Proprietor of Pyramid Gallery, York
I developed an eye for form and proportion from my father who was a professional model maker. My brother and I were taught how to make vintage aeroplanes from balsa wood, string and perspex sheet from the age of four. When I was twelve I was introduced to the world of etchings and sculpture through a friend at school, whose father John W Mills was (and still is) an eminent sculptor. Without realising it at the time, I was developing a passion for art that would later take over my life.
At first though I pursued careers as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor, and then as a computing consultant, specialising in Computer Aided Design. At the age of 38, my wife Elaine and I put into action an escape plan that we had been evolving since our twenties, which resulted in us buying Pyramid Gallery in York and starting a new business.
It was in June 1994 that I found my passion for glass. My first sale in the Gallery was a large white vase by Peter Layton, to a German collector. It was the most expensive item in the shop and at that moment I realised that we had stepped into a new and very exciting world that is driven essentially by creative energy and the desire for beautiful things.
I have become fascinated with glass, visiting makers whenever I can, buying pieces that excite me for the gallery. Over those 21 years the gallery has represented 169 glass makers and sold almost 10,000 pieces of glass with a retail value of 650,000. Included in those figures are 32 cast optical glass sculptures by Colin Reid and nearly 100 pieces by London Glassblowing Studio makers who are frequent exhibitors at the gallery.
In 2008 I worked with the Contemporary Glass Society and glass collector Alan Poole on an exhibition called Melting Point, to which 70 glass makers submitted their work for selection in the show. This was a turning point for the gallery. We have since run a further exhibition with The Cohesion Network and during 2015 another CGS show called 'Ripples: Glass inspired by nature' to which almost 100 glass makers submitted. In October 2016 Pyramid Gallery will host an exhibition that marks Peter Layton's 80th birthday and the 40th anniversary of London Glassblowing with a show representing all the studio's current associates.
I shall be judging the craft&design Selected Maker Awards with the eyes of both a collector and curator and with my gallery owner hat on, I shall take into consideration the likely owner who will spend money to buy the piece, for it is my view that the purchaser is an important part of the creative drive that governs the development of the arts.
Gold Award: Laura Hart
"Laura Hart seeks to represent fauna and flora in order to record and highlight the plight of species that are likely to become extinct. Her aim is to reproduce the butterfly or orchid accurately and convincingly and in this respect she has learnt every technique necessary to achieve her goal. In conjunction with silver (used for the spindly limbs), glass lends itself to this task in ways that no other medium could. It is tempting to ask what this approach might achieve that could not be done with photography? Or to ask what place the accurate reproduction of a natural form has in the world of art and design? Such questions become unimportant to me when the final result is an object of such beauty that I feel as pleased being in its presence as I would the original butterfly or flower. The forms of craft and art objects are often dictated by the material and the process used. Laura’s art relies on her knowledge and experimentation and skill to make the material replicate the experience of looking at the subject. By painstakingly reproducing the subject that she is observing, Laura has created glass sculptures that are intriguing, beautiful and highly cherishable. In doing so she also achieves her aim of adding her voice to the protest at the loss of these precious species." Terry Brett, April 2016
Silver Award: Sue Burne
"Glass engraving is an art form that requires a great deal of inspiration as an artist and a huge amount of skill as a craftsperson. As an amateur practitioner of life-drawing I recognise the need for constant erasing and redrawing as a process to achieve the desired effect or capture the essence of my subject. The idea of ‘drawing’ into glass with a revolving tool would fill me with dread and I have an infinite amount of respect for anyone who can pull this off and at the same time, enhance a beautiful piece of glass with a piece of artwork that captivates me. Sue Burne has an artistic vision and the skill as an engraver to create stunning works of art, making use of all the qualities of the luminosity of the glass, the varying layers of colour and the form itself. I am particularly attracted to 'Fire Dancers' with the figure of a male dancer engulfed in flames. This intensely red vase evokes the fury and heat of the flames but also the sense of a free spirit, joyful in dance." Terry Brett, April 2016
Silver Award: Rachel Elliott
"I occasionally ask myself ‘What is Art for?’ The question is easy to answer when looking at a functional jug or vase. We need vessels, we might need room dividers with glass panels and these things are more rewarding if they are beautifully formed or decorated. But once we start to create things that have no function at all, there needs to be some other reason for their existence. For me, if art has humour, then I am satisfied. Rachel creates decorative art objects that very neatly incorporate a pun or witty observation that answer that question. The fact that she happens to use glass in every piece is almost irrelevant. To me she is first and foremost a humorist, though I imagine that she was a glass maker before she discovered that humour was her thing. In this collection Rachel also presents two vessels that are aesthetically appealing and also make an amusing statement. ‘Hunny Pots’ reference previous works of her own, whereby she has worked the glass into three very convincing replicas of a honey comb, upon which one of them had a glass bee. Here she has taken fragments of glass formed honeycomb and incorporated those into the surface of a honey jar. The jars stand alone as nice looking vessels. But in the context of her body of work (whereby an animal is perhaps decorated with images of the food it has eaten, or the zebras stripes are reinterpreted as a supermarket barcode) there is some sort of intrigue related to our relationship with animals and how we treat them as a product. We see here a glass replica of the animals food store formed into a useful container for the product that we have stolen from the bee. I like art that makes me question things, especially with humour, and I enjoy Rachel’s straightforward presentation of amusing ideas."
Terry Brett, April 2016
"Bright coloured glass is intensified in Hayley’s ‘Bright Drop’ and ‘Bright Plate’ vessels. I have always enjoyed displaying glass forms that deceive the eye, as experienced with the angled cut and polished face neck of the vase. The eye is fooled into believing that the thickness of the clear glass wall is a ‘space’ and the interior space is ‘solid’. This is a simple trick for the glass blower and cold-worker to pull off, but here it is given its maximum effect by contrasting the bright interior colour that is illuminated by virtue of the channel of clear glass wall and contrasted by the dark outer surface. The effect is like biting into a dark chocolate orange crème fondant. And then, Hayley pulls off another clever twist to excite the beholder. Instead of making the form into a cut vase, she opens out the bubble of dark chocolate to reveal its inner colour as the top surface of a plate. The playfulness of this is fascinating and exciting. But none of this can be achieved without a great amount of hard work, dedication, experience, experimentation, artistic flair and skill. All of which Hayley has in abundance." Terry Brett, April 2016
"Catriona has explored many methods to reveal and highlight colours hidden in layers of laminated blown glass. She has developed the concept of a blown bottle by cold working into the coloured layers, using the glass container as a canvas for an abstract picture. The processes used demand a high level of skill in making the glass form, a great amount of imagination or experimentation and much time in cold working each piece. The Lamella forms particularly impress me. The work involved in forming an undulating surface that she has then polished must require much patience and a great deal of hard effort. But the effect is worth it. The finished forms are both interesting and beautiful. The patterning looks random and organic, but the process is deliberate and worked to a design. I am also taken by the Limn flasks which feature a cut face in a minimalist form that reveals swirls of colour in the vessel within. It is a neat design but its simplicity probably belies the fact that the maker has undoubtedly made many attempts to achieve a finished form that looks so easy on the eye." Terry Brett, April 2016
"Verity is ‘painting with light’ by using the intense colours and luminosity of glass. Her themes are scenes of nature with atmospheric skies and the intense colours and varied shapes of leaves. Using techniques of fusing and slumping glass in a kiln, she has great control of colour and expression of her love of nature. The results are joyful. I am especially taken by the framed piece entitled Wood Nymph in which she uses a glass panel and etched glass overlay to illustrate an arrangement of antique handwritten text." Terry Brett, April 2016
"These awards are for craft and design and must therefore take into consideration the concept, the use of the material, the expression of an idea and the execution of the piece. So much to judge! And I hadn’t quite expected this to be so difficult.
My gold winner was selected on the basis of pure aesthetic appeal and the sense that the maker has found ways to work the material into an object that is as cherishable as the fragile and vulnerable subjects that she has observed.
I could have awarded Silver to any one of the remaining finalists and struggled to choose two above the other three. All of the finalists are accomplished and worthy of the award. After much agonising I felt that the humour in Rachel Elliott’s animals and the artfulness and excellence of Sue Burne's craftsmanship led me to grant those two the Silver awards. I hope the honour of being voted into the finals is a bit of a consolation to those that did not win.
It is interesting to note how the work represented here has different origins. Process is a major factor in determining the form and finish of most glass objects of art. The engraver's art may start as an artistic vision or drawing, but the final form is always of a shape and finish determined by technique and material. Rachel Elliott’s animals are cut from glass plate using high pressure water. It is a highly industrialized technique that frees up her time for working on new ideas, but as with kiln forming or glassblowing or lampworking, the process partly determines the form. This is not a criticism. The restrictions inherent by the process are the very thing that drives experimentation and imaginative variations in the way the material is used. I admire how all the finalists have worked with the material and crafted a diverse range of very desirable pieces of art.
Laura Hart has broken free from the restrictions imposed by material and technique. She has chosen glass as her medium because of its versatility and refractive or reflective qualities. Her intention is to make a replica of a natural thing and she has carefully crafted this replica using whatever technique is available to her. It is a different approach and by dedication to craftsmanship, she has achieved a result that is exquisite and highly cherishable."
Terry Brett, April 2016.