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Notarianni & MacPherson Glass

by Helen Johnson

Published: May 2009

Helen Johnson asks two successful glass artists what they consider to be their ‘Tipping Point’, the ‘big break’ that tipped the balance in their career

Charlie Macpherson and Amanda Notarianni have worked together since 1998, sharing a workshop and assisting each other to make their own work.

Charlie’s signature style is to create ‘hidden’ detail that viewers find by looking though windows into the pieces. Amanda’s work is organic, inspired by living forms, but latterly evolving from itself, ever pushing ideas and techniques forward. In the years after founding their workshop, the couple achieved success. They exhibiting at top shows such as Origin and Top Drawer, won awards at the British Craft Trade Fair, had work in countless galleries and sold to national collections. However, the big tipping point for them happened three years ago. Charlie says, “Amanda had a NESTA fellowship, and it had a big impact on me too.” NESTA is the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. It is an independent body, which uses an endowment to fund its mission to make the UK more innovative.

Amanda says, “NESTA approached me. I was anonymously put forward. I’d never had funding from anybody before – I’d gone straight into my own business from University and things were never quite right for funding. For instance, if our workshop had been one mile down the road, I’d have got a grant. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t.” She continues, “When NESTA approached me, we were working all hours, but getting stale and not developing. Looking back, it wasn’t really sustainable.”

She explains, “NESTA was a lump sum for a programme that you write yourself. Because of commitments, I couldn’t shut the door for six months – we needed the income from the businesses. I also wanted to use the fellowship to do something sustainable – not just do the fellowship and go back to what I was doing before.” “The main thing about it was that I could stop work and still eat. The grant gave me time to think, go and see sculpture and develop contacts with areas I’d never have thought of before. For instance, in lighting and in engineering with metal.” Amanda recalls, “It was painful to realise how far I’d drifted from where I wanted to be. I was interested in arts and sculpture and I’d ended up in the gifts market.”

Although NESTA has been pivotal, Amanda continued to run the practice whilst working on the fellowship. She says, “It took me eighteen months to write the proposal – most people do it in six. The proposal goes in front of a panel, who quiz you about what you’re going to do. Then you have to feed back every six months. They’re looking for value for money.” The proposal took the form of a three-year development plan and, says Amanda, “For the plan to work, I had to take Charlie on the journey with me. It’s natural to want to stay safe, and effectively, we moved from the gift market to the art market. This meant moving away from the safety net of production to what we saw as the more risky unique pieces.” She adds, “It was frightening, but if we’d not done it, we might not have a business now. There’s been a huge shift in the market place and the type of practice that is sustainable.” Charlie describes how Amanda’s Fellowship affected him: “We were going to trade shows, the galleries were ordering, we did the work, they’d reorder. It was fine, but we found that we weren’t being creative any more: we’d become a mini factory.”

The Fellowship meant, he says, “Instead of just working, working and working again, we thought about it more. We stepped back and looked at the things that were inspiring: where we wanted to go. It’s had the biggest impact in the last three years.” Charlie says, “Eventually, we made the decision to tell people we weren’t making the smaller pieces any more. It was a scary moment. But then orders came and we made new contacts. Now, commissions come in, and we tell them that it will take time, and they’re OK about it.”

Amanda says, “The client base does shift. We had a period of mainly private clients, then corporate, now we’re getting cruise ships, hotels, and education work. It’s constantly shifting, and it’s tweaking the work to fit in, while retaining artistic integrity – and keeping it fun.”

Charlie says, “I wanted to make bigger, more unique pieces. They’re creatively and technically challenging. I also wanted commissions for big installations. Now I do braver work.” And how does Charlie find customers for his ‘braver’ work? He says, “It’s probably by being out there. We still do shows – maybe not so many as before. But we’ve done shows for ten years, and people we met five or six years ago come back. They seem to have moved on, as well as us. People do seem to be looking for more unique work.” “For instance,” he says, “we did a small job for an interior designer six years ago. Their practice had moved forward as well as ours and they came back with three really big jobs.” And, he adds, “At Origin last year, I wasn’t sure how our new work would sell – I hadn’t been to Origin since 2002. It was tempting to take lower priced work, but I didn’t. And the new work sold well.” Amanda comments that the fellowship also boosted her confidence. She says, “I did a piece in the Walker Art Gallery; it’s a 14m long structure. It’s such a big structure, I wouldn’t have done it without the confidence it gave me. And I couldn’t have done it if the business hadn’t been able to afford to move into another unit next door. It gave us the space for an area to collate, work on maquettes, do drawings and so on. Before, we simply didn’t have the space for things like that.”

She says, “NESTA wasn’t all plain sailing, but it was a phenomenal leg up. I probably achieved what would have taken me ten or fifteen years on my own.” Charlie says, “We built the business around making pieces for ordering. We kind of achieved that goal relatively quickly. But then it got to a point with no creativity. But by aiming for something, you can go on improving. Not just your work, but yourself. It’s about a wider life approach. I have to get more out of it than seeing it just as a job – as our own business, we think about it all the time. If I didn’t enjoy it, I’d have to not do it.” Amanda says, “The artistic challenge can be gruelling. Clients will see the work, like it, then ask ‘can you just make it twice as big, or add such and such?’ It’s constantly pushing the skill level forward. But what you learn is invaluable for the next piece of work.” “That,” she says, “Is definitely what keeps it fresh.”

See Charlie and Amanda’s work on their website at www.notarianniglass.co.uk or by appointment at their studio: Notarianni Glass
Unit 50 Clayhill Industrial Estate
Neston, Cheshire CH64 3UG
T: 0151 3538372

Exhibition opening
19 June 2009 at:
The Billcliffe Gallery
134 Blythswood Street
Glasgow G2 4EL
T: 0141 332 4027
F: 0141 332 6573
E: info@billcliffegallery.com

Work is also on show at:
The Cecilia Colman Gallery
67 St Johns Wood High Street
London NW8 7NL
T: 020 7722 0686

 
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