Saturday, 18 July 2015

Peter Crisp – Glass, baked in the oven

The Hume Highway is the main thoroughfare joining Sydney to Melbourne and many places along the way. Between 1814 and 1825, the explorer Hamilton Hume lead many expeditions along this route and into the surrounding countryside. Among Hume’s great discoveries was the grazing country of the Yass Plain, where he settled after his exploration days were done and where he became a pioneer of the district’s great industry – superfine wool from merino sheep.

After you pass the town of Yass going south through the rolling hills of this pasture country, you will see a large sign announcing ‘The Crisp Galleries’ and inviting a visit. If that seems a trifle incongruous, the truth is even stranger. For 35 years, Peter Crisp has been both a wool grazier and a glass artist with a significant international reputation.

Peter Crisp, ‘royal bluebells’, each 12.5cm dia

The method of this glass artist is not the flamboyant performance of the hot-glass blower, nor the industrious concentration of the lampworker over an open flame. Instead, using a primary raw material that is basically window glass, together with coloured enamels and precious metals, Peter Crisp makes decorative and useful items by fusing and slumping the glass in an enclosed kiln heated by electricity. The basic techniques of this form of glass working are as old as the earliest days of ancient Egyptian glass, although nowadays they are aided by modern industrial technology.

The blue platter in the first photos below is large, with a diameter of 57cm. Note how the colours are fused between layers of what was once flat glass but which is now slumped into the shape of a shallow bowl. The central layer is composed of dozens of square tiles of the same material, with the black colour marking the lines between. The size alone of this item requires an industrial scale kiln.

Peter Crisp 2000, 57cm diameter

What sets this artist apart from the weekend warrior who is fusing and slumping glass in kilns at the adult education classes – apart from the scale of both the individual items and the production operation – are Peter Crisp’s artistic talent and his decades of hard-won experience in working the materials. There is also his experimental bravado, which has pioneered the way for many with lesser talents to follow. The little blue amphora below is much copied, although the originals are still immediately recognisable.

Peter Crisp 2000, 10cm diameter

This delicate object is made by placing circular glass sheets, with coloured enamel powder between, on a mould that has two levels. The upper part has a hole in the middle and supports the outer part of the material. When the glass is heated it melts to the extent that the middle part dribbles down to a lower level and pools to form a foot. The supported outer part stays behind but slumps to the surface shape of the upper mould.

Here is another piece, made on the same principles but much larger and more ambitious in complexity. There is much skill and experience in judging exactly the right temperature cycle and timing to achieve these effects without ruining the result.

Peter Crisp 1992, 31cm high

Next is the most elegant of them all, slumped into a very elongated vase shape, with various cut and fused small pieces to form the base, and decorated with sprinkles of 22ct gold and little dots of colour formed by melting glass beads.

Peter Crisp 1993, 19cm high

Other fused and slumped vessels made by Peter Crisp include a range of multi-layer bowls in various shapes and sizes, such as this one. Note again the decorative effect of including little tiles of glass as an intermediate layer.

Peter Crisp 1996, 21.5cm diameter

Peter Crisp is also known for his tableware decorated with screen-printed patterns, 22ct gold and semi-precious gems. The little shallow bowls with the royal bluebell design (Wahlenbergia gloriosa) at the top of this article are the simplest of such items. A more complex piece of a similar size is shown below. The glass beads have grown into jeweled hemispheres of jade and lapis luzuli embedded in the glass.

Peter Crisp, 12.5cm diameter

A proper piece of tableware is the dinner plate shown below in the design “Barneys”. There have been many such designs of gold encrusted dinner plates, side plates and bowls in Peter Crisp’s portfolio.

Peter Crisp 1994, 30cm diameter

The Crisp Galleries has a website where there is much for the visitor to explore. Two items that mark highlights of the artist’s career are the winning entry in a competition for drinkware to advertise Bombay Sapphire gin and the presentation dinner set commissioned for the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Among the many other treasures on the website, don't miss the frothy concoctions in pate de verre.

Next time you are belting down the Hume, spare a thought for the old explorer Hamilton as you go past Yass, and make sure you allow time to visit the Crisp Galleries.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful pieces. I had no idea you could add such interesting effects to the glass this way. Thanks for sharing!