From the slow-flowing religious texts of stained windows, to the functional elegance of cut-glass vessels, to the glass beads used by callow schoolboys and high aesthetes, glass has fascinated for millennia. Glassblowing is fascinating. It combines creativity with industrial techniques to render the amorphous solid into dazzling shapes, sometimes functional, sometimes merely beautiful.
The use of small furnaces in individual artists’ studios revolutionised the genre in and from the middle part of the 20th century, and for those artistes prepared to risk the respiratory diseases that can come of the process (without due care), there is an increasing interest and demand for the artistic products of their labours.
We have previously spoken of the sublime works of the gaffers of Murano, the translucent tendrils of Dale Chihuly, and the expensive fare at Kirra Galleries in Federation Square, Melbourne, but we haven’t touched on the interesting work being done in the plastic art of glass by a new generation of glassblowers.
Danielle De Nardis is a young, emerging Adelaide-based artist who ‘discovered’ glass in 2017 (some of her activities to date are listed below) and her passion for this medium grew into the colourful sculptures seen here. Her hot-shop work is inspired by the melding of fantasy figures and the natural world – strange creatures, swirling combinations of colour, texture complementing form.
These sculpted glass heads form the main body of her work, which have been hot-sculpted using techniques that manipulate both the inside and outside surfaces of the piece.
The pieces can take up to 4 hours or more of continuous working to complete in workshop. That’s 4 hours straight on one’s feet in front of a reheating chamber, sitting at a comfortable 1300°C, blowing the glass, shaping, heating, torching, sculpting – pinching, pushing, snipping, and pulling over and over to shape it into a head. In other words, the very acme of True Art in all of its vigorous exertions…
Glassblowing is a largely collaborative effort, especially in Danielle’s practice. She has an assistant who holds the glass steady at the bench and takes it for reheats while the post-fire sculpting continues with tools and oxy-torch.
When she first began designing, developing, and sculpting these heads, De Nardis discovered and utilised a process involving sculpting and manipulating from inside of the glass bubble – manipulating from the inside-out. However the university wasn’t equipped with the tools needed to do this, so she needed to create her own tools (in true Wagnerian fashion – when he reached the outer limit of the current orchestration and found he needed to go further, he invented more types of musical instruments) using materials around the workshop, with some technical guidance from a tutor. She made a metal rod, bent in an “L” shape, with different sized ball-bearings (one large and one smaller) at the end of the curved segment. These enable the glassmith to reach into the glass from a hole made on one end, and push areas of torch-heated glass outwards. These protrusions are shaped using a set of large tweezers, shears, and even a screwdriver or kitchen knife – practically anything that has a metal end will work – to form noses, ears, eyes, mouths, and more. Things such as horns, fins, spikes, petals, leaves, any pre-made additions (such as the yellow eye on the red head – see the foot of this article) and coloured surface markings / linework, are last to be added – completed after the hole at the top of the head, where the tools enter, is closed and smoothed over.
She is now developing ceramic bodies for the glass heads, so that they can be free-standing busts rather than just the head piece alone. This will doubtless infuse them with even more ‘life’ and presence. So the work to date is one in progress.
She hopes unlock the astounding potential lying within this medium and perhaps synthesise it within the world of visual art through graphite, ink, and acrylic – the places where her enthusiasm for art first rooted itself.
So we salute her efforts to date and look forward to her development with interest.
We think that the artisans who labour, and laboured, in glass – from the humblest chapel, the modest functional tumbler, to Sainte-Chapelle or The Crystal Palace, would agree with the plaque at the Glass Pavilion at Cologne that translates into English thus – “Happiness without glass – what an absurdity!”
***[Some of the artist’s credits to date: NZSAG Ausglass 2019 CoLab Conference | 2019 (Whanganui, New Zealand); Graphic Design Work for Adelaide Fringe Show – The Talents of Darkness | 2019 (Independent Commission); Hot Glass Teaching Assistant to Artist Gabriella Bisetto | 2019 (University of South Australia); Hot Glass Teaching Assistant to Artist Andrew Baldwin | 2018 (University of South Australia); Bachelor of Contemporary Arts | 2017 – 2019 (University of South Australia); Work experience in Jewellery Manufacture Under Jane Bowden | 2014 (Zu Design); VET Course: Partial Certificate III Media, 3D Character Design and Animation | 2014 (Marden Senior College); Hot Glass Teaching Assistant to Artist Kristel Britcher | 2019 (University of South Australia); Glassblowing Assistant to Artist Tom Moore | 2019 (University of South Australia). Check out her work on Instagram at Shendralia or Danielle De Nardis.]