Australian Design / Feature

The art of glass by Ruth Allen

Cointreau Pendant by Ruth Allen.

Cointreau Pendant by Ruth Allen.

IF YOU HAVE poured yourself a glass of wine or liqueur and stopped to admire the colour and shape of the glass bottle, chances are you may have thought twice about discarding it when empty. Designed by someone unknown and made in a glass factory like millions of identical bottles, these utilitarian objects are a source of practical material and inspiration for glass artist Ruth Allen who discovered the art of glass blowing in her late teens. She went on to study under acclaimed glass artists and complete a degree at the Canberra School of Art before travelling overseas to further her study and experience.

“I consider myself a first generation Venetian taught,” she says. “The Venetian maestros have been blowing glass for more than five centuries and are probably the most accomplished culture in the art of glass blowing in the world.”

Glass blowing is a skill that takes years of practice to become accomplished at, to be at ease with molten material and to approach it with such confidence that the art of creating appears so effortless. It’s very physical, hot work and it takes years to understand the material and to master it. A 25-year career doing just that is where Allen is today.

“It took me probably 10 years to achieve a level of skill where I could comfortably make any form that I wanted to,” she says.

She has carved out a living from her passion ever since with a cross-disciplinary practice that spans the fine art of glass blowing, multi-media installation work and the transformation of used glass bottles.

For the last four years, she has used her considerable skills to transform bottles into vases, jugs and tumblers for her popular range of Sustainable Stubbies. The finished pieces retain a recognisable element which tells the story of the bottle’s past life. Each is a little different to the next as is the nature of the handmade. And each tumbler is shaped with ergonomics and aesthetics in mind.

Since the success of Sustainable Stubbies, Allen has expanded this core part of her business to include a range of competitively priced pendant lights. The stubbies and pendant lights are “the most cost effective production line or practice that I could pursue,” she says.

And yes, she is always open to accepting donations of empty spirit, wine and beer bottles to stock up the store for future work and has relationships with nearby bars that keep her in regular supply.

“We can work with any bottle so I tell clients that if they have a special event we can make a pendant light from those empty bottles,” she says. “Then they can commemorate the event for a long time to come.”
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Handkerchiefed Wine Clusterleir

Handkerchiefed Wine Clusterleir

Allen developed the pendant range to include stunning chandeliers for residential and commercial projects.  Two chandeliers are currently on display at Kirra Galleries in Melbourne as part of Federation Square’s The Light In Winter program. The major work, Galliano Chandelier, comprises 12 bottles transformed into white frosted glass resembling the delicately draped curves of a trumpet lily.

Her installation work gives her an opportunity to create large scale works of art and she is keen to develop this practice further. She considers Our One World Island, completed in 2009 during her residency at the Canberra Glass Works and installed in the foyer of the Department of Education and Workplace Relations in Canberra, to be one of her most successful works.

“I made 480 glass leaves that are all free-formed and then I composed the work with those items. Each piece is elevated from the wall by five centimetres which is the focal point of the shadow. It’s all about shadows and the glass is just the vehicle for the shadows. It’s about the fourth dimension,” she says of the object, shadow, volume and light transference.

“What I am illuminating in this piece is that we are often talking about the environmental demise on the continent but in actual fact it mainly happens in the water. So if we don’t look after our water ways, our oceans then we are in more dire straits than if we don’t look after our land masses.”

Another artwork, Synergetic, completed in 2006, is composed of 80 glass elements and again explores three dimensional shadows.

“It is an object with one light and a shadow really but the object is really complex. It’s about the interior and exterior and when the shadows cross each other they ripple. I couldn’t have anticipated that at all,” Allen says. “You felt you could fall into the wall because it made the wall look three dimensional.”

Happy accidents like this occur when artistic vision and skill are combined with intricate craftsmanship and the handmade

Visit Ruth Allen at Design Bazaar stand DB6B as part of Decor + Design.

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