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Masahiro Asaka wins inaugural Hindmarsh Prize for glass

Its spiky, sharp, crystalline surface may evoke memories of ice, but Masahiro Asaka cranked the kiln up to 850 degrees to craft his Hindmarsh Prize-winning glass piece.

And the Canberra glass artist sees the contradiction as all part of the "duality" of the medium he has worked in for 18 years.

"It's strong, stable, but at the same time really fragile," he said. "It looks cold, but it's formed in the heat."

The judging panel chose Asaka's work Surge 19, 2015 out of 18 finalists to take out the inaugural $5000 prize.

Arts patron John Hindmarsh established the prize to recognise excellence and promote appreciation of the world-class glass artists who live and practice in the ACT and region.

Asaka said people looked at the fragility of glass as a negative quality, but for him it was its "inherit beauty".

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Mr Hindmarsh said Asaka's work was "astoundingly technical, but beautiful in the extreme".

And although he didn't have a say in the winner, he was thrilled with the choice because he's already a fan of Asaka's work.

"I think he's a wonderful artist, I actually have a piece of his work ... I bought one when he did an exhibition about two years ago," he said. "If I didn't have one I would buy this one."

Asaka said his Japanese culture and its appreciation for the material remained a major inspiration behind his work.

The piece was part of a series he began in 2008 after graduating with a Master of Arts from Australian National University.

"Once the mould and glass gets inside the kiln it's outside of my direct control, but at the same time there's a lot of ways I can manipulate the material," he said. "Just by controlling the time and the way the heat [in the kiln] goes, I manage to keep the granule texture."

Asaka was an artist-in-residence at the Canberra Glassworks before he set up a studio at ANCA at Mitchell three years ago.

His prize-winning piece was the first work he has made since leaving the glassworks and he can't wait to return to his old stamping ground when he begins a four-week residency as part of the prize.

After "spending way too much money" setting up his studio, Asaka said the prize came at a perfect time, with the artist fresh from his visit to a US glass conference on Tuesday, where he gave a talk.

"I was so wrecked and so tired ... but with this I should be pumping out lots of pieces," he said. "I was so broke for two years ... It takes me up to two months to make one piece and that's when I was working as a full-time artist, but now I only work two days a week because I had to get a job to support my family."

Arts Minister Chris Bourke said Canberra was "incredibly fortunate" to have Australia's only arts centre entirely dedicated to contemporary glass art, but in the current economic environment arts organisations couldn't rely solely on government funding.

Mr Hindmarsh said he hoped the Hindmarsh Group's pledge to support the prize for three years would give the glassworks time to establish continuing sponsorship, but he also called for greater political recognition.

"We're at the back end of the queue when it comes to support from government, but I think the arts are the backbone of culture in Australia," he said.

The prize's judging panel included National Gallery of Australia director Gerard Vaughan, Sydney-based writer and curator Julie Ewington, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences curator Eva Czernis-Ryl, Australian War Memorial senior curator Magda Keaney, and National Gallery of Victoria senior curator Ewan McEoin.

The panel described it as a "beguiling and beautiful work" with a "magical quality".

The Hindmarsh Prize exhibition is on from June 17 to 19 at the Fitters Workshop, to coincide with the Winter Glass Market. It returns to the Canberra Glassworks from July 28 to September 4. All works are for sale.