I’m always drawn to things made of glass, be it bottles, bowls, sculpture … Perhaps it’s the translucency of glass and the way light filters through it to create its own depth and colour. Or perhaps it’s because glass seems such a fragile medium but can be used and formed to be strong and dynamic. So, in a way, I can appreciate how glass artist Sara Hellsing felt when enrolling in a visual arts degree despite knowing nothing about the medium and, in fact, being a little scared of having to work with molten glass despite being drawn to it herself. She wanted to unleash her creativity in a way that doing a computer science degree wasn’t letting her (yes, Sara initially started majoring in multimedia and game development!).
Read on to find out how Sara segued into the world of glass …
You’ve not long been out of university but already seem quite established. Tell us about yourself and your background.
I practice under my maiden name, Sara Hellsing, and currently live in Chippendale, Sydney. I graduated in 2013 from the Australian National University School of Art where I was awarded first class Honours in a Bachelor of Visual Art.
I grew up in Queanbeyan, New South Wales and actually started a Bachelor of Computer Science at Wollongong University, majoring in Multimedia and Game Development. Fairly quickly, I came to the conclusion that, for me, there was a bit too much programming with not enough creative aspects. I decided to move back home and go to Art School instead. I hardly knew anything about glass before I had my interview, but I came out thinking it sounded really fun, even though the physical aspects and extreme heat of the medium did scare me a bit.
What’s the appeal of glass?
As mentioned, I didn’t know much about glass before starting my degree and, frankly, I never really thought I would be good enough to develop an art practice of my own. Like many others before me, I fell in love with the medium as soon as I started working with molten glass. Casting and kiln forming never really appealed to me while I was studying, so I spent as much time as I could in the hot shop. I love the tactility of hot glass and am fascinated by the changes that occur as it cools and is heated again. I actually enjoy the physical, technical process of working with hot glass just as much as the finished pieces I create, if not a little more. In my final two years of study I began to use kiln forming techniques on pieces of glass made in the hot shop, mostly in order to add imagery. That’s pretty much where my current practice is focused – a combination of hot blown/sculpted and kiln formed glass.
Tell us about your work and the themes you like to explore?
For a few years now I’ve been looking at themes of memory and recollection. Not so much recreating memories in the form of art, though I do a little of that, but rather thinking about what the act of recollection and the phenomena of memory might look like and trying to bring that into a physical, three-dimensional form. I’ve always been a bit of sucker for vintage objects and have taken that love into my art practice by combining glass elements with second-hand domestic objects. All of the imagery I use has been sourced from my family’s photo albums of the 80s and 90s, as well as a few photos I’ve been able to buy online. I enjoy the nostalgia of the printed colour photograph and the strong links it has to capturing memories and prompting recollection.
How do you like to work best? Explain your ideal working conditions and environment.
I like to have a quiet space with lots of room to spread out. I’ve never really drawn much. Instead, I prefer to have objects, samples and models to play with in order to generate ideas for new work. Early on, I spend a fair amount of time in the hot shop playing with the medium to see what it’s capable of and form there, creating small tests. Op-shopping has become a fairly important part of my working process too. I collect objects I find interesting or beautiful and tend to imagine what they may have been witness to during their lives and who might have owned them.
What is or has been the hardest or most challenging part of what you do and setting up your business?
I know very few artists who have been able to sustain their practice without the need to have a ‘day job’, and it’s no different for me. It will always be hard to find a happy balance between the demands of daily life and spending time on my art. Having a studio would be a huge help, however living in the inner suburbs of Sydney makes it difficult, not to mention expensive. Another big challenge for me since leaving university has been access to facilities. As I mostly work with hot glass, I travel to Canberra to make work as it’s not something I can easily set up at home. The time away does allow me to fully focus on my art though, which is always really nice.
What’s some advice you’d give others wanting to do the same?
Just like most artists, you’re going to have many experiences of the classic creative cycle:
- This is awesome
- This is tricky
- This is rubbish
- I am rubbish
- This might be ok
- This is awesome
It’s good to know that it does take a lot of hard work and you have to be able to motivate yourself during the rough patches (particularly stages 3 and 4!). It’s really rewarding in the end, though, and there will always be countless other artists who know exactly what you’re going through.
Who or what inspires you?
I’ve always been really inspired by hearing other artists talk about residencies they’ve undertaken, particularly on a full-time basis, in unusual places such as national parks or institutions with really limited facilities. The levels of creativity and resourcefulness that come out of working in unfamiliar or challenging environments always amazes me and inspire me to get stuck in to my own practice.
What would be your dream project? Explain.
I’d love to create large-scale, immersive installations like those of Ai Weiwei or Philip Beesley. I just need a small army of workers and a lot of money! As a viewer, I really enjoy interactive/immersive artworks and would love to be able to create them myself. I think it would be really appropriate for my work to take on a more experiential quality as my conceptual interest lies in the act of recollection and ways of portraying it.
It’s not very cool, but I really like … thoroughly cleaned carpets. Nothing beats the feeling of a freshly vacuumed, soft carpet under your feet!
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
One of my final works for my Honours year was made from broken shards of extremely thin blown glass. Once I had (finally) settled on the concept it turned out to be very quick and easy to make. I was sure somebody would jump out at my assessment, exclaiming that it was far too simple to be considered a finished piece. It’s nice to know first-hand that art doesn’t have to be technically complicated in order to make it ‘good’.
What exhibitions or projects do you have coming up?
At the end of last year I came second in the Stanislav Libenský Award and was awarded a five-day internship at the Ajeto glass factory in Nový Bor, Czech Republic. I’m currently trying to organise a trip over there so I can undertake the internship, which I am really excited about.
The Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery recently took some of my functional work to stock in their shop. I also have work available at Canberra Glassworks and Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre. I still get really excited when people purchase my work and it’s great to have part of your income generated by doing what you love.
Thanks so much Sara for an insight into your creative life and good luck for your internship!
Photo credit: Stuart Hay