Refraction: studio glass by Jeremy Lepisto, Melinda Willis, Ruth Oliphant , Elizabeth Kelly, Christine Atkins, Mel Douglas, Erin Conron, Tom Rowney, Benjamin Edols & Kathy Elliott, Kirstie Rea, Alexandra Chambers, Annette Blair, Sui Jackson, Emilie Patteson, Hannah Gason, Mel George. Beaver Galleries. Until February 12. beavergalleries.com.au.
Refraction is one of a series of exhibitions which marked the Ausglass Conference that took place in Canberra in January this year. Each of the invited 16 glass artists was asked to address a theme familiar to their art practice and spice it with a nod to the exhibition's overarching theme of refraction (of light). However the real challenge of the brief was in the form of Chinese whispers. Each artist in numerical sequence was charged with interpreting, building on or extending the ideas of the artist they succeeded in the Chinese "whisper chain". This idea, more convoluted in the telling than in the practice, led to interesting little passages of responses and connections between the works.
Jeremy Lepisto, the first in the artist line-up, was given the theme of place. It is no surprise that he took as his inspiration the shipping container - a transitory object, central to his art practice which, as he amusingly notes, are parcels that are purpose-built to bounce from place to place. Inscribed on the side of his corrugated glass box is the contrasting image of the home owner "imprisoned" in his box by a picket fence and the need to mow the lawn. Melinda Willis took as her subject the suburban landscape. She imprisoned its image within a framed box sealed in by glass. The apparent unchanging feature of this timeless suburban scene is modified by the viewer's changing perspective. Ruth Oliphant in contrast chose an architectural element, -an image of an open door in glass to suggest the inevitable passage of time. Elizabeth Kelly is known for her geometric glass "building blocks" referencing architectural landscapes. Large yellow building is a particularly successful work. The large translucent yellow shard thrusts into the air in a confident manner - a heady skyscraper of glass and light.
Other artists played more with the idea of the general theme of the refraction of light. Ben Edols and Kathy Elliott's impressive work Refraction reveals its subtleties on closer acquaintance. Initially it appears from a distance as an asymmetrical open vessel woven from a bold melee of coloured glass stripes. However, it is actually two interwoven forms. The stripes of coloured glass pick out the flow of the forms and their slightly raised edges add little textured interruptions to the otherwise sleek glass surface. The sense of presence in this work is such that it reminded me of the boldness of the image of the thrusting prow of an ocean liner from a 1930s travel poster. Yet there is also something of the sinuous decadent jewel-like decoration of an art decor interior. It is a work that is not only about the refraction of light but also about an elegant sense of style.
Kirstie Rea's work Life is an interpretation of domestic ritual. Rea's richly coloured folded cloths sculptured in glass are suggestive of the absence of the domestic hands that have folded them and of the hands in the future that will use them. Alexandra Chambers' row of glass envelopes picks up on this theme of absence and our need for communication. This is also a theme taken up by Annette Blair. Her two glass jars connected by a telephone cord suggest a primitive need for communication.
Sui Jackson sees the need to communicate as a basic instinct. His two glass gourd bottles tied with frayed twine become a symbol of the sometimes broken relationships between man and his gods. Emilie Patteson has more pragmatically taken the gourd seeds from Jackson's garden and encased them in small glass forms arranging them in patterns made by structured planting. Where there are seeds hopefully there will be harvests – an idea that Hannah Gason has given form to in her series of woven glass cubes. This sophisticated and cleverly conceived interpretation is an abstract work of multi-coloured geometric cubes but is also suggestive of the compressed form and rough texture of hay bales. Mel George's flat glass panel called Land Calendar is a fitting work to end the line of Chinese whispers. It is one of the artist's most accomplished works, conceived as if looking down from the sky over a schematic landscape of fields and crops. The images of floating clouds suggest the passing of time and the infinite space between the sky and beauty of the world beneath.