- What influences translate into your art practice?
I am interested in exploring the genius loci of landscape. My work investigates aspects of the culture, language, science, archaeology and ecology underpinning the landscape and our legacy in the context of the anthropocene. Living in the far west of Wales has a massive impact on the work I make. Discovering glass in the last decade has also had an important influence on my work.
- Has this changed the way you approach your work?
Before I worked with glass, I was a painter and my work was all about the FEEL of the landscape, the light and colour and movement through the seasons and in different weather, and finding ways to manipulate paint on paper and canvas to make work that somehow expresses the feel of landscape so that it resonates with our inner life. I began to look for a way to explore more conceptual concerns and glass opened up new possibilities of language which allows me to investigate these matters.
- What initially captured your imagination about glass?
I love the way in which I can work with colour and light in a direct way with glass. It is such a versatile medium, it can be solid and liquid, opaque and transparent, absorb and reflect light…the possibilities are endless and there is a poetic opportunity in the relationship of the material to the idea.
- What’s the significance of the handmade to you?
I was brought up always making things. My parents both left school at 14 and were practical people, my mother sewed our clothes, cooked and planted the garden, my father built houses and installed plumbing. From an early age I was digging clay from the ditch in the garden and making things I “fired” in the oven. I have always found excitement and refuge in making things, realising ideas and feelings by manipulating material is absorbing and satisfying, and using the hands leads to a haptic way of thinking which is fulfilling. Although I am also interested in digital processes, making by hand and direct mark-making helps me feel connected with others and with nature and the wider world.
- What was your route to becoming an artist?
I was discouraged from doing art at school because I was not considered to be any “good” at it, but it was the subject that gave me a feeling of freedom so I fought for it. When I had my “careers interview” in 1976 I was told that art was not actually a career, and that my options were to become a nurse, a secretary, a teacher, join the Services or become a maid! When I insisted that I wanted to study art I was told that if I did I definitely had to learn to type so I had “something to fall back on”. As it happens, learning to type would have probably been useful, but I didn’t want to “fall back” so refused the advice. I went to University in Aberystwyth to study art. In 1978 there were only 5 universities that offered a BA in art and Aberystwyth was the one furthest from home and they accepted me on my sketchy portfolio so I went there.
I loved the place and this was my introduction to the Welsh landscape, language and culture. The studio teaching was pretty basic but I was lucky to get a grant to do art and it taught me to be self-directed and resourceful. I made friendships there which endure 40 years later.
When I left college in 1982 I worked as a community artist with people with drug and alcohol dependency and people with additional learning needs and I painted in my free time. In 1993 I threw in all my community arts jobs in London and moved back to Wales to concentrate on my painting. Now I mostly work on my own projects or on architectural commissions but I still maintain a commitment and interest in providing creative experiences for people in the community and to working with people who have additional needs.
- What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
I trained as a painter at college, (there were not many other options in Aberystywth in 1978), and my work developed as semi-abstract landscape painting until about 2011 when I discovered glass and extended my practice to encompass other media.
I have taken masterclasses with other artists and taught myself from personal research, experimentation and the generosity of other practitioners. At the moment I mostly work in kiln-formed and sandblasted glass but utilise many different techniques like flame-working, casting and copper-foiling depending on the work I want to make. I am not restricted to using glass but also use paint, metal, paper, photography and ceramics.
In 2012 I started collaborating with Rachel Phillips to make architectural glass installations. We have now formed an architectural glass partnership called Studio Melyn (Welsh for “yellow”- the first colour used by medieval glass painters as silver stain).
- How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary glass?
My practice is pretty broad, it is not about one technique or context, so I suppose I am not in a fixed place in the contemporary glass sphere, I am somewhere on the fringes. I make some jewellery, small studio pieces, larger installations for exhibitions and architectural glass for buildings and some work which is not using glass at all.
- Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
My processes are very diverse as I have said before. I do a lot of research, and think through my ideas, often by sketching and trying out things in different media and techniques in order to develop the idea in relation to material. I enjoy working alone in my studio but also alongside Rachel or other artists who I occasionally collaborate with on projects. It is exciting to work together with another artist, to bring your ideas together with someone else’s, it enables you to make work you would not make alone, much like singing with a choir opens up new possibilities for a singer.
I live in an isolated place and spend a lot of time working alone, and one of the things I love about the glass world is that it is like a big family and there are opportunities to make connections with others. Through Northlands, The Contemporary Glass Society and The Glass Art Society I have connected with many artists, some of whom have been generous teachers and some of whom have become close personal friends. Being part of the “glass world” gives me a sense of belonging and for that I am ever grateful.
- What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
At the moment I am very inspired by archaeology. This year I completed an MA module in Contemporary Art and Archaeology at UHI Orkney and I have just been awarded a commission for Ancient Connections, an art and archaeology project which examines historic links between Ireland and Wales. I am interested in the possibility archaeology offers to investigate the landscape and extend our experience through time. Archaeology allows us to feel connected through handmade objects with people who have gone before us.
There are many artists I admire, mostly they are women who probably did not learn to type! Artists like Cornelia Parker, Marina Abramović, Teresa Margolles, Susan Hiller, and Ana Maria Pacheco are resourceful artists who are unswervingly true to themselves and their ideas in their work, and this bravery and willingness to speak truth to power is what we all need right now.
As a painter of course I admire Turner, Sargeant and Hodgekin. Within the world of glass there are many artists whose work I admire, some for technical virtuosity, but it is those artists who use the material in the service and pursuit of their ideas that interest me most.