Cathryn Shilling

by Angie Boyer

Cathryn Shilling Contemporary Glass, image by Ester Segarra

Just when I thought I could recognise the style of Cathryn Shilling’s work, identify a piece of glass sculpture as being the work of this intriguing artist, she takes me by surprise and produces something completely different!� A different style, using different techniques, with different colours, creating different results; Cathryn’s work is always evolving, but has one constant factor � the material that she uses � glass.
“Glass is a beautiful, beautiful medium,” enthuses Cathryn, whose sculptural work explores many aspects of the material’s potential. “I think that, like me, many ‘glass artists’ are actually sculptors, they just happen to use glass as their medium.”
Cathryn works from a studio in West London, which she shares with two other glass artists, Frances Arkle and Ghani Jantan. “I love sharing a space with other fusers,” she tells me, “we all find it extremely useful to have other people around to bounce ideas off, it has both a creative and a collaborative atmosphere.”
The studio is spacious, with two large flat bed kilns and other shared tools, in addition to a work station for each artist, with workbenches and side tables full of tools, small cutting and grinding machines and lots of other useful items. There are racks full of large sheets of glass, places for cutting them and for making plaster moulds, space for keeping drawings and sketch books, reference books and magazines � and, of course, an area kept especially for sitting and drinking coffee! “We are friends as well as colleagues,” says Cathryn.
Busy as she is in this creative studio environment, there is also another aspect to her working with glass � as the current curator of exhibitions at Peter Layton’s London Glassblowing Studio and Gallery. Indeed it was Cathryn who curated our own Craft and Design Month Launch Exhibition that we held last year in association with London Glassblowing.
“I love the applied arts,” explains Cathryn, “and glass in particular. I feel so honoured to have been given this opportunity by Peter. Curating allows me to explore the wealth of fantastic work being created by British artists. It is such a pleasure for me to be able to meet and interact with so many respected artists and have the opportunity of displaying their work in the best possible light. Each exhibition brings its own set of challenges and I approach each one in the same way, looking at the work, deciding how to place it, creating the very best possible display for both the artists and the viewers.”
Cathryn originally trained and worked in graphic design and feels that her design background is an asset to her in her work as exhibition curator as well as a glass artist.
“I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Graphic Design from Central School of Art and Design in London and worked as a graphic designer until my family’s move to the USA in 2001 prompted me to pursue a new and exciting creative direction. I studied the art and craft of stained glass in Connecticut and then, on my return to London in 2004, I began studying and working with kiln formed glass as well as becoming a student of blown glass with Peter Layton.
“As a graphic designer I learnt to solve different problems in a variety of ways and I have come to realise that this has formed the basis of my approach to working in glass.
“My training in stained glass in the USA taught me an enormous amount about the qualities of glass, how to work with it, the effects that can be achieved, as well as a deep love of the material. But I soon realised that I didn’t want to work in this way, to me stained glass felt very two-dimensional and rather too close to my previous career as a designer.
“I believe that kiln formed glass is the perfect medium for my work. It gives me the creative and technical freedom to produce tactile, tangible and enduring pieces. Through kiln formed glass I feel that I am developing a strong visual language and my work, though sometimes very varied, retains a strong graphic quality.”
So how and why do the many different styles of Cathryn’s work evolve, what inspires her?� “I do a lot of research, visiting exhibitions, looking at books; ideas will just come to me, I’m not sure where they come from, they just seem to come into my head! I see an image in my mind’s eye, then I draw it and then I make it. I find that one piece leads to another, my work evolves from using different techniques, having different experiences.

“As a graphic designer, working for individual clients, each piece of work that I did had its own brief, which was different from the next. I had to be able to turn my hand to many different approaches. I work in glass in much the same way, really.”

I first saw Cathryn’s 'woven' glass sculptures in the 'Synergy' series at the British Glass Biennale in 2010, they are precise and intricate in design and I asked her how she achieved the extraordinary effect?
“Like many artists whose chosen medium is glass I like to utilize its optical qualities. For my Synergy pieces I painstakingly compile fine strands or strips of glass and then fuse them together, just enough to create the illusion of glass cloth. The elements in the Glasswork Quilt are also made in this way. The sheets of woven glass cloth are then draped to shape in further firings. It is a very time consuming process.
“For my more recent series, Wear & Tear, sheets of woven glass are shaped, stretched, torn, and crumpled before being fused to a backing sheet. The backing glass is left unworked, retaining all the features that characterise hand rolled glass. I want to remain true to the material and work with its inherent properties, the way a watercolourist utilises the natural qualities of handmade paper.”
In addition to her fused glass sculptures, Cathryn creates a whole range of blown glass pieces which, as she explains, frequently involves collaborating with other glass artists. * “I now find that blown work is physically very challenging for me. As a result, I work closely with a number of the blowing team at London Glassblowing in order to help me realise my ideas in hot glass.� Whilst I’m now less able to manage the physical process of blowing glass, it’s important to me to have put my hand on each piece of work in some way and at some point. Through my blown work I like to investigate the interplay between the different techniques of kiln formed and hot glass and so these pieces are made by incorporating pre-fused components either directly into blown glass or as elements in composite works.
There is a sense of confidence and maturity about Cathryn’s work, one of her most recent pieces was the large and complex construction for the ‘Living with Glass’ exhibition presented by Vessel Gallery and the Contemporary Glass Society. Fine glass rods were woven together like fabric, to create a 3-dimensional piece more than a metre long that was suspended around lighting, intricate and challenging in both the design and making.
With her latest work, a series of wall pieces, she has been accepted as a finalist for the Bullseye Glass ‘Emerge’ exhibition in America. “I’m thrilled to bits,” she reveals. “This is the second time my work has been selected and it means a great deal to me to be one of a small number of artists to be chosen from several thousand entries from around the world. I’m particularly pleased because one of the judges was internationally renowned glass artist Klaus Moje, for whom I have enormous respect.”
Already 2012 has been very exciting for Cathryn, who quietly mentions that she has also had a piece selected to appear in the ‘New Glass 33’ which is the annual worldwide survey of glass in art, architecture, craft and design published by the Corning Museum of Glass in America. In addition, three of her pieces have been selected for The 2012 British Glass Biennale and her work has also been selected for the Contemporary Glass Society’s ‘Glass Games � A desire, a dream, a vision ’ Exhibition, which is taking place from 13-23 June at The Gallery at Redchurch Street, London.
I’m looking forward to seeing that particular piece of work, her description of it sounds fascinating: “My piece is called Static Movement and by using one of Eadweard Muybridge’s iconic photographic sequences of images, my aim is create the impression of motion from the sprinter within kiln formed glass. It will require interaction between the viewer and the piece though, because its initial appearance may be nothing more than the flickering of red and yellow light from translucent coloured glass. However, closer inspection reveals the images within, images that will move and oscillate as the observer’s position in relation to the piece changes.
Listening to Cathryn talk about her work as a glass artist and exhibition curator, I rather think that she will have little time for very much else in the next few months!

Cathryn Shilling
[email protected]

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