Opaque, transparent, strong – Mel George

Mel George is a glass artist, curator and co-director of Workshop Level. I had the honour of working with Mel for a brief time at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre, and was blown away by her energy, positivity, and her passion for her craft. And that was before I saw her truly astounding pieces!

I finally got the chance to pick Mel’s brain, and find out more about her inspiration and journey as a glass artist.

As the Concentration Changes 2015 Glass 111cm x 58cm x 1cm

As the Concentration Changes, 2015, Glass, 111cm x 58cm x 1cm

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am a born and bred Canberran. I am currently an independent art practitioner, co-director of a custom glass fabrication studio with Jeremy Lepisto (called Workshop Level) and the Curator at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre.

I have heard people describe me in many ways using a spectrum of adjectives; from worrisome and assertive to thoughtful and kind.  With this said, I have also been told that I have good energy and am able to make people feel like than can achieve their goals and that ‘everything will be ok’.

You’re a glass artist – what first drew you to working with glass?

I was first drawn to its beauty and I found it incomprehensive that it could even be a medium, I didn’t know you could use glass to make ‘art’.  Over the years I have researched and become proficient in many glass techniques. With my recent work, I have moved away from making work that showcases my love of the technical aspects of glass making. I am currently interested in creating glass works that explore the material’s inherent aesthetic properties to emblematize the more symbolic associations of the material such as its ability to be both strong, yet fragile; I do see parallels with glass and the human condition.

Spring sentiments 2015 Glass 31.5cm x 31.5cm x 2cm

Spring sentiments, 2015, Glass, 31.5cm x 31.5cm x 2cm

Your work often explores the minutiae of everyday life – what do you want to communicate through your work?

I have been focused on collating and creating custom colour-coded glass swatches of my personal feelings regarding individual moments or periods of my life. A collection of these shaded swatches come together to make visible the shifting shades of my sentiments over the course of days, weeks and even a year. By doing this, I am interested in discovering what visual patterns they may make. By using only color to display these abstract narratives, I am curious to see whether my singular experience can connect to others through this graphic language. By highlighting these everyday occurrences, I am interested to find whether this presentation widens the range of their perceivable importance.

With the collection of these works, I am looking to give form and permanence to the intangibility of time – the impression of both its impending and passing presence. Glass as a material allows me to present both my abstract narrative work and archetypal ephemeral daily acts as visually soft immersive fields that give rigid preservation and permanence.

Whats an achievement you’re particularly proud of?

Last year I was invited to teach a workshop at the Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) in Corning, New York. CMoG hosts the world’s largest collection of glass objects; anything from contemporary art glass objects to scientific glass specimens. Adjacent to the museum is a teaching studio (The Studio at Corning Museum) and also an incredible research library (The Rakow Library).

One of the projects I set for my class was for each of them to make a book (made of glass) that spoke to their personal story as an artist. Essentially, each book was an artist’s visual poem. The structure of each poem was the final surface, form and transparency of each book and the language was the choice of personal palettes of colors, images and material arrangement.

My students took this project very seriously, resulting in a wide array of beautiful pieces. We shared our results with the staff of the Museum and the Library. This led to all of the glass books becoming acquired by the Museum. This result was a first for any workshop ever held in their studio and was amazing for all the participants to have work become part of the museum’s collection.

Becoming Fine 2015 Glass 20cm x 110cm x 2cm

Becoming Fine, 2015, Glass, 20cm x 110cm x 2cm

You were in Portland for quite a while – what did you do there? What’s different about the arts community in Portland versus here?

I left Canberra in 1999 with a suitcase. When I left Portland in 2009, I had to pack up a 4000sqft studio, a house and a husband. My first job in Portland was as the Technical Director for a glass factory. The company often collaborated with artists from around the globe to produce quality art glass products and promote quality glass art projects. My future husband (Jeremy) worked with me in the factory. Late in 2001, Jeremy and I established Studio Ramp LLC, an art glass atelier that made work for artists and architects, from concept to completion. We did everything from small-scale art projects, to three storey-building facades.

Portland is the home of all things bespoke; there is a huge arts community there as well as craftspeople, makers, hobbyists, manufacturers, etc. I think the main difference would be that as it is a bigger city there are more opportunities for artists as well as more areas to access and be part of the creative community. You can choose to be a little more hidden or obvious in Portland. In the Canberra arts community, we all pretty much know each other.

What’s something you love about Canberra?

I love many things about Canberra. I truly love our blue skies and the fact we can experience four seasons. I do love that we are a designed city, and I think we have some incredible architecture. One of my all time favourite Canberra things is Norman Carlberg’s ‘Black Widow’ sculpture, in Harry Siedler’s Edmund Barton Building.

Feature image: Trevor King

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