Monday, 25 May 2015

Thanks for all the fish

Nature presents such an amazing range of shapes and colours (to say nothing of behaviours) that it is impossible for a curious person not to be attracted. The challenge of capturing some part of that brilliance and storing it in a painting or sculpture must be hard to resist for those with the talent to do so. At the same time, the artist has to live – however meagerly – and nothing will separate the punters from their money better than some new kitsch for the pool room.

The world of glass animals is amazingly diverse and ranges from high art to dull mass production (and we are not talking here of an English indie rock band). The form is as old as the earliest discoveries of ancient glass, and as new as the hundreds of cheap Chinese knock-offs that grace the pages of ebay. There are at least two serious books, hardcover and large-format, on the subject of animals made in glass.

Australia’s populace clings close to the coastline, so it is not surprising that many artists in glass are similarly located. And it is not surprising that when they take inspiration from nature, they often turn to the sea and the creatures within it. The glass fish on this page are made by identifiable professional artists. Some are famous (including a couple of multiple finalists in the Ranamok Glass Prize), while others have enjoyed long careers in glass without much publicity or recognition from the critics. Still others started in glass artistry, only to move on fairly soon to other ways of making a living.

We start with a magnificent specimen of the artist’s imagination by John Lloyd and Geoff Murray. After working at Colin Heaney’s operation in Byron Bay, for a time from 1995 they operated a studio called “Lloyd Murray Glass” at Talofa on the road between Byron and Bangalow in northern NSW.

John Lloyd and Geoff Murray (NSW), undated

To head off any pedantry, I should note in advance that a dolphin is a mammal not a fish. But that is no excuse for excluding a work by the master of taking inspiration from the ocean, Colin Heaney.

Colin Heaney (NSW), 1993

The Sunshine Coast area north of Brisbane has housed a cluster of glass artists, at different times working in various business models and at various locations. These two specimens by Lucas Salton owe more to the Siamese fighting fish than anything living in the ocean nearby. Items such as these were regularly sold at the burgeoning Eumundi markets in the hinterland of Noosa Heads.

Lucas Salton (Qld), undated

Some glass artists have located themselves well away from major population centres. I suspect that decision reduced their turnover even more than it economised on the rent (or the distractions, or whatever induced the decision), but here are two outlying artists represented by their fish. Moshe Pleshet set up a glass blowing studio at Wyaldra near Mudgee in NSW in 1979 and made this specimen a year later. John Anthony was located near Airlie Beach in Queensland, although little more is known about him.

Moshe Pleshette (NSW), 1980
John Anthony (Qld), undated

South Australia has at least its share of makers of glass fish. Eamonn Vereker is perhaps the state’s best-known exponent of glass animals including fish, although we have not represented his output here.

With an impeccable artistic education in glass and considerable attention from the critics, Tim Shaw must regard his transplantation from the UK to the Adelaide Hills a success. Along the way, he made the gaping piscatorial specimen below.

Meg Caslake and David Pedler also operate a studio in the Adelaide Hills. I don’t know for sure that the clear glass starfish is theirs, but it seems of a kind with their other cast glass objects, including sea creatures. It was probably marked with a cellophane sticker that has since washed off in the ocean.

Bernard Stonor of Kangaroo Island spent 20 years making colourful objects from hot furnace glass before moving to lampwork in recent years. This flat-sided fish looks positively happy and clearly dates from the earlier part of his career.

Tim Shaw (SA), undated
Meg Caslake and David Pedler (SA), undated
Bernard Stonor (SA), undated

Another exponent of small animals in glass is James Dodson of Tasmania. His birds are particularly colourful, but here are two of his fish, looking angelic.

James Dodson (Tas), undated

To all these glass artists, we say: So long, and thanks for all the fish.


  1. Also Colin Heaney made some stunning starfish.


  2. John Anthony used a fish symbol as his label.