Every year the SALA (South Australian Living Artists) Festival honours a South Australian artist with a monograph on their work. In 2018 glass artist Clare Belfrage was in the spotlight. The JamFactory Icon 2018 touring show, Clare Belfrage: A Measure of Time, is at its final destination, Bega Valley Regional Gallery, until 16 January 2021.
For more than 25 years, Belfrage has contributed to the studio glass field as both an artist and an educator. In the extract from the SALA monograph, Clare Belfrage: Rhythms of Necessity, reproduced with permission below, Kay Lawrence and Sera Waters discuss Belfrage’s nuanced approach to the medium of glass.
Past the pretty and shiny surface of glass
by Kay Lawrence and Sera Waters
As an Australian glass artist working within the international network of studio glass, Belfrage has found her style by integrating glass approaches from across the globe. The Venetian traditions of glass have been influential to her practice, especially the numerous opportunities to see the Venetian master Tagliapietra at work. While the formal language of Venetian glass, renowned for its flamboyant colour, scale and remarkable finish, has sometimes attracted criticism for ‘showing off and [a] tendency to overstatement’, (1) Belfrage integrates similar colours, cane work and patterns, but to very different effect and affect. Writing of Belfrage’s vessels, curator Tina Oldknow claims they ‘exploit the beauty of glass, but not in the usual big and shiny way: these works are subtle, their surfaces complex but not overly complicated’. (2)
Contemporary life is accustomed, and indeed indebted, to the clear, functional and reflective properties of glass. According to Sue Rowley, our complex symbolic, cultural and historic perceptions of glass are especially informed by the scientific developments by which glass has given clarity and insight into previously unseen worlds. (3) In contemporary life glass is regularly put to use reflecting us back to ourselves. Yet what does it mean when a clear reflection is denied? While Belfrage harnesses the luminosity, translucency and refractive qualities of glass, she deliberately negates the reflective surface of her vessels using abrasives. In fact, she feels it is her ‘job to take you past [the pretty and shiny surface] that we know about glass’. Non-reflective glass art brings emotive and ambiguous ways of experiencing to the fore. As she explains: ‘I generally work in layers and I want you to see into the piece … or the elements’. Noticing rhythmic lines, layers and energies, she says, ‘[as in nature] makes me feel small and insignificant and good … and releases you somehow’. (4) Fixing natural rhythms in time, halted in the solidity of glass, carries greater meaning when some of these rhythms are under ecological threat, have been radically disrupted due to settler colonisation, or are silenced and concealed by human-made rhythms. Belfrage’s glass objects encourage us to see beyond the shiny reflection of ourselves.
Clare Belfrage: Rhythms of Necessity is published by Wakefield Press.
This article was first published in July 2018.
JamFactory Icon 2018: Clare Belfrage: A Measure of Time
Bega Valley Regional Gallery
16 November – 16 January 2021
1. Peter Tysoe quoted in Ioannou, Australian Studio Glass, p. 30.
2. In this quote Tina Oldknow was also referring to Kait Rhoad’s Black Widow, alongside Clare Belfrage’s Leaf Circuitry Group; New Glass Review, 30, Corning Museum of Glass, New York, 2009, p. 73.
3. Sue Rowley in Ioannou, Australian Studio Glass, p. 56.
4. Clare Belfrage, artist talk at her exhibition A Natural Way at the David Roche Foundation Museum, Adelaide, 3 August 2017.