Publication: The Times
Celebrating its 21st anniversary, the Scottish Glass Society has brought together over 40 individual makers of many nationalities in a show which demonstrates the vitality and diversity of contemporary glass-making in Scotland.
The work of these practitioners illustrates the variety of techniques which are now available to artists working with this magical and captivating material. While many of these techniques have been handed down over generations, some have had to be re-learnt and others again are the direct result of new and developing technologies which have allowed experimentation, diversification and increasing sophistication.
The technology of glass-making extends back as least 5000 years to its origins in the Near East. At its most basic, glass manufacture requires three essential ingredients: silica (usually in the form of sand), an alkali such as potash or soda and a base (lime or lead). These are then heated together to form what results in a super-cooled liquid, which also has the qualities of a solid material, as well as either opacity or transparency, fragility and strength.
As well as this manufacturing method are a multitude of techniques for both working the glass and decorating it. ‘Slumping’, for example, describes the method of heating pre-formed glass so that it will take on the shape of a mould, while ‘pâté de verre’ involves reheating ground glass to make solid forms. By contrast, stipple engraving is a form of etching using diamond points which died out in the 19th century but has been revived by practitioners such as James Denison-Pender who uses the technique to great effect in the decoration of crystal glass.
Similarly, Giancarlo Franco Toffolo is a contemporary exponent of a tradition which extends back to 17th century Venice (at a time when the industry in Scotland was in its infancy).
Toffolo works in a lavishly ornate, Baroque style. His virtuoso displays of glass-blowing are finely coloured and carefully detailed. His work may not appeal to all tastes, partly because it seems stuck in an anachronistic vacuum with no stylistic evolution.
But the inclusion of Toffolo’s work here confirms one of the great strengths of this collection in that its catholic nature allows for all strands of contemporary making to be united under one roof. In contrast to Toffolo’s exuberance Alison Kinnaird’s work shows restraint, and perhaps even coolness while combining good artistry with a keen sense of craftsmanship. ‘Sampler 2’, for example, is a uneven slab of glass mounted upright which has been etched and sandblasted on both sides. Here, human figures float freely within their individual compartments — some are cocooned and embryonic, while others have been reduced to mere scratchings.
The unique character of glass allows it to be used for many purposes — it can range from the decorative to the monumental and from the intimate to the bold. Its potential to be, for example, an element in public spaces has long since been recognised, as the tradition of “stained glass” (properly called leaded glass) in ecclesiastical buildings shows.
There are modern representatives of this tradition here, such as Douglas Hogg whose complex compositions in a variety of media, including glass, have more in common with some types of painting than with the work of many other glass-makers. But it is Hogg’s willingness to test and expand this visual language which is so exciting. His work can be deeply spiritual and contemplative as his various church commissions have shown.
Emma Butler-Cole Aiken and Susan Bradbury also work using leaded glass, although in a more conservative idiom. Similarly, Anita Pate’s fusion of traditional with more modern iconography must have brought peace and comfort to many with her various hospice and hospital commissions.
There are many other works of great interest here, including those of Ray Flavell, Lale Andic, Maria Barnes and Phil Attrill. This, combined with initiatives such as the Northlands Creative Glass workshops in Caithness, will surely help to develop the glass-maker’s art in Scotland as an essential means of artistic expression.
Scottish Glass 2000
Mon-Sat 10-5 (Thurs - 7pm)
Sun 12-30 - 4
Until 12 March
Published in The Times, Around the Galleries, 19-01-00