It's glass...but not as you know it

If the term art glass conjures images of your mum’s dusty bowl of Murano glass “lollies” or kitsch mantelpiece clown figurines, think again. Looking at the sublime works by 30 finalists in the 18th annual Ranamok Glass Prize, it’s crystal clear that decorative glass pieces have evolved into a totally contemporary art-form.

"Glass artists are continually pushing the material in newer and more adventurous ways," says Ranamok’s administrator, Elizabeth MacDougall.  "This year there’s even an interactive light and sound installation: talk to it, and it replies in bubbles and light."

The 2012 collection showcases several pieces where glass emulates textiles such as the prizes’ winner, Stitches In Air, an ethereal, heirloom-style collar made by Denise Pepper using glass "frit" (granules) to capture intricate lace. It contrasts with Te Rongo Kirkwood’s bolder, Maori warrior’s cloak where shimmering emerald green shards represent thick tags of protective flax.

Many of the pieces are enticingly tactile; you can’t help but go up and stroke them.

Some designs are outright quirky: Estelle Dean’s realistic platter of fortune cookies looks good enough to eat. Others are elegant, such as Alasdair Gordon’s vase beautifully engraved with kangaroo paws.

The finalists from other years display an equally diverse range of subject matter and artisanal styles ranging from blown glass to stained glass. In Jane Morissey’s delicate Shower, handmade glass beads cascade droplet-like from an old shower rose.

Then there’s Evelyn Dunstan’s The Firebush, a wax-cast vase of bougainvillea leaves which is dazzling in hot pink; Kristin Mcfarland’s Genus Typographica, where rows of specimen butterflies feature typography printed within their layered glass wings and Jaymz Edmonds smile-inducing If it weren’t for your gumboots, three pairs of cast glass gumboots which are just asking to be taken for a jump through puddles.

There’s also the standout Bonds of Love, a 28cm high wedding ring by Laurel Kohut etched inside with the words "forever is a long time and time is forever".  Contrast this with Dale Roberts’ Life, a somewhat macabre sculpted black skull.

The prize, sponsored by over 30 companies, is open to Australian and New Zealand artists. It was co-founded by MacDougall’s father, Andy Plummer, together with Maureen Cahill, director of Glebe’s Glass Artists' Gallery.

"They saw the $15,000 award as a way to promote glass as an important visual art. Glass is beautiful and multi-faceted but it’s difficult to work with and requires great skill to exploit its versatility," MacDougall says.

Both Plummer and Cahill are glass artists themselves. Plummer, a company director, says that he "become hooked on the aesthetic possibilities of glass and also the technical challenge of manipulating the material". Cahill, who has a suspended installation in Canberra’s Parliament House called Willy Willy (aboriginal for dust-storm) was founding head of the Sydney College of the Arts glass studio. She says that it’s the translucent and transparent qualities of glass that inspire her.

Plummer is the prize’s only permanent judge joined each year by three others eminent in the arts world.

All exhibited works can be purchased with prices ranging from around $250 for those by a student artist to over $25,000 by an established artist. Each year’s winner is acquired for the permanent Winners’ Collection which tours city and regional centres and has been exhibited at the Australian Embassy in Washington.

Check out the 2012 Ranamok collection at:

Canberra Glassworks, ACT: 15 August – 13 September 2012

Foyer, Riverside Centre, QLD: 24 – 28 September 2012

Foyer, Angel Place Office Tower, NSW: 8 – 20 October 2012

Glasshouse Regional Gallery, NSW: 23 November 2012 – 3 February 2013

Western Plains Cultural Centre, NSW: 4 May – 30 June 2013

Manly Art Gallery and Museum, NSW: 26 July – 1 September 2013 (Previous years are on show here.)

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