Kate Nixon Glass Artist - Canberra, Australia

Give us your thoughts on the importance of collecting and having handmade objects large and small?

Edith Wharton once said “an object is always more than what it is: a chair is never only a chair, a spoon never merely a spoon. It travels through social worlds, and carries forward a history, belonging first to those who produced it, and later, to those who bought, used, altered, sold, traded, or discarded it.” Handmade objects, in particular, connect you to those stories of people and place. The more meaningful an object is to you, the more you respect it and look after it, and you will get more joy from using it. Plus, there is nothing better than drinking from a handmade cup.

Mint Murrine vase Photo Credit Anna Fenech

Mint Murrine vase, Photo Anna Fenech

Expand on your honours degree at the School of Art at the Glass Workshop. 

I had the privilege of completing my honours degree at the ANU School of Art Glass Workshop under Nadege Desgenetez and Richard Whiteley, and the expert technical guidance of Philip Spelman. My work explored the burden of objects and the material mass we accumulate and will eventually leave behind. My work was inspired by a unique museum collection in my home country of New Zealand. I used my honours year to investigate this theme using a wide range of materials and processes from water-jet cutting to lost wax casting to mosaic.

How did you come to be working on the ‘For Collection’ series?

I was recently a Visiting Artist at the ANU School of Art and Design Glass Workshop, which I used as an opportunity to develop some new work. These were a series of glass mosaics based on rubbish bins, trashcans and recycling bins. My work has always been concerned with what happens to the ‘stuff’ we leave behind and the transformation of value in those objects. In some ways it was inevitable that it would ‘end up in the bin’, so to say.

What are your thoughts on recycling and the ability to use, used materials in an artistic way.

Like having to kill and butcher your dinner, when you are intimately involved in the production of objects you end up with a deep respect for the materials and process, and you try not to take it for granted. Like many makers, I struggle with the footprint of making and the idea of bringing more objects into an already crowded world. It is really important to me to recycle and re-use materials in my work and to celebrate and honour the life of those objects.

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For Collection, Glass mosaic, galvanised steel, Photo Adam McGrath

Where do you get the pieces you use?

I like to use a mix of found and made materials. In this series I used a lot of scrap glass and op-shop frames. I find it difficult to throw things out, so I often find I have a stash of something somewhere in my garage.

Expand on the technique used in Bric-a-Brac.

Using the frame of an old single bed, the size as well as form references the body and the domestic, but can also be read as a final resting place. Depicting a gaudy 1970s floral wallpaper pattern in oranges and browns, my intention was that the viewer would be at once attracted and repelled by the playful nostalgia and seduced by the transformative sparkle of the 10,000 hand-cut pieces of glass. The flower, an emblem of beauty, also becomes a vanitas symbol, reminding us of the fleeting nature of life.

bric-a-brac process photo courtesy of the artist - 2

Bric-a-Brac, process, photo Kate Nixon

I used an indirect method whereby the mosaic was created backwards like a mirror image. This method involved temporarily fixing the mosaic pieces to a removable backing (contact paper) which holds the design together. When completed the whole mosaic was then transferred onto the base. I hosted a ‘Mosaic Party’ where I invited a bunch of friends over and we all spent the evening drinking wine and mosaicking our hearts out. Thankfully, mosaic is one of the only glass processes you can do while drinking wine.

bric-a-brac process photo courtesy of the artist - 1

Bric-a-Brac, process, photo Kate Nixon

Discuss the connection of glass and mosaics.

For me, the process of mosaic references the act of collecting; each one a collection of pieces, painstakingly assembled with a bigger picture in mind. The art of mosaic has a rich and long history, decorating countless palaces, cathedrals and mosques, often on a grand scale. However, in counterpoint to this, mosaic also developed into a popular craft activity during the 20th Century, decorating everything from garden tables to picture frames, with a distinctly ‘low art’, ‘kitsch’ or ‘hobbyist’ aesthetic. Glass, a common medium used in mosaic, also often straddles high and low art. I am interested in this tension inherent in the material.

Discuss your series ‘Flower Girls’. 

The ‘Flower Girls’ series was one of the first production items I created during my time as an Associate at the JamFactory. They were a continuation of the themes I had been exploring in my honours work, a playful take on the Memento Mori of the flower, but with a kind of retro sensibility. They are small intimate domestic objects, in colours reminiscent of the 1970s – ambers, aubergines and steel blues. They make lovely little vessels for cuttings and succulents, but they have their own flowers ready to go.

Flower Girls phot credit Fernanda Pardo

 Flower Girls, Photo Fernada Pardo

Your glass paperweights, explain the technique that you use putting glass inside glass.

My ‘Uno Fiori’ paperweights are basically built from the inside out. I begin by creating the coloured centre out of ‘canes’ of coloured glass. These are set-aside in a heated kiln. On a gather of clear glass, I create the stem, and then add the petals using small blobs of coloured opaque glass. The last thing I add is the cane centre, and then layers of clear glass are built up on top. The lens of the clear glass magnifies the flower inside.

Uno Fiori photo credit Fernanda Pardo

  Uno Fiori, Photo Fernada Pardo

There is a growing Glass Society in Canberra that has developed around the Canberra Glass Workshop – discuss.

Glassmakers have always gravitated towards geographically connected communities, given the necessities of working with such a challenging, resource-intensive material. Traditionally, these were tied to access to fuel to run furnaces, so we get things like ‘forest glass’ emerging in the middle ages. Contemporary glass communities are often formed around open access studios like the Canberra Glassworks and the JamFactory in Adelaide, so resources can be shared. The roots of Canberra’s glass community lie with the ANU Glass workshop founded by Klaus Moje and the visionary makers that came out of that program who fought for a facility that would give makers in Canberra a place to work once they were out of the academic program.

Gathering Dust Photo credit Adam McGrath

 Gathering Dust, Photo Adam McGrath

The importance of having other glass artists to bounce your ideas and techniques.  How does this work for you?

One of things that is so precious to me about glassblowing is the informal dialogue you have while involved in a collaborative process. Whether you are the Gaffer or the Assistant, there is always a sharing of information and ideas. I have the privilege of working with some incredible artists like Annette Blair, Ben Edols and Scott Chaseling, who I greedily mine for information, and they generously indulge me.

You are a Glassblowing Assistant how does this work?

Most glassblowing is very difficult to do on your own and complex or large work is often done in teams of three or more people. A glassblowing team is led by what is known as a Gaffer, who is the lead glassblower and directs the process, and one or more assistants. It is a bit like sailing a boat, where the gaffer is the captain of the ship and the assistant is the first mate.

kate-nixon-hotshop-52 photo by Wendy Dawes

 Kate Nixon in the Hotshop, Canberra Glass Workshop, Photo Wendy Dawes

Discuss how important your assistants are to your current work.

Assistants are critically important in blown work and I have been really lucky to have been assisted by some of the best glassblowers working in Australia today. However, we all had to start somewhere and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I was given as a beginner glassblower to assist. It is nice to be able to pay that forward and give other emerging glassblowers opportunities too.

You have had a great deal of contact with Germany and German glass artists, expand on this link and how it has influenced your art and career. 

I was lucky enough to receive a commonwealth ‘Endeavour Fellowship’ in 2016 to travel to Berlin, Germany for a four-month residency at Berlin Glas, the first hot glass studio in Berlin. There is a beautiful, entwined connection between Canberra and Germany. Klaus Moje, moved from Germany to Australia to establish the Canberra School of Art Glass Workshop, and this fellowship was a way of continuing that legacy of exchange. There is a long history of glassmaking in Germany and it was an incredible honour to be able to experience that history firsthand by working in and visiting traditional German glass factories. This profound history was beautifully contrasted with the contemporary art scene in Berlin. Berlin Glas is at the nexus of these two worlds. Glass is a truly global community and opportunities like this to work with people from different cultures, all over the world, is one of the true privileges of working with glass.

Afterwards 2015 photo courtesy of JamFactory

Afterwards, Photo courtesy of  Jam Factory, South Australia

Discuss the importance of private collectors and how you see collectors expressing themselves by their collections.

Private collectors are a critical element in the glass ecosystem from both a financial and social perspective. As an artist, rejection is a part of life; you spend a lot of time applying for grants and residencies and entering competitions that you will inevitably not win or receive. You spend a lot of time in your own head and you often pour your heart and wallet into your work for what seems like little in return. Especially as an emerging artist, having a collector show interest in your work is incredibly motivating and affirming.

I think collectors all have their own interests, motivations and desires that they express through their collections. Jean Baudrillard once said “it is invariably oneself that one collects.” Collections have a habit of becoming mirrors into the self, reflecting us back to ourselves. 

As well as your glass art you are involved in DESIGN Canberra Festive, tell us about it and your part.

My current practice is split between working as a practicing glass artist and working at Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre. My main role at Craft ACT is to Project Manage the annual DESIGN Canberra Festival, which is Craft’s major outreach program each year. Now in its fifth year, DESIGN Canberra is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible community of makers, artists and designers in the Canberra region and connect them to new markets and opportunities.

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Contact details:

Kate Nixon 

Website: katecnixon.co

Instagram: katecnixon

designcanberra@craftact.org.au

Kate Nixon, Canberra, Australia 

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, July 2018