Ann Robinson: a survey

Exhibition: Elliott Brown Gallery, Seattle, USA
Artist statement: by Ann Robinson

This 1995 exhibition at Elliott Brown Gallery is a culmination of a 15-year endeavour to refine and master the art of casting glass in a kiln.

To address aesthetics stripped of philosophical belief, or to look at technique separated from personal intention, circumstance and disposition would not fully convey the true stature of the work currently developing from my workshop. In writing about my work I need to take a holistic approach.

Fifteen years ago I made my first foray into the process of casting glass. A material imbued with a potential for beauty and mystery, my appreciation has never changed.

Unknown to me from my isolated New Zealand perspective, a small handful of people in Britain, France and the US were also starting to explore ways of using glass, one of humanities most wondrous manufactured materials - ways that abandoned traditional processes such as blowing - in order to unfold a more personal, private reality. Colin Reed, Tessa Clegg, Carla Trinkley, Antoine and Etienne Lepelier, Howard Ben Tre, all in different ways, explored a variety of processes and arrived at processes with remarkable similarities.

In 1980, metal casting was a familiar process to me - three years at art school in the late '60's where a major interest in sculpture and bronze casting had sown a seed to germinate later. Intent at that time on my glass blowing career, the following nine years became a feverish conflict between two passions. All spare time not blowing or spent raising two small children was devoted to experiments in modifying metal casting to the sensitivities of glass.

In 1989, circumstances, life style, spiritual changes, age all conspired. A move from the city to live in the west coast forest, and from blowing glass to the vagaries and insecurity of a glass casting artist.

I don't want to labour the technical details, but I do think they are of great interest. Two major areas had to be resolved:

A - Molds: Materials and Making

To find suitable materials that gave strength, refractory capability, fine detail. Able to hold great weights for long periods at high temperatures without cracking. To be soft enough on cooling to enable removal without damage to the glass. Also to refining the mould making process to give strength, lightness and economy.

B - Glass: Source, Suitability and Colour

Initially working with soda lime glasses (from our glass blowing furnace) proved unsatisfactory. Soda lime recipes have a tendency to devitrify at casting temperatures. Having no indigenous crystal industry, I sourced colorless crystal cullet from German and English industries. Several years at the whim of these suppliers finally spawned a very exciting development. In New Zealand, glass blowing was a fund of expertise, self-taught in the chemistry and art of melting glass. John Croucher, one of my partners from Sunbeam Glass Works agreed to join forces to develop a crystal suitable for my casting needs. Over the last 6 years Gaffer Glass (partners John Croucher and John Leggott) have melted first a 30% lead crystal and now a 45% lead crystal that I have fully tested. After much torturous learning we have arrived at a palette of eight or more colours that express and reflect a particular New Zealand vision.

Visitors to New Zealand comment on the sharp clear quality of light here. This is reflected in my work. Sharp, clear, stark, even hard, colours. Strong sun yellows, yellow green forest, dark copper blue evening skies, light blue summer skies, deep blue/green seas.

Developing these crystal glasses has been tremendously exciting, and I want to give credit to Croucher/Leggott for their skill, knowledge and tenacity. This partnership has solved for me my major problem. I have a material of quality seldom seen in the world outside of the Czech Republic.

Never a static situation, my close relationship with my glass makers enables me to modify and explore the material to suit my own changing creative requirements. I have never seen 'the idea' as the primary moving force behind my work - it has always interacted with and been enriched by the material process.

At this 15 year plateau, a move from how to what I make has been combined with mature technical confidence. I feel, finally, a freedom to explore ideas that have been, for years, in the 'too risky' category. I see myself as a designer/maker of a very limited production series and 'one of a kind' prototypes. I have arrived at a mode of working that satisfies production, economic realities, while facilitating 'one of a kind' developments.

My culture is South Pacific, home of large ceremonial bowls. European history here spans only 200 years. Polynesian history, older and deeply imbedded, has been critical to my development. I have grown up with the vessel tradition of Samoa, Fiji, Solomons, Cook, Nui, Racatonga, Tonga and of course, Maori. My own personal poetry has always centered around a love of the natural world - the patterns of life and growth move easily into my forms. The more I see of these patterns, the more there seems to be to seen. Patterns I absorb from natural flora I find in the carvings of the Pacific people; patterns of Polynesia that look at a universal language of the cultures of the world.

The generosity of the bowl with its multiple layers of meaning still offers a rich canvas.

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to exhibit at Elliott Brown Gallery and would like to acknowledge Kate Elliott for her support.

April, 1995