Three x 3

The Glass Collective bring their alchemy to Craft NI

The artists contributing to the Three x 3 glass exhibition at Craft NI sit in a circle. Andrea Spencer is the one with the coffee (‘Never do an interview before coffee,’ she tells Sean Campbell sagely) so she takes the lead.

‘The idea was that the three of us wanted to form a collective in glass,’ she explains. “Each of us works very differently in the same medium. What we wanted our show to demonstrate is the versatility of the medium of glass through the three different approaches of kiln-forming, flame-working and glass-blowing.’

It sounds esoteric. Not all of us are budding Picassos, but the basic concept of brush, paint and canvas is a familiar one even if your talent stalls at stick figures and happy suns. Glass is different. The various methods of taking it from one stage to another has something of the alchemical about it.

Sean Campbell, the kiln-former, doesn’t help dispel that impression with his explanation of the process he uses. ‘I paint with frits and powder on to a canvas of clear glass, put that into the kiln and melt the glass at 800 degrees…and as I build up layer upon layer I create the imagery that’s in the material.’

It’s obviously not something to try at home. Not without something going terribly wrong, at least.

Perhaps that is why studio glass has never, as Seattle based Scott Benefield points out, infiltrated the Northern Ireland art scene as it has elsewhere.

‘Part of the reason that we came together to mount exhibitions like this is that we want to give studio glass, as opposed to glass as an industrial material, a higher profile in Northern Ireland. Elsewhere in the world, in Australia, the States, Japan, the idea of artists using glass for artistic purposes has been established since the sixties. For some reason, or collection of reasons, it doesn’t have the same gallery presence here.’

Perhaps that’s down to the Troubles. Canvas seems a hardier form than glass. Knock a painting off the wall and you can just pick it up, a glass sculpture on the other hand…

‘People do think of glass as a fragile medium,’ Benefield admits. ‘But it is tremendously strong. I mean, they build whole buildings out it.’

For Campbell the perception of fragility is something that he addresses in his art, viewing it as one of the values of the material. ‘It can be a challenging material as well as a wonderful one.’ He agrees with Benefield, however, that it is essentially a strong material. And a beautiful one too, of course.

Benefield’s 'Albion' collects a dozen of more bullet-shaped, non-functional vesselforms. A mixture of frosted and clear glass, they look like a fairyland diorama of Moscow. And Campbell’s panel pieces on the wall combine shades of colour with more layered texture than you’d imagine possible with glass. Spencer focused on pedestal pieces that contain the mermaid purse forms she creates.

The Three x 3 exhibition will be on display at Craft NI as part of their August Craft Month until August 29.