a touch of glass

A mysterious mix of historical and cultural references converge in the
beguiling works of Sydney-based glass artist and printmaker Brian Hirst.

There's an opacity to Brian Hirst’s glass works beyond the cloudiness of the surfaces. The symbols
engraved in bands of glossy platinum below the lip of each bowl are iconographic but their meaning
is often unclear; the large, solemn forms have a ceremonial atmosphere, whispering of history,
mythology and mysterious rituals within a religion that doesn’t exist.

The Sydney-based glass artist and printmaker acknowledges his work’s potential to confound and
gently insists the galleries in New York, Europe and Sydney that exhibit his work are aware of the
historical and cultural material that informs it. It is also loopingly self-referential, pointing to past
pieces. “People can’t read the pieces unless they know my work,” he says.
A postmodern pastiche, his work references the history of studio glass, organic objects, the Cycladic
sculptures of the Greek Bronze Age, and Japanese aesthetics. The symbols, he says, have evolved in
the 30 years since he left art school in Gippsland and moved to Sydney. “At that stage, I would
have been living in a share house in Glebe with an historical archaeologist But I was always interested in encyclopedias and culture and anthropology.”

Hirst uses a combination of casting and blowing techniques before heavily working over the surfaces
using metal-based paints and engraving tools. He moves freely between printmaking and glass crafting,
often combining elements of each medium in hybrid works, creating a dialogue between the two. “I am
known for working in 2½-D,” he says of his tendency to experiment with object and image. In past
work, he has paired a glass vessel with a ‘portrait’ of the object rendered in paper or engraved stainless
steel; he also engraves sheet glass. The nod to printmaking is most obvious in the smoky residue that
clouds the glass surfaces, mimicking the ink residue of a printmaking plate. “The work doesn’t quite fit
into the craft area; it doesn’t fit into fine art, particularly. It fits in this funny area of design and
contemporary decorative art,” he says. Another place it fits is in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris
Via an Australian donor, the museum in the west wing of the Louvre has acquired a ‘Vermillion Votive
Bowl’ almost 20 years after the museum’s curator first expressed interest in Hirst’s work. The timing
was fortuitous, says Hirst, as he was just putting final touches on the work when the phone call came
It’s now all a matter of history.

Courtesy Madeleine Hinchy- Vogue Living Nov/Dec 12



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