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Winners of the craft&design Award at The British Glass Biennale 2017

by Angie Boyer

Published: January 2018

Cathryn Shilling and Anthony Scala

It's unusual for two people to win one of our awards at the same time, but that's exactly what happened at the 2017 British Glass Biennale when we selected the collaborative piece The Fragile Nature of Earthly Pleasures by Cathryn Shilling and Anthonly Scala as our winning work.

Later in the year, Angie Boyer talked to Cathryn and Anthony about their work...



How does collaborating with another artist inspire and influence the pieces you create?

Anthony: The work I am best known for making is highly technical, mathematically precise and for the most part, optically clear. Working in this fashion best suits both my temperament and my initial training which was in architectural model making. However, I do sometimes feel somewhat claustrophobic, confined in this world of optically polished, geometrically precise structures.

Having the chance to collaborate with Cathryn Shilling was a breath of fresh air for me. Having never collaborated before, the brief was completely open. As a result, I felt no compunction whatsoever about moving away from my prescribed methods of working and I revelled in the opportunity of exploring something completely new.

Cathryn: Working with another artist, especially one with a completely different type of practice opens up so many new horizons. Anthony and I had often talked about the possibility of working together but it was the brief for the Contemporary Glass Society's 'Black to White and Back Again' exhibition that really inspired us. It may sound a bit clichéd but we were both thrilled that as the piece came together it became so much more than just the sum of our own individual elements.

The Fragile Nature of Earthly Pleasures - when we considered this piece, we decided to approach it in a similar way to that of the 17th century Dutch still life painters. The artists produced paintings in muted colour that laid bare the elements, giving them an opportunity to display their skill. Also, the paintings were often of the Vanitas theme - containing a moralistic message about the brevity of life.

Our approach was therefore to remove flamboyant colour thus allowing the viewer to focus on the individual elements, from the complexity and structure of the kiln formed woven bowl, to the sensuality and form of the hot sculpted fruit. The inclusion of the stag beetles adds a bittersweet message to this Vanitas piece, symbolizing both the rebirth of the soul and the ephemeral nature of life.



How important is it to you that your work was selected (on more than one occasion) for the British Glass Biennale exhibition?

Anthony: We all make work we hope to exhibit in the variety of wonderful shows which take place throughout the year, both here in the UK and abroad. However, the British Glass Biennale is the one we all wait for! The one show we all reserve our very best work to submit. When you walk around that incredible show, see the sheer diversity of techniques employed in order to create the dizzying collection of astounding pieces on display, you are left in no doubt that the British Glass Biennale is THE definitive collection of contemporary studio glass being made in the UK at that moment in time. To have had work selected for such a comprehensive display of cutting edge glass is a humbling experience and something to feel both proud and privileged to be part of. 

Cathryn: The British Glass Biennale is the UK's leading exhibition of excellence in contemporary glass by British artists, designers and craftspeople. So as a British artist, being selected is exhilarating. (Neither of us has been selected every time, so we both know how painful it is not to be included.) Then to have won the craft&design prize with our joint piece was really amazing, especially as we both love this piece, thank you so much.

You are both internationally highly regarded glass artists and have totally different styles and techniques, so... Cathryn, you have been listed No 4 in the Glassation list of 'The Most Game Changing Female Glass Artists' and No 25 in the Graphic Design Hub's list of 'The 30 Most Amazing Glass Artists Alive Today'.  What do you think makes your work so individual, innovative and influential within the glass community today?

Cathryn: It is a tremendous honour to have been recognised in those lists but it has never been my primary concern to gain such recognition. I don’t come from a traditionally taught glass background and so my approach to my practice stems from my art school training and career as a graphic designer. This encouraged me to think outside the box and this approach has filtered through to my glass practice. As to being influential it is not something I see myself but if I have attained any influence at all in the glass world it is due my passion for studio glass which over the years has taken me to many places and introduced me to many fascinating people.



...and Anthony, your work is technical perfection, glass sculptures that combine precise design with a fascinating use of light. Your work was recognised early on in your career when, in 2005 at the age of 27, you were the youngest ever recipient of the prestigious 'Glass Sellers Award'. Now, 12 years later, how do you see your work developing in the future, what are your ambitions for the glass you create?

This is a difficult question to answer comprehensively, as I generally cannot see further than the project I am working on at the present. Making long term plans about the evolution of work I tend to find counter-productive. Those plans only work in the context of where you are in that instant, which can sometimes blind you to possibilities outside your premeditated agenda. Of course, we all need to plan for future shows and arrange work schedules in order to meet deadlines. But you must also allow yourself the freedom to respond to the unexpected. Those unlooked for opportunities are the real catalyst for change which allow your work to evolve and grow. For me, the unexpected opportunity to collaborate with Cathryn Shilling opened an avenue for a completely new and unexplored body of work. To this day, our collaborative piece ‘The Fragile Nature of Earthly Pleasures’ remains one of the most enjoyable projects I have ever worked on. A piece I shall forever be immensely proud of.

See work by Cathryn Shilling at:

'Material Light: Glass' until 4 February at The Long Gallery at Messums Wiltshire 

'Liquid to Solid: The Mutability of Glass' until 28 January at The Stable Galleries, Orleans House, Twickenham

'COLLECT' represented by Vessel Gallery, 22 - 25 February at Saatchi Gallery, London

Cathryn will be curating 'Breaking the Mould', an exhibition that will explore the qualities of kiln cast glass as a medium for artistic expression through the work of a highly respected group of artists, London Glassblowing, September 2018

She will be teaching for the first time at the Glass Hub in October. This will be about creating blown glass from fused glass, working with Katie Huskie and James Devereux from Devereux & Huskie Glassworks.

Cloaked - A film about the work of Cathryn Shilling

See work by Anthony Scala at:

'COLLECT' represented by London Glassblowing, 22 - 25 February at Saatchi Gallery, London

'Blowing Hot & Cold' 4 – 26 May, London Glassblowing 

As well as teaching 'Hot Start, Cold Finish' with Louis Thompson at the Glass Hub in July, Anthony will be returning to North Lands Creative by popular demand to teach 'In from the Cold' at the end of September. 



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