Gold wrapped Ferrero Rochers, tiny heart candy, a bottle of champagne. These are all the wonderful things that pop into my head when I think about Valentines Day. Romance, perhaps. But sweet food and rampant consumerism reign supreme. And what better way to make my return to TAC than by yarning about an artist who combines two of my loves: sweet food and hand made glass.
Glass art is in vogue.
Popular forms of art move on as quickly as your Glassons 'fashion top' fell off the trend cycle. This doesn't mean that they're any less valuable but it does provide useful exposure to younger generations. Most recently, ceramics had their time in the sun (and arguably are still enjoying a little vitamin D). Before then, stoneware and metal creations were having a moment in the interior design industry. And now glassworks are having a revival perhaps as a result of the popular Netflix show Blown Away. This accessibility towards the art form has inspired a new generation to fall in love with the intimate process.
New Zealand has a small but thriving glass art community, with artists like Ben Young, Kate Grinder and Devon Ornsby working wonders with the temperamental medium. However today, I want to introduce you to an artist that has bewitched my heart and stomach: Simon Lewis Wards.
Chances are if you live in Auckland then you’ve already come across Wards' work and you didn’t realise it. The recent Sylvia Park mall upgrade has seen two large works installed in the centre. One is a series of giant knucklebones made from cast concrete on the 1st level. The second is 375 glass jumbo planes that spill out from a crumbled ceramic bag 20m above the shopper’s head.
Simon Lewis Wards' oeuvre (or body of artworks) is typically made up of glass and ceramic interpretations of classic kiwi lollies. From luminescent glass sculptures of jet planes, glohearts, and spearmint leaves to frosted ceramic candymen and milk bottles, Wards sparks wonder in children and adults alike. In doing this the artist invokes a memory many kiwis have: of running to the diary as a kid and walking home as the proud owner of a $1 lolly bag.
But how does he make glass look like those sweet, sweet lollies?
He begins by sculpting the jet plane out of clay and making a mould. Next, he pours coloured crystal into the mould and fires it to 800 degrees. Once the plane is set, he begins a cold working process before ultimately using a sandblaster and acid etch to carve the texture onto the glass. This results in luminescent glass that repurposes the humble kiwi lolly into a beautiful work of art.
How does this fit into the wider Art History Canon?
The large scale interpretation of the jet plane is what the art world would label Pop Art. As an overly simplified rule, Pop Art consists of three visual characteristics. These are simplicity, large scale, and the bold depiction of everyday items. Pop Art typically speaks to consumerism or popular/mass culture, oftentimes reworking a mundane and ordinary object and transforming it into something new. The essence of an object remains, but the attributes that we associate with the object change. Is it still a jet plane if it's made out of glass? Wards' harnesses the exuberance of the Pop Art form to evoke playful and nostalgic visions of the past.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll start seeing Wards' work everywhere. What a treat.
Watch the creation of the Spilling Jets installation at Sylvia Park here:
Cover image: Simon Lewis Wards, lolly bag & hearts, hand-made glass // Courtesy of the artist