defining moments. By Matthew Curtis and Harriet Schwarzrock. Canberra Glassworks. Until March 26.
Harriet Schwarzrock and Matthew Curtis are glass artists who have received both local and international recognition. As local artists they have earned a respected place among the arts community and wider public since settling here in 2004. Their Queanbeyan glass studio has been generously open to the public on special occasions and their work has had wide exposure in Canberra. I was first introduced to Schwarzrock's work in 2007 when she exhibited her glass heart series (A Common Thread) at Craft ACT in a group exhibition, Little Drops of Kindness, curated by Megan Bottari. Two of her more recent glass hearts (from 2016), now created in blown glass and neon, also feature in this exhibition.
In addition to the Canberra Glassworks, Matthew Curtis has exhibited at the Beaver Galleries, Craft ACT and the Form Gallery in Queanbeyan. He was the 2015 inaugural Creative Fellow at the Canberra Glassworks and fittingly Schwarzrock will be the recipient of the Creative Fellowship at the Canberra Glassworks for 2017.
The defining moments exhibition is curated by Aimee Frodsham and looks at the work of these two artists who are also partners in life. It is not really a retrospective exhibition although it is possible to trace several developments in their respective work. The exhibition trades on the fact that a lot of viewers will know the work of these artists. Although it aims to chart the vicissitudes of the artists' creative practice as well as their "defining moments", the trials in their careers are only deduced by perusing closely the intricately devised timelines of each artist's career. A glass work broken in an exhibition, another three works stolen and the economic downturn of the 2008/9 years no doubt took their toll. However these setbacks are not apparent in the sparkling and almost triumphant parade of beautifully accomplished works in the exhibition.
Both artists take as their inspiration aspects of nature – perhaps it is no coincidence that both have been finalists in the prestigious Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize (Curtis in 2013 and Schwarzrock in 2014). Curtis is interested in the structural elements of organisms while Schwarzrock is drawn towards the fluidity of living forms. Curtis has explored his interest in structure through creating multiple cells in glass that are bonded together by a confining metal structure as if in a two dimensional plane. In earlier works such as the Xylem series, the cell had a central aperture so that the light changed in density and colour depending from which angle the work was viewed. Later works have more intensity of surface light. In some examples the walls of cell-like structures are massed together like sections of living organisms viewed as through a microscope. An outstanding work, Neodymium Paired Section, 2017 (neodymium is a rare earth magnet made up of a crystalline structure), is breathtaking with its "bubbles" of glass that appear to be floating as if caught in waves of sparkling colour. The two curved "wings" of glass (Feather section small and Feather section, multi-coloured) are more fluid and organic in form as they are not bound within a metal frame. In these works the luminous coloured forms become a protective arc of glass "feathers". In the use of tubular forms to make up these "wings", it is hard not to see the influence of neon tubes – a burgeoning interest in neon light that both artists appear to share.
The small waving tentacles of Schwarzrock's heart series have developed into her flowing, dancing frond form that has become so characteristic of her current practice. Schwarzrock has moved forward into using these forms as words to cleverly reinforce a deeper meaning of the piece. Her Waterhouse Science Art Prize entry work breathe, 2014, was a meditation on breathing (inspired initially by a yoga class). The frond forms performed a dance of life stretching upwards towards the air while at the same time spelling out the word breathe. Breathless is a work in this exhibition from 2016. It is another key example of her use of these linear forms. Mention must also be made of another of her beautiful works. In a wall piece called Adrift, 2017, a frond-like spray of tapered glass twists upward as if growing towards the light – its soft colours suggesting the luminous qualities of delicate watercolour washes. Schwarzrock's major 2017 work (& around &) is in the Smokehouse Gallery. It is a "roundabout" of neon light and glass which seems a logical next step. Her fluid glass forms already have an interior glow like neon light and, like neon lights, they communicate a message of words, images and ideas.