The Art of Glass



Featured image courtesy of Ben Young

Kitchen splashbacks, coloured glass tiles, stunning sculptures; glass truly can bring plenty to the table.

Art takes many forms and can be crafted from essentially any material, though few rivals the opulence of creative manifestations of glass. A malleable material for both domestic and commercial purposes, glass has become more and more present in artistic endeavours around the world.

As well as being inherently beautiful, glass allows artists to explore their creativity in special ways. In the words of Ben Young, one of New Zealand’s finest glass sculptors, “the way I use the glass enables me to portray so many different elements of my conceptual ideas.” This approach to sculpting has led Young, along with many other artists, to create works that mesmerise and amaze their audiences.

Glass artisans don’t just work with an exceptionally dazzling material, they also often innovate their medium by creating their own crafting processes. Much like Ben Young’s unique pieces (which will be discussed later), there are some artists who approach their creativity with the mind of a pioneer.

Take, for example, Jack Storms; one of the world’s only ‘Cold Glass Artists’, who uses glass to create pieces that are mesmerising and crafted in a style that’s virtually one-of-a-kind, as can be seen in Wonder World’s video:

Storms’ creations look like they’re plucked straight from the worlds of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and yet due to his diligence, imagination and talent they’re here for the world to marvel at and, for those lucky enough to have the budget, own. His amazing work can be found here on his website.

Fantastik Spectrum Cube
Image courtesy of Jack Storms

For commercial purposes, coloured glass has undergone a renaissance since its days as merely being used for stained glass windows; now it appears as public murals, centrepieces in houses of worship and even eye-catching displays for stores. The same can be said of glass art in the home, as a collection that once consisted merely a punch or fruit bowls can showcase full walls of beautiful patterns, full pieces of furniture and charming touches like lampshades.

And, yes, they can also still make for wonderful punch bowls.

Of course, it goes without saying that the natural world also emphasises the beauty of glass; with Fort Bragg being a perfect example.

Glass Beach
Image courtesy of Unfinished Man

Dubbed the ‘Glass Beach’, Fort Bragg in California was once the dumping ground for callous companies that cared little for environmental woes. Surprisingly enough though, like a flower blooming on a battleground, something stunning emerged from the polluted beach.

Nature had taken its hand to the glass refuge under the waves and, for over three decades, begun pushing perfectly smoothed, rounded beads of what were once discarded bottles.

The Glass Beach was clearly a stunning sight, and so local authorities endeavoured to clean it up as much as possible. Any refuge that nature could not mould, such as jagged pieces of metal, were collected and safely disposed of, leaving the beach to sparkle like an artificial rainbow.

This amalgamation of manmade trash and natural endurance is now part of the MacKerricher State Park, a protected park that supports a host of birdlife as well as harbour seals, ensuring its incredible visage is kept safe for years to come. Not all examples of glass art are as bizarre as the Glass Beach, and not many enjoy the same level of prestige, but just as the Glass Beach contains thousands of different pieces of coloured glass, the ensemble of glass sculptures can take on myriad different forms

 Image courtesy of Carol Milne

The array of different examples of glass art reflects the cornucopia of different inspirations and motivates for those that make them. Take Carol Milne, for example; her undeniably unique ‘knitted glass’ is quite unlike anything else in the world of glass art. By experimenting with the limits of glass, Milne discovered a way to utilise a variation of the lost wax casting process with cast glass to create this unorthodox yet awe-inspiring style of art.

“I see my knitted work as a metaphor for social structure,” says Milne, when discussing her work. “Individual strands are weak and brittle on their own, but deceptively strong when bound together.”

It’s hard to argue with this interpretation when observing this intricate, knitted glass style of hers. Glass is a strong & hard material, both physically and to work with, yet can be shattered if enough force is applied to it; and it’s clear that these sculptures require more of a fragile touch to handle, given that each individual piece appears to be quite delicate.

“You can crack or break single threads without the whole structure falling apart, and even when the structure is broken, pieces remain bound together,” Milne continues, truly showcasing how her art and her philosophy weaves together like thread and fabric. Some artists may be hard to understand, especially when reflected in their work, but Milne has managed to clearly display her feelings through her art in a visually stunning manner.

Milne has created all manners of incredible sculptures using coloured glass and her signature ‘knitted glass’ style, including baskets, teapots and even socks & shoes. You can view all of these, and more, here on her website.

 Image courtesy of Steve Robinson
Image courtesy of Steve Robinson

For some, motivation can spring seemingly from nowhere and at the most unexpected moments. One artist that this aptly applies to is Steve Robinson, who describes himself as a ‘late starter’. Having accidentally picked up a book about American glass art he became inspired and decided to pursue a career in this bold medium.

“It fell open at a page with a photo of a bowl by Dale Chihuly and I was blown away, thinking ‘wow! I want to learn how to do that!” Robinson reminisces. He pursued his new dream by taking an Art Foundation course at Shrewsbury College and a Glass degree at the University of Wolverhampton.

Robinson, who runs his business in tandem with his wife, Hannah, now makes architectural glass, such as backlit wall panels and coloured glass windows, as well as straight-up glass art, like shell-form bowls and wall features. Opting to explore vibrant colours and experiment with dimensional layering, Robinson works either for a commission or simply according to the whispers of his muses.

Robinson’s talent is clearly shown with his work, but beyond that, there is the recognition of his peers and the industry itself; winning the Gold Prize in Glass from the National Craft & Design Magazine Awards. Now established within the industry, Robinson creates the likes of glass splashbacks for Hilton Hotels and John Lewis stores, with all his work available to peruse here on his website.

 Image courtesy of Craft Studio and Glass Works
Image courtesy of Craft Studio and Glass Works

It’s important to remember that art isn’t always designed for world recognition and fame, sometimes it’s a means of expressing humble creativity, helping those around you and meeting like minded people. This is where the works of the Craft Studio and Glass Works, part of the Cumbria Adult Education services come into play; spearheaded by Marilyn Hale.

A winner of the Balvenie Master of Crafts award, a member of the Creative Glass Guild and once the student of the renowned Anne Collins, Hale spends her time sharing her knowledge and helping others to learn the craft across Cumbria.

She teaches those who are looking to learn in various schools and local organisations, with the Craft Studio and Glass Works being the perfect venue for budding artists of any ability to come and try their hand at working with glass.

Hale also often takes part in exhibitions and galleries, with her classes and work available to see here on the Cumbria Glass Fusing website.

Laminated float glass, cast concrete and bronze.
Featured image courtesy of Ben Young

Perhaps most breathtaking of all is the world of New Zealand’s Ben Young, a self-taught artist with over 15 years of experience crafting arguably some of the most jaw-dropping sculptures in the world. His pieces are hand-designed and hand-made from concept to creation, drawing his designs before creating models and custom jigs. His incredible, water-like sculptures are formed by cutting layers of coloured glass with a glazier’s hand-tool and combining them, layer by layer, with the model.

Primarily utilising cast concrete for the models, laminated float glass for the ‘water glass’ and bronze for small sculptures that adorn each piece, Young has an uncanny ability to create art that combines glass flawlessly with structures in a vivid and gorgeous manner. Virtually every piece he creates makes use of this modern and magnificent sky blue and subtle grey colour scheme, with a few opting for darker blues to symbolise darker and deeper waters.

“I hope viewers might imagine the work as something ‘living’ that creates the illusion of space, movement, depth and a sense of spatial being,” Young states when discussing his art. “I like to play with the irony between the glass being a solid material and how I can form such natural and organic shapes.”

As one might expect from an artist that draws upon the ocean for a wealth of inspiration, Young lives his life almost entirely absorbed by the sea. He is an avid surfer and is a boat builder by day, often exploring the Bay of Plenty in which he lives. These stunning New Zealand landscapes help to influence the elements of his work that the ocean doesn’t conjure, yet it’s his use of glass that truly sets him apart as a phenomenal artist.

The enchanting way in which his use of glass emulates the waves of the sea and patterns in water can be seen in each and every piece he creates, and everything he crafts can be enjoyed here on his website.

For your own art-worthy, beautiful glass-based projects, why not take a look at what Carlen Glass can do for you? From extra clear low iron glass to the eclectic & creative coloured glass, Carlen Glass can bring your visions to life. For more news, articles & discussions about all things glass, take a look at the rest of our blog!

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