Northlands Creative Glass: A Portrait at 20

Publication: The Times 
October 2016

Northlands Creative Glass: A Portrait at 20
Dovecot Gallery

There is something inherent in the quality of glass that sets it apart from other artistic media. Practitioners routinely refer to themselves as ‘glass artists’ whereas users of other materials, for example, stone or wood, do not usually define their practice in a similar way. There are a number of reasons why glass art routinely achieves a unique status.  Its usage requires a high degree of technical knowledge, often involving chemistry, physics and much else besides, and its manipulation demands a high level of craft skills. The third component, that vague and ill-defined quality, artistic merit, is also needed to complete this finely balanced trinity. Small wonder, then, that the best qualified glass artists have worked long and hard to get to the top of their profession. Several can be seen here in a show that celebrates 20 years of Northlands Glass, that inspirational, internationally recognised centre of excellence in Lybster, on the Caithness coast. Northlands now stands alongside prestigious teaching venues such as the National Glass Centre, Sunderland, Ebeltoft in Denmark, and Pilchuck in Seattle. The show combines an educational element, displaying the tools of the trade such as knifes, tongs, glass samples, paints and templates alongside examples from the Northlands collection. There are 10 invited artists, including Udo Zembok from Germany, the Scot Alison Kinnaird, David Reekie and Emma Woffenden, from England, Danes Tobias Mohl and Maria Bang Espersen, and Petr Stanicky from the Czech Republic. These demonstrate the diversity, and it must be said, occasionally, variable quality of the work Northlands has inspired. Mohl blows glass using pre-made rods etched and stained with black geometric patterning, using the ancient Venetiantechniques. When the glass is heated and blown these patterns expand and evolve to create new, complex geometries. The resulting vessels are then composed and lit to create beautiful installations where one can become lost in the seemingly endless permutations offered by shadow, tone, texture and position. Magdalene Odundo describes her work as “…a drama being enacted with the help of a very hot fire.” Although she works predominantly in clay, the change of medium has allowed her to expand and develop her artistic journey. Here fulsome, colourful, pendulous vessels suspended from the ceiling, at different heights, create an installation that is in stark contrast to the measured, contemplative mood generated by Mohl. Stanicky’s work, inspired by the ancient layered geological sediments of Caithness is robust but occasionally clunky; ironically, his sculptures and maquettes in wood are possessed of more intrigue and finesse. Kinnaird’s work, technically accomplished, also carries the emotional resonance her narratives demand. Northlands has opened up the world of glass to a Scottish audience, adding immeasurably to our cultural life, forging important links where none existed previously and bringing many artists and students to ours shores.