacy. He works in the miniature; his signature ‘snow-domes’ revealing existential tableaus of private contemporary life. There’s a certain black irony at play in Mowbray’s work, a scratching of the underbelly of society as he ponders Ulyssian themes of death, sex and the universe. This is work that celebrates the painful truths and peculiarities of human nature.






Patricia Roan is the youngest and most recently emerged of the group. She too makes work of a curiously metaphysical bent, with scientific overtones that intimate all manner of mysterious organic experimentation. There’s a faintly Victorian-Gothic quality about her practice – an eye for the beauty of oddity. Not overly concerned with the ‘Big Picture’, she prefers instead to investigate the seemingly modest though no less fascinating ‘infinity of the interior’. Hers is a study in metamorphosis, with an almost intense delight in the natural order of things.





What these eight have in common is the artistic integrity, and the courage and commitment, to forge their own creative paths. While paying all due deference to the finely honed craftsmanship that necessarily underpins the material quality of their individual practices, these people are not defined by it. Their mastery of technique and understanding of the medium has set them free to pursue a loftier consciousness. And while their interests cannot help but coincide, their separate paths continue to maintain the fresh authority of a patently genuine originality.



                         Trish in her studio at ANCA a couple of weeks ago….
All will be making new work for the exhibition, which opens in Brisvegas in April 2010. It’s gunna be fabulous – we can feel it in our bones.

4 thoughts on “Tour de Force: in case of emergency, break the glass…

  1. I think your exhibition is an excellent idea and you have selected a stellar cast. Are you only concentrating on Canberra, Adelaide and Victoria or will it be a national survey? If it is a national survey, there are a number of Sydney practitioners I can recommend who work with glass conceptually, in a contemporary art context. I am not sure you can generalise about what is being taught in the institutions without first investigating the differences in pedagogy and the type of practitioners each of the universities strive to produce. You have never requested to view our curriculum or discuss our program and the last time you visited SCA I think you were a student. This is a friendly invitation to visit SCA when your next in Sydney. Hopefully we can iron out any misconceptions about what you perceive to be the desired status quo of our program. I look forward to hearing from you.

  2. Good on you, Andrew, for entering the fray. Am still on my whirlwind visit to Adders, yoked with a fairly tight schedule – but will address all of the above questions as soon as I get back to the hide-out. n(Ed)

  3. Now, Andrew, where were we…ah yes.

    No, the exhibition is a national survey of sorts, in that there are no ‘territorial specifics’. Last year I was invited by Artisan (formerly Craft Queensland) to curate a contemporary glass show – and asked to submit 3 rationales/premises. This I did, and of the three (all quite disparate shows, with entirely different artists) ‘Tour de Force’ was chosen. It is a mix of both established and emerging artists, and the success of the Visions grant was predicated on the line-up and curatorial rationale. So no, I’m not travelling around looking for more work of the same ilk, per se. Although obviously here at glasscentralcanberra we’re always interested to see what people are doing – and would happily post images and artist profiles if you’d like to send some through.

    Apropos the contemporary art context, nobody should get defensive about being left ‘off the list’. I was asked to include eight artists and I nominated 8 that excite me. This isn’t the usual superficial pick-of-the-pops or the-best-of scenario which frankly I think has been the blight of the Australian Glass exhibition scene (A-list bullshit, in fact, which is nothing but rank favouritism, and, yes, we acknowledge that this is neither confined to the crafts, nor to Australia), this is instead a serious contemplation of artistic practice beyond the narrowing and specious demands of commercial gallerists/collectors.

    Rather than get into a tussle about the relative merits of individual tertiary programs and the focus of their curriculum, might I suggest that the point I’m really trying to make is that I’m yet to be convinced that genuine artistic compulsion is something that can be taught/academically acquired. Many practitioners are technically brilliant, yes, and undeniably master craftsmen. But the artistic ‘spark’ remains rare. It’s our business to understand the difference. ‘Tour de Force’ is a timely illustration in point. I don’t believe for a moment that any of these people are merely a product of the institutions that they attended (if anything, history tells us that significant art is born of reaction against ‘the academy’). They innately already have that elusive ‘it’. The craft historic scholarship will inform their practice, of course it will. And the degree of skill will deliver ‘good bones’. But I’m interested in something else. That certain quality that arrests your senses, that makes you catch your breath, that transports you beyond the bleeding obvious. That’s what we’re talkin’ about.

    Whoops, gotta go – the bunny’s cooked and I have to mash the ‘taties. I’d like to think that this could be an ongoing debate – thrown open to all who fancy joining in. It’s the sort of thing we should all be discussing constantly, and openly, if we’re truly fair dinkum about exchange and progression. I’d like very much to visit SCA (…sometime when I’m up in Sydders for longer than my usual rabid dash.) Cheers and thanks, n(Ed)

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