Studio Visit with Alexandra Frasersmith
I've met Alex a couple of times before on my previous trips to Canberra Glassworks. We've exhibited two other glass artists here at The Corner Store Gallery before, Emilie Patteson back in 2015 and Christine Atkins in 2016. Alexandra was the Visitor Experience Supervisor of the Glassworks front desk and shop for several years and this is where she first showed me her beautiful work.
Alex uses the most beautiful coloured glass to create her clever textural pieces. Deep cobalt blues fade into pale turquoise and range through to orange and purple. She creates functional objects as well as more abstract sculptural pieces. All of this stunning work will be on display as part of her new exhibition Cast Emotion at The Corner Store Gallery this Spring. I caught up with Alex at the Canberra Glassworks a few weeks ago to find out more about her practice.
Tell us a little about your background and training.
I grew up in a small Riverina town called Leeton which seemed worlds away from high art galleries and for most intents and purposes it was. Back in high school I really had no idea to what I wanted to spend my working life doing... only that it had to be completely unique, probably have a very high skill set and knowing myself had to be able to have my own business. Had toyed with textiles, dancing and music career ideas but nothing fit properly, and as soon as you mentioned one of those subjects to your career teacher she flatly refused to help me until I came back with a sensible career idea.
Studying to be a glass artist is quite a unique career opportunity. Why did you choose this medium to pursue?
My first year out of school 2007 we went on our last family holiday together to Tasmania and it ended up lasting 7 weeks. It was there that I fell completely in love with glass and was exposed to so many of the different glass techniques. I remember walking into Peter Dobson's studio on our very last day and seeing them blow the most gorgeous pink champagne flutes. It was like a dance of two seemingly different generations! Peter had an amazing white beard, glasses, blue overalls and Birkenstock and his assistant was a danish sex god in his twenties with dreads and tattoos. After they were done, we bought a vase but I left with a fire in my belly and a new purpose. I simply had to find out WHERE I could learn this glass stuff. Lucky for me the Canberra Glassworks had just opened and the next year was spent doing CIT classes travelling back and forth down the Hume highway and then working for Peter Crisp as a painting assistant. I started my degree at ANU in 2009 and I completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts with Hons in 2012.
Glass fit all my criteria, it is a very exacting material unlike anything else. It was taught me so much about myself and I've had to cultivate patience and a marathon-like outlook on how to produce beautiful things. Its given me life long friends, and taken me overseas to exhibit and experience new cities and people and I get to work in a palace of glass making unlike anything else in the southern hemisphere and most of the northern hemisphere.
Can you describe your process to the folks at home who have not seen your work?
My process these days is very different from the glassblowing spectacle. These days I start by pouring sheets of wax running cold water over it and then modeling it into the shapes I want to cast, for example a bowl. I then completely cover the wax with a mold of plastic and silica which hardens and forms a protection jacket around the wax. I then take the mold to a steamer and steam out the wax shape inside the plaster silica mold, which leaves me with a negative space for the glass to pour into and take on.
The mold is filled with glass via a lost wax casting method. If you are familiar with Bronze casting this is a slower process at a lower temperature. Only 800 degrees Celsius instead of the 1000's used in ceramics and bronze. The Kiln is brought down in temperature in various stages so that the glass inside is held at an even annealing or cooling temperature and doesn't crack. Once the glass has cooled and this for me usually takes 3-4 days the plaster silica mold is broken off and discarded and then glass is ground and polished to finish it off.
What's next for you?
After leaving my full time job at the Canberra Glassworks to refocus on my glass practice ...its been a very busy 6 months of glass up until now and its not really slowing down until after Christmas! The next big things on my calendar are the Handmade market in Canberra 16/17th September where I have made a production range of Glass and jewellery ware. After that I have a group exhibition at ANCA in Canberra in November called Biomimicry focusing on the natural world captured in vessel forms.
Cast Emotion by Alexandra Frasersmith opens at The Corner Store Gallery on August 31st with an Opening Night on Friday September 1st 2017 at 6pm.