Since coming to Australia in 2000, Masahiro Asaka has been widely acclaimed for innovation and skill in glass-making. Educated at the Tokyo International Institute of Glass, he initially arrived here to work for professional glass artists Ben Edols and Kathy Elliott. In 2008, he completed a Master of Arts (Visual Arts) from the Australian National University. He is now based in Canberra and is the Thomas Foundation artist-in-residence at the Canberra Glassworks.
Asaka's work has been exhibited previously in Canberra. In 2008, he joined glass artist Simon Maberley in an exhibition called Point of Balance at the Canberra Glassworks. And most notable were two exhibitions curated by Megan Bottari - Counterpoise, with fellow glass artist Tevita Havea at the now-defunct art gallery at the Kamberra Winery in 2006, and Hunks of Glass, with Brenden Scott French and Tevita Havea at the ANCA gallery in 2008. These exhibitions served to bring Asaka to public attention. Last year, he won the prestigious 2011 Ranamok glass art prize with his dramatic cast glass sculpture Surge12.
Transition - A Captured Moment is Asaka's first solo exhibition at the Canberra Glassworks. He is represented by four sculptural works in cast glass (Nos.14-17) from the Surge series. These four works of clear white glass appear to be made from ice, frozen in the moment of their climatic flow of power and energy. Although Asaka has said his original inspiration was the snow-covered mountains of his native Japan, it is hard not to see also in these folded, flowing forms the supercharge of energy that powers the large wave tunnels of water so beloved of body surfers and board riders.
In each of these four works, Asaka has cold worked the forms to accentuate certain areas so that the smoothness of their surface contrasts with the delicate tracery of the crystalline formations. (Cold working is working on the glass after it has been heated, using methods such as grinding and polishing.)
These crystalline formations, captured as if in the moment of transition between a solid material form and liquidity, have all the brilliant whiteness and glacial beauty of ice and snow. However, despite this beauty and the seductive tactile quality of the surface that looks soft and fragile, the glass shards are not only hard but sharp to the touch.
In these latest works from 2011-12, there is a more complex and sophisticated development of form than in some of the earlier works in the Surge series.
The forms are now more progressively tubular with ambiguous sightlines caused by overlapping folds of glass so that the interior view of each of the forms becomes visually complex. Indeed, the works could be more interestingly displayed at eye level because looking down on them in the exhibition does not do justice to this inner world.
The use of more creative lighting would also enhance their crystalline surfaces. The video that accompanies the exhibition is very helpful in explaining some of the processes required to make such technically challenging work - the result of much experimentation on the part of the artist. It involves a casting process where clear glass beads are added to a mould. The artist writes: ''Once the glass becomes liquid, the mass inside the mould collapses under the gravity, and density increases as the melting continues.''
The artist cannot conceive fully how the glass form will look when removed from the mould. He has to rely on previous experience. Asaka's skill comes into play in the fine balancing act of deciding how much to intervene to work the glass and how much to leave the glass as it has evolved in all its accidental beauty. The resulting effect is a finely balanced performance of natural chance and artistic control.
It will be interesting to see how the artist will develop these forms. They have become more complex and crystalline and perhaps that is the direction Asaka will take, evolving and perfecting his technique and skill. However, in the meantime, these breathtaking works are a reminder of the complexity and beauty of glass in all its manifestations.
Transition - A Captured Moment
Work by Masahiro Asaka
Canberra Glassworks, 11 Wentworth Avenue, Kingston.
Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-4pm. On until March 15.