Clare Belfrage in her studio. Photographer Jonathan VDK.
Clare Belfrage | Interview With Emma Fey
Clare Belfrage has just been announced as the 2018 SALA feature artist and the subject of the Wakefield Press monograph. Inspired by experiences in the natural world for many years now, Belfrage has forged an international reputation for her distinguished work with detailed and complex glass drawing on blown glass forms.
“As an artist, my point of view is often looking from close up. The big feeling that small gives me is intimate and powerful. The industry in nature, its rhythm and energy, dramatic and delicate still holds my fascination as does the language and processes of glass.”
Belfrage has maintained a vibrant practice for over twenty-five years and has been an active part of artists’ communities particularly in Adelaide and Canberra. Including the glass based studio Blue Pony, of which she is a founding member, the JamFactory Glass Studio in Adelaide and, Canberra Glassworks where she played the pivotal role of Creative Director from 2009 to 2013.
Belfrage has had a long involvement in education and has lectured in the glass programs at Curtin University, WA, University of South Australia, SA, and Ohio State University, USA. She has also taught numerous workshops throughout Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the US at Pilchuck International Glass School.
In addition to Australia, Belfrage regularly exhibits in North America, Europe, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Her work has been recognised for its innovation and originality and in 2005 and, 2011, she was awarded the Tom Malone Glass Prize by the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Guidhouse Executive Director Emma Fey spoke with Belfrage on the eve of her SALA exhibition A Natural Way at The David Roche Foundation House Museum.
You’ve just returned from a couple of weeks in the US where you traversed some pretty broad territory. Tell us a bit about the purpose of your trip.
The purpose of the trip was to teach a five-day masterclass at the Pittsburgh Glass Centre and to give a demonstration at the Glass Arts Society’s annual conference at Norfolk, Virginia. In between I also gave presentations to interested collectors at Tansey Contemporary’s two galleries in Santa Fe and Denver.
What is the perception of Australian glass in the USA?
Really amazing. On my recent trip many people, collectors, curators and artists, commented on how interesting and sophisticated glass work is in Australia. It’s high quality - thematically, conceptually and technically.
There’s always been a strong connection between the two countries. Australian artists have looked to the US market - particularly from the 1990s where there was a booming interest. In Australia we’ve hosted visiting artists in a number of venues. And many Australian artists have taught in the US.
Along with working with US galleries, Australian artists have had a significant presence over many years at the notable art fair SOFA (Sculptural Objects Functional Art) in Chicago which I think has helped build this reputation.
You have been extraordinary in nurturing benefactors and collectors of your work, both in Australia and abroad. What is your secret?
I don’t think I have been extraordinary, I’ve possibly been kind of slow but I have been doing it a long time.
I have almost always blown glass in places with public viewing - mainly JamFactory and Canberra Glassworks. Having worked as an educator over the years, I have always been keen to give insight into the making process where there’s a willing audience.
I see benefactors, patrons and collectors as a part of my broader audience – people to educate and engage. There’s obviously a difference in those commercial relationships but the starting point, no matter who you are, if you’re interested in the work and the process then I am happy to talk about it.
Part of my motivation – in the studio context – is that I think it is something of value to connect with people who work with their body and their hands in the creative process. Glass blowing has a history of over 2000 years and it’s an extraordinary history for me as a maker to be connected with. It’s also an example of human endeavour that the general public can connect with.
Outside of the studio when I talk about my work it’s less about technique, and more about the ideas and inspiration; connection to other arts practice.
I like my work to exist in the world for anyone who is interested, but it is those individuals and institutions who invest in collecting that allow me to make the next piece. And that’s a critical part of the viability.
What do you recommend to emerging artists when they are considering how to build an international profile for their practice?
The very first thing is that you need to have a good idea. There’s no way of jumping over that. You first have to get your shit together. There is no magic formula - but you have to have good work.
Once you have your good ideas and your good work you need to make the most of the opportunities that exist for artists. You really need to go for things to get exposure. Art prizes can be really important – they often bring with them media coverage and catalogues, and helps to put you on the radar for gallerists and curators.
In the glass scene there are some fantastic educational institutions that are both very rich and rewarding in terms of great learning and experience, but also in terms of networks.
Some of those are Pilchuck Glass School, Haystack Mountain School of Craft, Pittsburgh Glass Centre in the USA, North Lands in Scotland and The Glass Furnace in Turkey.
As an emerging artist going overseas as a teaching assistant is fantastic to build your networks. Going to conferences is also valuable, the AusGlass Conference for instance.
Networks are important, but you still have to have good work.
Have some patience to develop your practice before you take your practice internationally. In glass you can work in the field – eg: assisting, while you are still building your practice – experience that contributes to the development of sophistication and maturity in your work. You can’t necessarily rush things.
You have a SALA show at The David Roche Foundation House Museum – A Natural Way. Tell us about the works you are exhibiting and themes you are exploring?
This is a really interesting and essentially curatorial project for me – using existing works of mine that come from a range of series from different times.
I am working with existing works and showcasing them in an entirely different way – showing them in different contexts throughout The David Roche Foundation House Museum.
I want to juxtapose the work; themes and textures that talk to each other and the collections of works within the rooms. I will be placing about 20 works in the museum.
The exhibition is looking at commonality and contrast; picking up on David Roche’s love of the garden, and, the way the natural world and plant life have influenced my work. The Roche collection speaks more to the manicured and controlled, where as my work responds to the natural world including aberrations and interruptions to order – and the expression of a life force.
The Roche collection is dominated by Russian, French and English works and there seems to be room for an Australian expression/sensibility which my work might offer.
It will be an exhibition of sympathetic views of the collection and some contrasting expressions.
A Natural Way runs from 3 August to 2 September at The David Roche Foundation House Museum
Artist Talk, 6pm, Thursday 3 August. Tickets ($25) book here.
Opening Event, 6pm, Friday 4 August. Tickets ($20) book here.
241 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide SA 5006
Tue-Sat by booked tour only at 10am, 12noon & 2pm.
View Clare Belfrage's full profile.
Banner image: Clare Belfrage in her studio. Photographer Jonathan VDK. Images (top to bottom): Passage Pair, 2007, Blown glass with cane drawing, acid etched. Photographer Grant Hancock; Pistachio and Blue Collection, 2015, Blown glass with cane drawing, hand sanded, 350 x 520 x 300mm. Photographer Pippy Mount; Open Weave, #31112, 2013, Blown glass with cane drawing, 470 x 300 x 80mm. Photographer Rob Little; Awash in Greens, 2015, Blown glass with cane drawing, hand sanded and polished, 510 x 370 x 120mm. Photographer Pippy Mount.