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Adam Aaronson Glass

by Angie Boyer

Published: November 2017

We were delighted to once again sponsor the award at Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design for a piece of work other than furniture. Traditionally an exhibition of fine furniture, selected pieces from leading artisans working in disciplines such as sculpture, jewellery, glass and art are also now included. It’s from this group of work that we chose Adam Aaronson’s ‘Cloud’ glass form for our Award.

This surprisingly large free-blown glass form is technically brilliant in the making. But more than that, when you look at it closely it reveals a multitude of fascinating colours and patterns within. On the day we saw it, glistening with drops of rain, it looked spectacular in its outdoor garden setting.

After the exhibition, when things had quietened down a bit for Adam, we asked this highly regarded glass artist, who has been at the heart of British studio glass for almost 40 years, about his internationally renowned work

About the spectacular piece which won our Award at CCD...

My “Cloud" sculptures developed from my ‘Garden within a Flower’ series of glass vessels and forms, depicting a colourful abstract ‘flowerscape’ upon their surfaces. These pieces were inspired by 17th Century Dutch flower paintings, and they are evocative of the shapes and vibrant colours of the floral masterworks. 

Any piece of blown glass of this scale is physically challenging and I need a team of three or four assistants working together with me to achieve a satisfactory result. The colour structure of the piece is quite complex. I use a combination of solid glass colour, paper thin shards of coloured glass and canes or strands of coloured glass , and these are built up in layers. What I am trying to achieve is a painterly effect, which is difficult with glass, but there is no secret technique involved. It’s just that everyone develops their own way of working, which gives work like this their own thumbprint. 

Have there been any particularly memorable occasions for you? 

There are a few 'first time' milestones that still resonate with me. The first time my work was purchased by some of the US museum shops including the Guggenheim and the American Craft Museum (now MAD - Museum of Art and Design) was very exciting. Exhibiting for the first time at SOFA Chicago felt like being at the Oscars. A very favourable review by art critic, Dominic Lutyens some years ago made my day, as did Lynne Strover (Gallery) when she compared my work to Gordon Baldwin’s. 

But the installation of Mary Branson’s 'New Dawn', incorporating 168 pieces of my work, in Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament has to be the high point of my career so far and may be difficult to beat. Aside from this, over the years my work has ended up in the collections of quite a few well known people – politicians, artists, musicians and others. Some years ago I met Dame Judi Dench at a fair. She had been given one of my first vases as a present back in the mid-eighties. She very kindly told me that it was her favourite vase and that means a lot to me. 

 

What do you most enjoy about sharing your skills and teaching others?

One of the most interesting things about glass-blowing is that there are no terms of reference. With painting, for example, people will have some idea of holding a paint-brush and using paints. With glass it’s as if you are teaching someone to drive a racing car, when they’ve never even seen a car and then within a short space of time they’re on a formula one circuit. It’s an exhilarating experience for both student and teacher.

I started teaching in 2008 and realised that I loved it, so now I teach beginners and intermediates almost every week. To use a horse-riding analogy, some of my students want to go out on a hack and others want to learn dressage. I try to cater for both and it is really rewarding to see people develop their skills.

At a time when courses and facilities for glass artists are limited and expensive, what advice do you have for someone considering a career as a glass artist.

Glass is one of the most difficult sectors of the crafts to survive in and make a living. The line that springs to mind is  “How do you make a million as a glassmaker? – start with two million!” I’ve seen some amazing glass artists over the years who have really struggled to survive. Talent and passion are not enough. To succeed, you need tremendous reserves of staying power. You must also develop a panoply of skills that are really nothing to do with your craftsmanship base. These include book-keeping, sales and marketing, and packing and these are just a few areas that you really need to get a grip on before you can set up on your own. It’s tough and I take my hat off to anybody who follows the dream and has a go. 

What's the key to keeping your work fresh and appealing - both for you as the artist and the people who buy and collect your work?

I’m never short of ideas. It’s finding the time to execute them that’s difficult. I try to separate the ideas into work that will be likely to sell, work that I really want to do for my own development, and work that will impress collectors and other glassmakers. In this context it is important to understand that most artists, myself included, make art for the sake of making it. Some artists make great work that they never show anyone. However, once you are set up as a career maker, those choices become more difficult. It’s important to assess your work on an ongoing basis and if you are going to stay afloat and make a living, the saleability of your work becomes a key driver. But it is vital to develop the work that you really want to do, even if that is going to take longer to sell and indeed may not sell immediately. I mentioned impressing other glassmakers, somewhat tongue in cheek, but in any profession peer appraisal is important and valuable, even if it’s informal. Everyone needs a mentor. 

My “Cloud” series of work, which you have very kindly chosen for the Award, is a case in point. I had had a very good commission for a series of large pieces, considerably bigger than any I had made before. These had to fit into niches that limited the sizes and I was quite constrained in terms of the colour palette. Happily, the client was delighted with them, but I did feel that when I made them, that if I hadn’t had these constraints, I could have made much “better” pieces. So I set aside some time to develop the concept and the “Cloud” sculptures evolved. They’re actually nothing like the commission that I mentioned, and they’re also much bigger and with a freer colour palette. When I started making them I had a few opportunities to exhibit them and everyone was asking me whether I had sold any. To which my response was that I didn’t really expect to sell any in the first year, although as it turned out, I did sell quite a few. 

The point is that you have to believe in yourself and do the work, get it out there and hope for the best. But you also need to find a balance between speculative work that may earn you plaudits and bread and butter work that will pay the bills.

Want to know more? You'll find a wealth of information about Adam and his work on his website: 

adamaaronson.com

www.craftmaker.co.uk/adamaaronson

 
British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn

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