Tom Moore and that Pyrotechnic puffer fish

studio portrait

It was Tom Moore’s meticulous attention to detail and execution of a unique concept that captured the attention and votes of the Tom Malone Prize judges this year. We talk to Tom Moore about his award-winning piece the Pyrotechnic puffer fish and the challenges facing glass artistry.

Tell us how you came to the idea of the Pyrotechnic puffer fish?

puffer cup

I have been researching how the wider cultural context of Renaissance Italy influenced the kinds of glass objects that were produced and the social functions and meanings of these objects.

During the 16th-century, objects displaying the fine network of white glass lines such as in these goblet-bowls were thought to be imbued with miraculous properties and were collected in cabinets of curiosity alongside specimens of unicorn horn and pufferfish. I saw one of these pufferfish in a Museum in Florence and could not get it out of my head. It seemed weirdly aware of its placement in the collection. This species has an extremely satisfying form to translate and inflate as hot glass.

Renaissance glassmakers were closely aligned with alchemists. The transformation of sand and plant-ash into glass through the intense heat of the furnace was regarded as a marvellous demonstration of human ingenuity and virtuous artifice. The burning match is intended as a reminder of the pyrotechnic nature of this material.  The absurd drinking vessel in the form of a bent funnel refers to laboratory apparatus and to a rich tradition of trick-glasses that were surprising to look at and intentionally difficult to use. The position of the pufferfish as oversized stems adds to the joke.

It’s a very detailed and beautiful piece of work. How long from conception to completion did this project take and were there any challenges along the way?

It is difficult to calculate the amount of time taken to complete complex objects such as these because there are several processes involved over several weeks. Designing the work and preparing all the parts takes many hours. I complete a full-scale drawing that is meticulously planned.  Coloured and clear glass is combined and stretched to make patterned rods. These are used to create the fine patterned lines within the blown forms, and all the small parts: eyes, fins, teeth, match and flame. The final forming of the parts requires an assistant. All in all these works took approximately 30 hours including the assistant.

There is a certain amount of risk involved in working on forms for such prolonged periods. The glass must be re-heated every couple of minutes or it will crack, but it must not be over-heated or it will melt. It is attached to metal rods while it is being worked and these must be kept turning.

Bending the funnel is a risky moment. After focussing heat on the long skinny neck it becomes difficult to control and after bending it is off-centred which makes the constant turning awkward. Putting the dentures into the fishes mouths is a fussy step and I only get one shot to stick them in the right place.

You’ve taken on the challenge of achieving a carbon neutral art practise. Tell us a bit more about this and is it something that glass artists should be using?

As a contemporary artist who has the privilege of continuing to practice a traditional pyrotechnic craft, I feel compelled to address the issues of climate change and environmental degradation.

 

Tom Moore blowing glassI know that there is an inherent contradiction in making objects that overtly display their complicity in continuing to create these problems. I also believe that this contradiction adds to the communicative potential of glass artworks.  I decided that I could not justify continuing to make objects that seek to navigate my concerns without offsetting 150% of the own carbon impact of making. This is a tricky issue to speak about, I don’t feel I can say my colleagues should be minimising and offsetting their carbon impact, however, my own experience has shown that calculating and offsetting an art practice is surprisingly achievable.

This is not the first time you’ve been awarded the Tom Malone Prize. What do you enjoy about the exhibition and will we see another project from you in the next one!

It is very gratifying to have work shortlisted for this prize so that it can sit amongst its peers. It is a great honour to have my work selected twice for inclusion in the permanent collection at AGWA, this helps the audience to appreciate the breadth of an individual art practice and how it evolves over time. I am pleased that some traditional Venetian decorative techniques and references to the historical forms of the goblet and scientific labware are now part of the growing collection.

The wider collection of winners is a unique record of the Australian glassmaking community. I am very grateful to the sponsors of the Tom Malone Prize for giving this group of specialised makers the impetus to strive toward ambitious works.  I am certain that I will continue to participate in this important national survey exhibition.

View the Tom Malone Prize exhibition before it closes 28 May.

To view more of Tom Moore’s work visit his official page.

Images courtesy of the artist Tom Moore.

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Meet Tom Malone Prize judge and Australian designer Khai Liew

 

Khai liew
Adelaide based designer and Tom Malone Prize judge, Khai Liew

One of Australia’s most exciting artists, Khai Liew was in Perth to take part in the judging of this year’s Tom Malone Prize – the Gallery’s annual event for showcasing the best in Australian glass art.

Khai Liew is an Adelaide-based designer and adjunct professor with expert knowledge of both South Australian and Australian historical decorative arts and colonial history. For many years he has acted as a private consultant to various national and state institutions advising on acquisition and conservation. Liew’s championing of nineteenth-century Australian material culture as a conservator, consultant and valuer has led him to contribute to significant private and public furniture collections.

As a highly regarded designer, Liew draws on his cultural heritage and historical knowledge to design and produce work that is informed by the old and the new, the regional and international. The production of small editions and one-off commissions takes place in Liew’s Adelaide-based workshop, carried out a select group of highly-skilled craftsmen.

“Much of my work is about telling stories. Communicating a narrative through a visual language while pushing the material in new and exacting ways are characteristic of many visual disciplines and practices,” says Khai.

“Being a judge for the Tom Malone Prize this year was exciting as it’s a medium where artists are continually pushing ways on how to communicate captivating stories through glass. The calibre of works was high and we had a challenging task of selecting a winner. Key design aspects we were looking for however was the clarity of intent, a high level of craftsmanship and whether the work said anything new.”

The Tom Malone Prize was awarded to Tom Moore for his work titled Pyrotechnic puffer fish.  Arguably the country’s most consistently humourous and out-there glass artist, this particular work was unlike anything the judge’s had seen before.

Pyrotechnic Puffer Fish_with figure for scale_600w
Winner of the Tom Malone Prize, Pyrotechnic puffer fish by Tom Moore

This year’s judging panel also comprised of Elizabeth Malone (AGWA Foundation Governor), Stefano Carboni (AGWA Director/CEO) and Robert Cook (AGWA Curator of Contemporary Design and International Art).

Now in its sixteenth year, the Tom Malone Prize is a highly respected national event for contemporary Australian glass artists. An acquisitive prize, each year’s winning entrant is awarded $15,000 while their work becomes a part of the WA State Art Collection. This year, and for the next four years, the Prize is supported by Art Gallery of Western Australian Foundation Benefactor, Sheryl Grimwood.

The Tom Malone Prize is showing at the Gallery until 28 May.

 

TOM MALONE PRIZE: ARTIST STUDIO VISIT

10.30am-12pm, Saturday 5 May 2018
$22 AGWA Members | $28 General Admission
A behind-the-scenes look at the workshop of Perth-based glass artist and winner of the Tom Malone Prize 2017, Marc Leib.

Buy tickets