It was a lovely bright morning, and with the fire stacked and roaring, Luke arrived to a conveyer belt of results from the last session:
– The disguised – slumping sheets of glass over objects;
– The distorted – charity shop glass distorted in the hot shop;
– The eaten away – sandblasted charity shop glass;
– The flag – a solidified flag, cast and then slumped into and over. (Luke was really pleased with the results of this one), and…
– the homeless figure.
Luke had brought with him a box of cut, pressed, blown and very vintage charity shop glass, once so popular, now discarded and falling off the shelves. This was a more selective ensemble than the first collection Luke had brought with him on day one, and today’s glass came with a host of ideas about blasting, distorting, and now fractals and snowflakes.
Every idea Luke has, is either developed or it’s shelved in his ‘database’ of ideas that he can refer to at some other time, maybe years later and when relevant to a particular site, commission or project he pitches. The ideas tumble from him endlessly, a ream of potentials and never worthless. He seems to be able to prioritise yet not discard any possibility, creating a rich web of creativity.
We reviewed the results.
Disguised – glass slumped over objects.
Bricks, jugs, bowls and cups had formed softer shapes, pyramids and ghostly forms. Sandblasting accentuated their forms, creating a more opaque surface view and throwing up a sense of curiosity …of what was underneath. The Jug was the most successful form, the glass falling, like a table cloth over it. Luke mused out loud about scale, atmosphere, site and style, and came up with a raw idea of an art project housed in a stately home, and referencing historical objects.
Distortion – charity shop glass reheated, stretched and dropped in the hot shop.
The series of different “pulls” and other physical transitions that melted and deformed the structure, gave an impression of movement. Ideas surfaced about plants heading towards the sun or even growing in reverse. An animation/film was brainstormed. Not sure if this project is to merge or is separate from the ‘eaten’ sandblasted one.
The objects were placed upside down, picked up with a punty, and flashed straight into a glory, or minimelt before working them. Each type of glass behaved so different, depending on its constituents. Some glass was so hard it did not want to move yet the old cut lead crystal, was an absolute joy (as we studio glass blowers can all remember) ..super soft, and malleable. The objects will be sandblasted until eaten away and holes forming.
The first Stars and Stripes flag, pulled away nicely, the texture on the back had less relief than with the more absorbent fibres. The colloidal hardener, used to stiffen, had actually worked on this odd material. Luke was delighted with the larger, sandblasted Union Jack flag. It was so rewarding to see a piece show promise, a reality from a concept. He talked about putting one in his show coming up at the Heller Gallery, New York …so we’d better get this project resolved!
Sandblasting a panel this size isn’t easy, although with dry sand and Helga’s neat way of blasting with the door open, all went smoothly. The sandblasting on the top surface , throws the light beautifully around the folds and edges, yet still reveals the material and design relief texture. The flag design translates from bold graphic colour to subtle texture effectively.
We really need to get the glass up to a higher temperature to pick up as much texture and detail from the stitching as possible. The material properties are important too, the weight, warp and weft, stitching relief and the texture the colloidal hardener leaves. We are going to cost up a flag, bespoke in size to our kiln, with a strong canvas style material, harsh stitching. We also need some longevity to the mould as we are not just thinking about making a single piece of glass, but multiple editions.
As we need to look at how to make it repeatable, the refractory mould itself is an issue. After three or so firings, it deteriorates. We brought in the talented ceramic artist Sacha Wardell, who also happens to have a workshop on the farm. She makes bone chine, slip cast ware, so we picked her brains about creating a slip cast ceramic mould, similar to the average slumping mould you can buy. She advised us on plaster types, how the slip has to be drained off, and how it comes with its own set of problems and possibilities. Making a US flag from our magic fireproof blanket seemed a solution, but then the stitching is most of the detail, and to keep the stitching perfect at temperatures of 840 may be impossible. We know this from testing Kevlar coated stainless thread, the only thread possible for this type of application. Standard Kevlar threat burns off at 200 degrees, so just the wire is left, and so may create a different effect. As this would be an expensive trial, we will try other options first.
Finally, we allowed Luke through into the big barn where we had stored the figure. He loved it! Luke wanted a better view so Helga and I lifted the glass figure, to move it down onto the ancient floorboards. Slightly too confident now perhaps, we realised too late. Although we gently lowered and carefully placed the figure onto the boards, the boards themselves were old and uneven and of course …uneven pressure from the weight of the glass on the edges can causes a …crack! We heard it, gasped, and then with lightning reflexes, Dr Helga had her glass cutter out and was slicing bravely along the edge of the glass, trying to “head off” the crack. She did it. Luke and I watched open-mouthed as she expertly scored and tapped her cutter underneath like it was any old piece of glass. Phew, well saved, and it now looked far better, with the straight flat edge taken away.
We carefully placed it back, and sat down for lunch to discuss where and how to take this most successful project. We planned a day/evening trip out, around the city of Bristol, with film and photo recording equipment. We could try out different areas, with different lighting, in order to bring this project as close as possible to Luke’s initial vision.
We finished the afternoon off with Helga making more flag moulds, and me in the hot shop, picking up charity shop glass and testing the parameters of stretching and spinning and distorting. Luke was really discovering how the material works, how to manipulate and work with gravity and how fast it cools!
Then a sprint back to the station, and the end of another packed day in the life of Luke Jerram.