I first started working with glass in 2002, when I went on vacation in Bavaria and happened to see an exhibition of historic and contemporary glass in the town of Zwiesel. I don’t remember making a conscious decision, I just knew, this was something special and I have to learn how to work with this material. It was the first time I ever saw glass as an art form. I was mostly painting and drawing back then. Shortly after, I applied to the Glass School in Zwiesel and started to study glass design the following September. The three-year training was very intense, a mix of learning design skills and then actually making the designed pieces in the workshops. I learned the basics in glass blowing, kiln casting, lamp working, painting and cold working. That introduced me to a great spectrum of possibilities with the material. I realised very quickly that glass design doesn’t suit me very well, so I went back into Fine Arts, now much more confident working in three dimensions. The technical skills I gained in Zwiesel helped me to find an artistic direction and to understand the powerful language of materials in general. I am an idea based maker, and glass is not always what I am looking for, but it
continues to inspire me.
The initial decision to work with glass might not have been so much rational, more accidental, but over time I understood that the material coincides perfectly with my attitude towards life and my artistic interest in our vulnerable being.
I cannot really say there was one moment. There were a few key moments that opened my eyes in terms of perception of this world and how certain moments in life (which includes looking at art) can give us a more intense experience of being. That is primarily what I am looking for, in life and in my work. I grew up in East Germany, the GDR. I was 11 when the wall fell and Germany was reunited. So, I grew up in a completely different reality. Everything changed so quickly that year, smells, clothes, the food, the way people treated each other.
That was one moment that probably influenced me and taught me that life can change any moment, as we collectively experience right now. It is so important on all levels of life and society to look at things from all possible perspectives to understand something. Art is not just an object on a plinth but an important philosophical discourse and interaction with the world. It helps me to not take things for granted and embrace the fantastic idea of being on this planet, in this universe, that’s so crazy when you think about it. No matter how messy life gets there is always this grant beautiful merciless universe. Maybe that is my substitute for religion. I think the question is not so much if we decide to be artists but do we want to go through the struggle and be professional artists. I think it is not a choice to be an artist, we
either have the urge or not.
My creative process happens in different ways. Ideas are often informed or better formed by process and the other way around the process or a technique is adjusted, bend and forced until it allows me to create something that corresponds to the original image I had in mind. The specific process I have been working with for a while now, and what I started to call frit de verre , is a response to a certain very vivid visual idea of thinking as a phenomena itself. I had this image in mind and was looking for a way to materialise this liquid fleeting space of imagination. The work Disegno from 2010/11 and Books of Disquiet 207/18 resemble that internal image. Sometimes ideas really come as visions and they seem to picture the essence of something. What does pain look like, joy etc.? As many artists I am synaesthetic to some degree and I am using that for my work.
The specific kiln forming/ pate-de-verre technique I have been exploring in the past 10 years I discovered on the search for an immediate, expressive way of bringing imagery and text onto glass without under going complex photosensitive processes like silk-screening or rayzist, photo-masking. It is a kind of intaglio printing technique, translated into a kiln process. The drawings and the text that eventually show on the glass have first been drawn reverse on a plaster-silica “canvas”, then carved into the mould material and filled with white glass powder over which I sift clear glass frit. The layer of clear glass fuses onto the drawings.
The handwritten text and drawings on these pieces are very subtle and mystified. Although they are very personal, they function more as a visual comment on imagination rather than a source of information.
The process moves between randomness and a very well thought-through sculptural forming process.
The final form of the sculpture is always unique and shaped by the circumstances of the moment.
I see myself as an idea based artist, creating work, which is not solely driven by technical research. One of my goals besides my wish to challenge the technical limits has always been to bring the work further into a spatial frame, a concept, where the process and the material itself state a clearer phenomenology.
The work I currently make in pate de verre, (or maybe better frit de verre, since I am mostly using dry powders and frits and not a glass paste) started conceptually and was initially part of a series of sculptures and installations that dealt with the idea of freezing un-keepable ephemeral moments of beauty. To achieve the ice like, translucent and ridiculously fragile glass sheets I could only think of using glass frits and powders. Shaping the pieces in the kiln when the glass is soft was a decision I made to achieve very unique natural forms that move between control and randomness which would otherwise not be possible. It is also a highly physical and risky process which I hope is sensitively innate in the work and can be experienced when you look at it.
Working with powders and frits allows a very detailed transfer of structure and writing. I also like the idea of tiny components being joint together to another whole, which seems to be a constant thread in my work, the cosmic connection between the micro and the macro. It reminds me on computer pixels as well.
Pate de verre in general is more like a skin of something or a crust of some sort, an ephemeral remainder of an object or phenomena, there is something otherworldly about it.
I had already been to North Lands twice before I taught this class and knew the importance of the unique landscape in Caithness. My first time was a six week residency in 2013, a very important time for me. It was fantastic that the school took us to several places in the area. I think it is always very helpful for students to find quick accessible inspiration when you teach a course in a rather short time frame. Some of my installation work is using natural phenomena as inspiration, so I felt in the right place. North Lands has been such a life changing inspiration for so many glass artists from all over the world. I specifically liked the internationality of my class, we had students from Australia, California, Israel, France, Latvia, and the UK of course. The North Lands staff was incredibly supportive and helpful. I always find it a challenge to teach and share my artistic practice in a one or two week course without focusing too much on a technique. Students often sign up to work with me because they want to know technically how I make my work. I really hope to succeed in actually inspiring them idea-wise as an artist, as much as they inspire me.
The concept behind the master class was to use my techniques as a basis for students to find their very own way of translating drawings and structures onto thin glass sheets which we then manipulated in the kiln at about 740 °C. We explored the unique landscape of Caithness and our inner landscape of imagination.
Another aspect was to think about the potential of frits and powders to imitate materials and objects. I enjoy the trompe-l’oeil potential of this technique.
I think like every other teacher I offer a personal, very specific way of using glass. The ephemeral and fragile approach seems to draw interest in the glass community. Maybe my background in Fine Arts and Sculpture and the poetic use of materials is an interesting balance to the mostly craft oriented approach to glass, especially in the UK. I have studied and taught in Germany, the US and now the UK. I think that helps to understand a wide range of personalities and possible ways to be creative. I find it very important to understand the material in a wider context.
In master classes like the one I taught in North Lands I don’t see it so much as teaching but working together. The students are very often professional artists themselves or highly talented university students.
I very much hope to inspire them as much they inspire me. Also, teaching in places like North Lands of course is very exciting, it makes me travel to beautiful places and meet the most wonderful people.
Furthermore it allows me to experiment and try things I would not necessarily take me the time to otherwise.
I have been very lucky to get stranded in Frauenau Germany. Initially I was going to teach as a tutor for the GlassWorks Project at the Summer Academy Bild-Werk Frauenau for two weeks. The lock down happened a week into the project and I could not go back to London. I ended up spending five months in Germany, were I was still able to make work in the studios of Bild-Werk and hike in the beautiful Bavarian Forest. It turned into a lockdown residency and I am forever grateful to Bild-Werk that I could continue my work and be in a healthy and sane place. It was a very surreal time, but as worrying as everything is at the moment, I did appreciate the timelessness, quietness and endless airplane-free blue skies. I would have been jetting the planet this year, but as sad as I am about missed opportunities the abrupt halt has been a blessing in many ways. I hear similar things from my friends, but of course everybody is very worried at the same time. It will be interesting how this extreme period will reflect in the art world. I guess we all feel more vulnerable now. With projects like the ArtistSupportPledge on Instagram initiated in the UK artists are trying to support each other.
As for all of us many of my projects have been postponed or even cancelled completely. I do feel a bit lost at the moment and anxiety creeps in. It is a gift though to have time to reflect. Depending on where you are in Germany I heard there has been good financial support in some areas. Still it is a very worrying time financially for many of us, with less or no sales teaching gigs cancelled etc.
I think people are dealing very differently with the situation, depending on your life circumstances. For many of us this terrible outbreak meant more time in the studio. I am not a big fan of the internet hype. Of course it helped many galleries and artists to continue their work and to communicate with an audience during this time, but I feel more and more pressure and distraction in that trend. Art needs to be experienced in real.
The past three years have been very busy and exciting with international exhibitions and projects. When the lockdown happened I felt like I parachuted out of a jet plane and gently landed in complete quietness, just with myself. So, not much is happening right now, except of researching and making decisions on new work. I was supposed to teach at Penland, Corning and the University of the Arts in Nanjing, China this year. Looking back to 2018 I had work in the Homo Faber exhibition in Venice, the Levant Art Gallery in Shanghai and Schieper’s Galley, Belgium. Also that year I taught at the Pilchuck Glass School and worked as artist in residence at S12 Bergen, Norway.
Currently I am showing work in the group exhibition ‘Field Notes’ with Bullseye Projects in the Byre Space in Caithness Scotland just around the corner from NorthLands, and in the exhibition Radical Craft 2 at the Direktorenhaus in Berlin, which just opened on the 29th October. Next year in August I will hopefully teach at the Studio in Corning and in September I will take part in an exhibition in the Kunstforum Ingelheim in Germany.
Despite the internationality of the glass world it is interesting that there are so different tendencies, I see this in exhibitions as well as the approach to teaching in both countries. Of course I have my very own experiences and other artists might think differently. The glass artists I know in and from Germany take a much more conceptual and sculptural approach whereas in the UK glass moves primarily in the craft world. ‘Handwerk’ which would be the translation of craft in Germany in my eyes does not really translate as craft as it is understood
in the UK. There is a much bigger realm of object making in the UK which is often put in the design category. Often for me this is just a question of scale and the line between all these categories is blurry. Contemporary glass globally I think we can say is inventive, a big egocentric maybe, still underestimated in the art world I think. But it is exciting to see that it starts to be taken more seriously in the different fields, craft design fine art.
Oh, why European? The UK has so much to offer……. I love London, it is very difficult to work here to the full potential, but the City is so inspiring, it just draws me in, it’s like an endless hammering and stinging poem. Being a planet on its own it has a very unique rhythm, it seems like all of humanity is gathered here, beauty and horror, a big steamy soup.
My favourite artist here is Helen Marten, Turner Prize and Hepworth Sculpture Prize Winner 2016. I feel very connected to her use of materials and the playful yet deeply complex, extremely sensitive orchestration of objects.
My favourite and most inspiring studios in the world are the studios of Bild-Werk. I have been working there for almost 20 years now. Every time I am in these buildings things just start to happen, it’s magical. So many great artists over the years have been adding to the building’s and my own spirit. And it is where my glass adventure started in 2002.
North Lands Creative of course is another magical place, the landscape turns me upside down.
Edinburgh, the hills of Arthur´s Seat are magnetic.
I feel like I am at home on this planet, more than in one country or one city. Maybe the fact that I grew up in a country that does not exist anymore triggered that nomadic idea. Working with glass and spinning my web over the continents makes me feel safer, knowing that there are so many talented and kind people everywhere out there makes my life so much richer. It is encouraging at times too, to see how hard working and dedicated other artists are. We depend so much on support and communication. Exchange of knowledge and different ways of approaching things makes me understand the material better and my own background and approach to art and life in general. I learned so much during my studies and teaching in the US and the UK, still embracing my serious and conceptual German side. The passion of sharing in the glass community seems to be unique and it is one of the reasons why glass has experienced such an explosive development in the past decades. The idea behind projects like ISGNE and Glassworks is exactly that, giving people the opportunity to continue their work, exchange ideas and expertise in different places.
As important as traveling and working internationally is, we must become more considerate and think twice if it is really necessary to go to places. I am not the only one who excessively travelled from one place to another in the past years. Hopefully the forced stop and isolation has taught us what a luxury it was to just travel so freely and cheaply. I think being forced to move artist talks and workshop tutorials for example online showed us that a lot more can be done virtually. Of course it is a much more profound experience to have international visiting artists physically present at conferences universities and other institutions, but to some extend I think we can switch, or even better be able to have more of these events happening when some are moved online.
It also is a big distraction for me to travel so much. It’s not only the time of travel itself but the preparation and adjustments before and after. I am torn between wanting to go back where we left before the lockdown and forcing myself to focus on one place. Of course a healthy mix would be great.
I do wish we will be able to move back to the freedom we had, but also wish for a less hectic
and more concentrated way of working.
Anne Petters is a multi media artist with a strong background in glass. She received a Diploma in Fine Arts from the Institute for Ceramics and Glass Art, Hoehr-Grenzhausen, Germany and a MFA in Sculpture/ Glass from Alfred University, New York.
Born in Dresden in 1978 she grew up in the German Democratic Republic. She understands the political change in her country, which she experienced as a displacement of reality, as a basic influence on her lifestyle and artistic work. Her interest in controlling and displaying moments of our fleeting, vulnerable existence leads her to a poetic, metaphoric use of glass and other materials, including natural phenomena.
Anne Petters has been awarded numerous Artist Residencies, including a fellowship at Wheaton Arts New Jersey in 2012, a one year residential stay at the Edinburgh College of Art 2013-2014, the Emerging Artists in Residence at the Pilchuck Glass School, Stanwood, Washington and a Visiting Scholar Residency at the Southern Illinois University, IL, US. In 2014 Anne Petters received the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust Scholarship for excellence in British Craft, London. She has taught as Visiting Lecturer at the Royal College of Art and is currently teaching at the City and Guilds of London Art School and UCA, Farnham.