Design & Decoration S01 ep9: Nick Wirdnam, Wirdnam Glass Sculptures, [Melbourne]
Interview with Nick Wirdnam
You can see some unbelievable technique that you think gosh isn't that wonderful, isn't that amazing. But it is not a case of just picking up a pipe and doing it, you know it will take you 4 or 5 or 6 or 10 years or a lifetime to perfect it. Whilst it is fluid, whilst it is workable, it is moving - often people describe glass making a little bit like a bull fight - you tease it, you prod it, and you get to know it, but it always does something unexpected.
KM What is Nick Wirdnam?
Basically my work is a personal investigation into personal experiences.
My background has actually been in perhaps more traditional methods of
making glass which had been vessel making, decorative glass, and object
making and my work is now, and again because of personal experiences, my
work has changed quite dramatically from what was I guess functional
decorative work to what has become very sculptural.
I was born in Portsmouth in the South of England, my father was in the
services, he was in the RAF and so we travelled, and I ended up getting a
holiday job in a glass studio on the Isle of Wight and this glass studio had just
begun, and it was called Isle of Wight Glass, and it was run by a very
successful designer artist, Michael Harris. I ended up staying there about 9
I had always liked to work with my hands, but this was something completely
different, this was a material and a medium that just responded and behaved in
quite a different way
Unlike other material glass has behaviour of its own, and even if the maker
does nothing to it, the glass still does something.
Whilst it is fluid, whilst it is workable, it is moving it and it really becomes....
and often people can describe glass making, because what I do I work from
the furnace, the glass I work is actually always hot, and because it moves it is
a little bit like a bull fight - you tease it, you prod it, and you get to know it, but
it always does something unexpected.
So to take technique and to employ it the way you found it is not what I want to
do. I would like to when I am developing new techniques or that I made while I
developed the techniques, I would prefer not to use them as I found them. I
would like to find them, contribute to them, and then put them back, and
perhaps other people might draw on that too.
I feel that Isle of Wight was very successful because we had a lot of travelling
people come through even though it was located in a remote location it had a
reputation that seemed to kind of draw people from Australia and we had a
number of Australians that would come through and visit. Australian glass at
that time was very much in its infancy.
KM So when did you arrive here?
In about 1983 and I never intended to stay but I just happen to still be here.
My influences have more been from Italy and America and Sweden also rather
than French and I think that Italy has a very strong connection with glass,
particularly Venice - Murano glass, and now probably more contemporary
glass Seattle in America.
The studio glass movement which began in the early 60's was one to take it
away from that kind of mechanical, the clinical,
KM So it was going away from the industrialisation of glass?
Very much so yeah.
I think that glass operates at three levels, there is the commercial end of glass,
there is the studio production end of glass which is a border on the commercial
I guess, and there would probably be what many people would describe as Art
Glass and I think that the Australian Art Glass is an actual world leader.
You're not confined by a kind of cultural identity in that aesthetic, we are kind
of open to do anything.
Probably about 7 or 8 years ago that I really felt that this kind of vessel making
was in some ways....I loved the process and I love with glass the way I had but
it was kind of getting a little bit predictable. I wanted to do something else with
glass, that people did not want to put flowers in or put it on a mantle piece or
whatever, I wanted to use glass in a different way and that would be to go with
a more sculptural way and I was inspired by people like William Morris he was
an American Glass Artist and Pino Signoretto who is an Italian
KM What were they doing?
Particularly in William Morris's work it was the sense of emotion that I could
see in his work. I really kind of connected with it, it wasn't comparable, you
didn't like it because of its colour, and you didn't like it because of its glow but
there was a..... his kind of finishes and his surfaces and the....my interpretation
of his work just really kind of use glass in a different way ............
KM Did you ever meet him
Yes actually, I have just done a work shop with him.
No actually in America.
I went to, and I have been a number of times, to a place in America called
Pilcher and they conduct workshops there and this was in combination with a
conference that they have there in Seattle near the glass conference there
and they got some of the biggest names and some of the greatest contributors
to actually teach workshops. William Morris hadn't done a work shop for 10
years and this was the first one in ten years and it was just great, it was really
KM Do you work with Lead in your glass as well?
No we don't we don't use any lead at all
There is absolutely no point.
KM No I am serious?
No I am really serious too.
KM Yeah, but I am really serious.
Yeah, well I am more serious. Lead does two things as far as I know it reduces
the melting temperature of the glass so you don't need opt use so much of it
KM Oh so that is the real reason, o.k.
That is one reason, but actually the real reason for adding lead is to make it
physically softer and because it is physically softer it actually leads itself to
I do remember many years ago when I was working on the Isle of Wight and
we had some visitors in as often there were and this guy came in and he said
oh do you make car windscreens and Mike said no we don't and he said what
about wing mirrors ... and he was actually serious.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Nick Wirdnam, Wirdnam Glass Sculptures, Paris