WHAT ARE YOUR INFLUENCES PAST AND PRESENT?
My Architectural Stained Glass was strongly influenced by the German Masters following a residential Master Class in Germany in 1986. There evolved the seed of an idea I am still expanding upon which applied the geometric games of Jochem Poensgen and his ilk to natural patterns. Thus I produced iterative progressions of motifs based on natural rock patterns for instance. I am presently designing a set of windows for some mountaineers based on the ice fracture patterns of the Bergschrund. This tied in nicely with the explanation of Chaos Theory which gave a name to what I had been doing for some time without realizing just what it was.
The kiln work is also influenced primarily by natural patterns, sometimes juxtaposing different levels of magnification within a single design. Thus the Genesis design could be the exploding Universe or a drop of pond water as seen through a microscope or virtual particles in an atomic Cloud Chamber. The combination of the natural and cultural history of my environment is what my work is all about.
WHAT TECHNIQUES ARE INVOLVED IN PRODUCING YOUR PIECES?
Architectural Stained Glass employs basic leadlighting and surface decorating techniques including acid etching, painting, staining, enamels and inclusion of kiln worked or faceted and polished glass.
The kiln work employs the myriad possibilities pertinent to this ancient craft, from casting, fusing and slumping to polishing and grinding, etching and sandblasting. Considering the small size of my studio I can do most things necessary to execute a design. That is probably the most significant development over the years; initially I designed within my technical ability whereas now I design whatever comes into my head and work out how to make it later, with a modicum of confidence that this will be achievable. Hence I am strongly in favour of a firm Craft base to this or any artistic discipline.
DOES YOUR WORK RELATE WITH A PARTICULAR PERIOD OR MOVEMENT IN YOUR CULTURE?
Australia is a multi-cultural society in the true sense. We have all the intolerances and abuses one would expect but go to the beach or the local supermarket and you can identify fifty nationalities rubbing shoulders in a relaxed and functional way. My work draws on this "melting pot" as much as on the natural environment and what I comprehend of the Aboriginal Culture. The most appropriate description of my work would be eclectic, mainly because I get bored very easily. I used to think that if I ever developed a style I would cut my throat so imagine my surprise to find I was working within my own identifiable parameters. I see this as having developed a visual vocabulary which appears to be my own for now and with which I can say different things over time. The designs are becoming less complex and more refined and stylised of late. Looking at the work of the masters, particularly a recent Cezanne exhibition emphasised the maturity of an artist by their ability to deal with blank spaces, to say more with less.
So I suppose the answer is yes and no. My move to glass coincided with the emergence of the Studio Glass Movement in Australia and by definition I must be part of that but I see my work developing within my own parameters rather than those of my peers, although again, by definition, it will be assessed in the wider context. No easy answer really.
DO YOU FEEL YOUR WORK IS FOREVER CONTEMPORARY?
That is hard to judge from inside. In light of the previous explanation, I hope the work is developing and evolving and relevant. The politically motivated pieces have largely been misinterpreted but sell anyway. The simple graphic designs which I think are intellectually bereft but pleasing to the eye sell much faster. Considering the general slide towards the banal in Western society I often feel I am fighting a losing battle to keep my designs somehow relevant to contemporary thinking. I do my best. Current themes of Aboriginal land rights versus mining companies, Chaos Theory, particle physics and astronomy and environmental protection seem contemporary. Glass working techniques are also fairly up to date, but forever is a big claim I would not make.
IS YOUR WORK AHEAD OF ITS TIME? IF SO, WHY?
I can't be contemporary and ahead of my time simultaneously unless I liken myself to a Virtual Particle which can exist in two places at once. I think occasionally I have dealt with ideas and even produced shapes and designs which are my own. Whether this puts me ahead of my time or just means that I am making original work is a moot point. I would defer to the latter.
WITH SUCH GLORIOUS SURROUNDINGS AS YOUR MAIN INFLUENCE, WOULD YOU BE AS INSPIRED IN ANOTHER COUNTRY SUCH AS ENGLAND?
I have traveled widely and in various degrees of style over the years and been much inspired by all I experienced. However, I am a product of this environment and empathic towards it to the extent that I cannot envisage living anywhere else. Were I to be translocated for whatever reason I hope circumstances would allow me to respond as enthusiastically to my new surroundings. I am very open minded so I dare say I could work elsewhere but it is too hypothetical to seriously consider at present.
DO YOU FEEL YOUR WORK HAS PROGRESSED THE WAY YOU WANT IT TO THROUGHOUT THE YEARS?
This can only be assessed via the retrospectoscope. I didn't have a long term plan other than to increase my skills and keep working with glass which I love. To that extent, the career has gone to plan and I have definitely progressed and continue to do so, but it is a progress which is not consciously driven. I am satisfied with the results so far.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY MAJOR DIFFICULTIES?
Naturally. They come with the territory and never stop. Developing the craft skills is a never ending and difficult road. Working with less than ideal equipment in a less than ideal workspace with an always too small budget is difficult. It is also reality. I see students graduate from Glass College where they had every state of the art toy known to the glass world who sink without a trace when they have to work on their own. For the first fifteen years the most sophisticated piece of equipment I had was a Glastar one inch grinder. It is amazing what you can do with just a glass cutter, grozing pliers and a grinder. Take Chartres for instance.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty has been trying to make it as an outsider. I was viewed as a dilettante when I moved from Medicine to glass and lacked the connections which come from a tertiary visual arts education. That struggle continues and I have people in positions of influence who use their power to slow my progress. This happens in all endeavours unfortunately, but is a continuing difficulty, compounded by my own cynicism and unwillingness to "play the game". I hate openings, I stay away from cliques and I tell people what I really think. Never get anywhere like that without a struggle.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PIECE AND WHY?
The one I am designing now because it is stimulating me now.
Strangely, several old favorites turn out to be the prototypes for their series and this is possibly linked to my initial cliched response. Those pieces were the result of extended mental exercises as I do all my designing in my head rather than on paper. I see the finished piece and then set about making it. Development of the series is a process of refinement but lacks the excitement of the first piece and that excitement, for me, is embodied in that first piece. So "Durras 1", which was my first use of the iterative rock pattern in Stained Glass remains a favorite as does the first "Song of the Magpie Dawn" which is on a shelf in my home.
WHAT ARE THE MOST SALEABLE ITEMS?
Small bowls, boxed and accompanied by a perspex stand, Certificate of Authenticity and an Artists Statement selling for about AUS$150. A bit sad really.
DO YOU SELL A LOT BY EXHIBITION? IF NOT WHAT IS YOUR MAIN SELLING AREA?
I make most of my income from Architectural Stained Glass and kiln formed panels. Exhibitions are great for the ego and the CV, not for the wallet.
DO YOU GET A LOT OF FEEDBACK FROM APPEARING ON THE INTERNET?
I get a lot of people trying to sell me things, I get a fair number of job applications and questionnaires, I receive a modicum of feedback and I haven't seen one dollar in identifiable return so far. The Internet is like a very large, turbulent and muddy pool and I am a speck of dust. My expectations are in proportion.
WOULD YOU COMPARE YOUR WORK WITH THAT OF ANOTHER ARTIST, BE IT IN GLASS OR ANY OTHER MEDIUM?
I have my favorites and my influences but that is for others to judge.
WHEN AND WHERE WAS YOUR WORK LAST EXHIBITED?
Creative Australia Exhibition, Azecra Kimono Department Store, Osaka, JAPAN
and then the Australian Embassy, TOKYO January 1999.
DO YOU REGRET GIVING UP MEDICINE FOR GLASS AND WERE THERE TIMES WHEN YOU NEARLY WENT BACK TO IT?
This could be the subject for an essay and I will happily discuss it with you one day, but in brief No and No. I consider it a great privilege to have the body of knowledge I possess and make good use of it in my designs, although more on a subconscious level which is why I didn't include it as an influence. I see effects which look like microscope slides of pathology samples or unusual views of body structures which only someone with my experience could have but I don't put them there deliberately. I am glad they show up.
Having made the change from medicine to glass I can't envisage returning. I would be more likely to move laterally were I ever to give up glass.
HAVE YOU ANY ADVICE FOR ANYONE STARTING UP IN THE BUSINESS?
Which business? I assume we are talking Studio Glass of one sort or another, in which case I suggest the following. Pursue the manual, Craft based skills with vigour and determination. Give yourself a realistic time to develop those skills to a level where you can apply them to your ideas. Ten years is realistic. The two strengthen each other as you gain more experience and eventually meld into 'your' technique, 'your' means of expression. Technical tricks need to be learned but they are just that. How somebody did something is necessary knowledge but not sufficient. An idea is necessary, but without the technical skill to express it is insufficient. My definition of Art is: the crafted expression of human intellect. If your goal is to make art you have a long and difficult road ahead of you. There will be some rewards and they will not necessarily be financial, especially in the short term. If your goal is to make money from glass you stand at a crossroads. Leave the dirt track and take the paved road, study the market and make lots of cheap little whatever it is that sells at the moment, go into production, sell your soul.
You can make money from art but it is slower, harder and takes much longer. Shakespeare is the sage when it comes to the human condition. Polonius in his advice to his son said: "to thine own self be true". That says it all.