Liam Reeves - Seeing Beauty

by Stephen Prendergast

Watching Liam Reeves make a Venetian dragon stem goblet is a lesson in the power of human attention. He makes it look so easy. But look carefully and you will see a steely concentration that is anything but commonplace, something you may observe in a fine dancer or hear in a virtuoso musical performance, a facility that has taken years to cultivate with hour upon hour of dedicated practise.

Glassblowers work in exceptionally harsh environment. The heat is intense, sometimes painfully so, and energy is quickly sapped. The blowing iron has to be constantly twirled to prevent the hot glass slipping away, drooping like honey from a spoon. Making time is short. But love transcends such obstacles, and in the hands of the experienced glassblower the difficulty of the medium becomes its strength, and exploiting that strength poses an irresistible challenge for the creative artist, and Liam is as much a creative artist as he is a skilled craftsman.

In1992 Liam attended Kingsway College in Islington, London. Good at drawing, he had originally intended to study painting: “It was a remarkable college. Kingsway taught almost every art discipline. That’s when I got interested in 3D.”

After Kingsway he went to Middlesex University. “In the first year you could do three modules. I decided I wanted to make things so I chose ceramics and furniture, and I was wondering what to do for my third. I saw the glass department, people glassblowing, fire and steam and molten glass and thought it looked exciting, so I chose that. At the end of the first day I knew this is it, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” And Liam discovered working with hot glass is akin to drawing: “There is an alchemy about molten glass. It’s like drawing in 3D, because of the immediacy of eye and hand working together.”

He graduated in 1998 with a BA (Hons) 3D Design and went back to live with his parents in Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill Gate. “I phoned around glass hot shops in London looking for work. Eventually I spoke to Adam Aaronson who had a workshop in Earls Court. I worked for Adam for five years and that’s when the skill part of my training took shape.”

At Aaronson Noon he worked alongside Malcolm Flegg and Eddie King, both master glassblowers with years of production experience. Liam had landed on his feet. “I started at the bottom. On my first day I was preparing colours. But by the end of my five years there I was running a team of six people.”

In 2003 Liam became the glassblowing technician to the glass department at the Royal College of Art: “That’s where I got the bug for Venetian glass. I was lucky to see a guy called William Gudenrath from Corning. He came for a day and did a demo of a dragon stem goblet. What I realised was that the skills he was demonstrating were light years ahead of anything I had seen up to that point. The moment I saw that demo I thought, ‘I have to learn how to do this’.” Gudenrath is a top glassblower and authority on historical glassworking techniques. He is also an accomplished classical musician.

What Liam observed that day fired his imagination: “I had seen a much more expansive world. Glassblowing is my life. Yes, there had been moments of quitting, not sure where I was going with glassblowing, but that demo reinstalled my confidence in what I was doing.”

Over the next six years Liam studied and practised 15th to 17th century Venetian glassmaking techniques, in his free time; refining delicate skills, carefully imitating historical glassmaking methods. He describes the challenge as enormous: “Traditional Venetian goblets are among the most difficult things to make in molten glass.”

The Venetian project seems to have been something of a rite of passage for Liam, a period of rigorous self-development culminating in a new aesthetic. In 2009 he undertook a two-year MA at the RCA. His objective was clear: “Before I did my MA I had worked for makers and designers and practised Venetian goblets. The reason for the MA was I wanted to fuse my passion for historical glass making techniques with my own conceptually led work.”

As a young student in 1990s London Reeves had absorbed conceptualist art, particularly Judd, Flavin, LeWitt, and Anish Kapoor; the Sensation exhibition and the YBAs. “What I make is extremely craft based, but there is a conceptual depth to it. It’s a question of looking at the world with an uncritical eye and seeing beauty in unexpected places. For me, creativity is a desire to use glass as a medium for self expression.”

The conceptualist viewpoint is at the heart of Liam’s creative work. His statement on his website opines that technology is changing how we experience the world, transforming our concept of craftsmanship, and therefore: ‘I use the tradition, technique, and the language of glassblowing as a lens through which to explore the effect technological advance has on the way we interface with objects and our environment’.

Liam’s blown glasswork from 2011 onwards is distinctive and frequently beautiful. Look at the Warp and Fade vessels where he has employed a Venetian technique, Vetro a Reticello, to mimic the wireframe of computer modelling. Angel Monzon, proprietor of Vessel gallery, says, “Liam’s Warp series is simply stunning. He is one of the most able studio glassblowers around, technically a master.”

Work by Liam Reeves can be seen in two London galleries: Vessel gallery in Notting Hill Gate, and the new CAA gallery in Southwark Street, near Tate Modern. And this July he will be demonstrating glassblowing at Art in Action, on the Saturday and Sunday of the event.

In 2011 over 350 artists voted Liam’s Scope IV, a wall mounted roundel inspired by electronic music, to be Best of the Best at Art in Action. The peer recognition was well deserved. Liam Reeves is a fine craftsman and an outstanding artist.


Stephen Prendergast is the Glass Section organiser for Art in Action. The next Art in Action will be 17 – 20 July 2014.
Liam Reeves will be demonstrating glassblowing at Art in Action on Saturday and Sunday, 19 / 20 July 2014.

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