The Ranamok Glass Prize was always a highly-anticipated event in the Canberra arts calendar. It brought together glassmakers from Australia and New Zealand and showcased some of the best in studio glass. Stepping into the breach is the Hindmarsh Prize, a Canberra-based initiative that is a commendable example of private patronage and government support. The prize is open to artists from the ACT and region. The brief, in the words of Aimee Frodsham, the curator of the Hindmarsh Prize exhibition, is "to support this thriving local industry by telling the story of the makers, their skills, their ideas and retain the inherent breadth of knowledge for future generations of makers". The judging panel this year goes further afield to include the director of the National Gallery of Australia, Dr Gerard Vaughan, Ewan McEoin from the National Gallery of Victoria, Julie Ewington, an independent Sydney curator and writer, Eva Czernis-Ryl from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney and Magda Keaney from the Australian War Memorial.
Masahiro Asaka is the winner of the inaugural Hindmarsh Prize. His work Surge 19 from 2015 commands attention with its startling whiteness, its crystalline structure and its beautifully folded spiral form. This cast glass form is part of the Surge series that the artist has been working on for some years. The artist cites the snow covered mountains of his native Japan as his initial inspiration for this series. Surge 19 has the same fascinating ambiguity of frozen ice in being seemingly solid yet liquid, translucent yet opaque, absorbing yet reflecting light. The crystalline surface looks soft and yielding but is in fact brittle and very sharp. In a nice twist, another work, Surge 12 from the same series, won the 2011 Ranamok Prize.
Other artists in the exhibition maintain a similarly high standard. There are a surprising number of works where the artists use the properties of glass to create optic illusions of form and space. Where once artists created optical effects in paint – think of the Op art movement of the 1960s – artists in glass are using the special optic properties of glass as revealed by light to recreate the illusion of endless space and three dimensional forms on flat surfaces. Richard Whiteley, Brian Corr, Mel Douglas, Judi Elliott and Ruth Oliphant have work where this aspect of glass is developed.
Brian Corr's work Sombra and Richard Whiteley's Stacked Ellipse are almost a reverse of Asaka's form. Where Asaka has a solid carved round spiral form cast in glass , both Corr and Whiteley create this same kind of form in absentia giving the illusion of it by the clever use of space and reflective light within a cube-like glass form. Ruth Oliphant gives a more literal interpretation of receding space by creating the illusion of perspective in her corridor of light. Oliphant's work has progressed markedly since her earlier more tentative investigations into creating in a glass structure the illusion of space within an architectural framework. Judi Elliott's Black Box is a clever and accomplished work. Elliot creates the effect of a three-dimensional open box on a flat plane of glass. This clever manipulation of spatial optics is only one aspect of this dazzling and exuberant work. Equally accomplished is Mel Douglas' contemplative form called Bifold 11. Douglas has finely and painstakingly etched a flat half moon shaped plane of glass so that it takes on with conviction, the monumentality of a larger three-dimensional form.
Itzell Tazzyman's serene and delicately conceived curved open bowl (Two Rivers Bifurcate) has the same folded lines as drapery giving the effect of softness rendered in hard material. This in turn references the liquidity of flowing glass that hardens into a solid impenetrable substance. Kirstie Rea has more directly referenced drapery in her work The Comfortable Terrain of Distance, where folded white glass lies like drapery along a shelf, almost fluttering in front of a painted background. It references for me the historical analogy of paintings where artists have foreground drapery to create spatial depth in two-dimensional works. Among many examples, The Death of Marat (1793) by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) creates this compacted illusion of space within the picture frame. Marina Hanser's wall panels Conceal/Reveal 11 are another version of moving away from the visual appearance of the hard surface of glass to create raised and crumpled painterly tactile surfaces with a suggestion of landscape. Annette Blair, on the other hand, paints directly on the glass in her 2013 work As you left it in an elegy to her grandfather.
Other works exploit the decorative possibilities of colour, pattern and light. Ben Edols and Kathy Elliott's vibrant blue vase balances elegantly on a small foot. Jenni Kemarre Martiniello's colourful bush flowers in cane work now invade her iconic glass basket shapes. Mathew Curtis's sophisticated work Paired Section is part of an ongoing series of beautiful light filled glass panels and demonstrates his technical ability and skill. Nadege Desgenetez's sculptural work Flow, Body Scape (wrist and elbow) is a sensuous grouping of mirrored limbs that has a monumental presence out of proportion to its relatively small scale. John White's work Between one place and another does not quite achieve the coherence of the latter work but it does have a certain conceptual bravado.
There are also other works to discover. Julie Ryder's colourful screen printed images of microbes on glass panels Under the Microscope acknowledges glass in its other guise as a tool of scientific research. Hannah Gason, a recently graduated artist, impresses with her very accomplished panel Altered scape#5 in muted soft blues and browns and Lisa Cahill's Rain on the Hume from the Road Trip series shrouds the postcard views of the highway with a dark and melancholic blue light.
The Hindmarsh Prize 2016 catalogue is of a high standard. Some information about the artists however would be have been helpful to supplement the very high-quality photography.
Hindmarsh Prize 2016. Canberra Glassworks. Until September 4.