Celebrating her 50th anniversary of working with glass, Emma Varga recently received a Government Ministry for Art grant to create works for four major solo shows as part of the celebration project. These include: Forces Of Nature solo exhibition, Sabbia Gallery, Sydney, April – May 2021; Fragile World #2, solo exhibition, Australian Contemporary, Melbourne, 2023 TBA; Revival, retrospective, Wagga Wagga Art Gallery, 2023 TBA; and Long Reef – Revitalization,Manly Art Gallery & Museum, 2024 TBA. The pandemic provided the artist with isolated time in her studio experimenting and creating elements for new works. This week, she teaches two sold-out workshops at Creative Glass Switzerland.
Born in Ada, Yugoslavia, in 1952, Varga graduated from the University of Applied Arts in Belgrade in 1975 earning a bachelor of arts degree in visual and applied art, with majors in glass design and ceramic sculpture. Her work has been heavily influenced all along by her environment and experiences, which have, ironically, served as the catalyst for both dramatic change (in tone and feel), and stabilization (in process, style and focus) of her work over the past 20 years. Political unrest within her home country led the artist to immigrate to Australia in 1995, a move which enabled the true blossoming of her work and the development of both her own signature process and style.
The interplay between how and why Varga makes her work is truly dynamic and beautiful. Behind each of her works, which communicate the simple and captivating beauty of nature so succinctly, is an incredibly complex and labor-intensive process. To make each object, she cuts thousands of tiny glass elements from clear and transparent colored glass sheets and combines them with glass frits and stringers. The sculptural glass objects are made from thin transparent glass layers; glass mosaic elements, colored frits and stringers are assembled on each sheet, according to a complicated three-dimensional plan that she envisions ahead of time. These are then fused together in stages. It takes two weeks to fire and slowly cool down large sculptural works, then a further two weeks to grind and polish all of the surfaces to perfection. Only then it is finally possible to see the inside; all the fine details and veil-like structures floating in the sea of clear glass.
This work is truly a labor of love for Varga, and her recent travels and research have further solidified her devotion to raising awareness surrounding environmental concerns. By preserving the beauty of nature through her work, she contributes to the global conversation in her own personal and powerful way.
Varga states: “Ever since my student years, I was attracted (and traveled) to lonely, remote places, untouched by man: high mountains in Europe, the far north of Norway, Antarctica.
In recent years, escalating danger of global warming and melting of Arctic ice prompted me to not only visit the coldest, frozen places, but also to do something about their protection. I decided to contribute by creating glass objects to raise awareness.”
In the early stages of her career in Europe, Varga participated in landmark exhibitions such as the 1st Coburger Glaspreis1977 and New Glass in Corning 1979, Vicointer in Valencia 1983, Contemporary European Sculpture in Glass in Liege 1989, as well as in 3rd and 4th Interglass Symposium in Novy Bor (Czech Republic) in 1988 and 1991. Her work can currently be found in the collections of the PowerHouse Museum, Sydney; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Art Glass Collection, Wagga Wagga, Australia; Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA; The Museum of Applied Art, Belgrade, Serbia; Glass Museum, Ebeltoft, Denmark; Ishikawa Design Center, Kanazawa, Japan, and Toyama Glass Museum, Japan, and numerous major private collections in Australia, USA, Europe, Asia and Africa.
A natural storyteller, Varga draws upon memories from her birthplace in Ada and major events that shaped her life. Her enduring passion has been using her art and her love of nature as an agent for social change, particularly in relation to climate change. In 2017 Varga was invited to join a group of International artists sailing around Svalbard Archipelago, Norway, in waters above the Arctic Circle. She was also the winner of the prestigious Stephen Procter fellowship where she received a 4-week residency at the Australian National University School of Art and Design Glass Workshop. She used this time to experiment and develop ideas for an exhibition based on her observations and photographs taken on this extraordinary journey.
In summing up her five decades in glass, Varga States: “Despite all the tumultuous events in my life (the biggest being a civil war and moving to the other side of the globe) there is one line connecting everything and helping me to persevere: my work in glass.”
The “LIFE ART LIFE William Bernstein” exhibition opens August 6 and runs through October 9, 2022, at the Toe River Arts’ Kokol Gallery, Spruce Pine, North Carolina. This 50-year retrospective of the blown glass work and paintings of William Bernstein showcases the work of an artist who has been at the forefront of the North Carolina studio glass movement for over 50 years. It creates a visual summary of the separate elements of Bernstein’s art over time – his motives, goals, and achievements, while showing his ability to work simultaneously in diverse mediums.
Curated by Bernstein, the artist was assisted by Jordan Ahlers from Momentum Gallery, Asheville, North Carolina. He and Billy selected approximately 40 sculptural works and 20 wall pieces that span his career. The artist’s unique style of incorporating images on glass is mirrored stylistically in his two-dimensional paintings. So much of his work and family life are evident in his art forms – portraits of the people, pets, and environs that surround him.
Both an online and printed catalog will be available that will include narratives about Bernstein’s lifetime of art written by Bill Warmus, former curator at Corning Museum of Glass, and will include images from the show. Writes Warmus: “Bernstein is a minimalist whose style is based upon the dedication to the concepts of honesty, modesty, and humility. It has a feel of its surroundings and of the people of the region.”
Graduating in 1968 from the Philadelphia College of Arts and just married, Bernstein moved to Penland School of Crafts to be their second glass resident artist from 1968 to 1970. He was a co-founder of the Glass Arts Society (GAS) – together with glass pioneers Mark Peiser and Fritz Dreisbach – that formed to bring together the glass community so people could work together and learn from each other. Receiving numerous awards, fellowships and grants, he has exhibited internationally and has artwork in many private and public collections. Bernstein has lived most of his professional life in the rural Celo community, a land trust in rural Yancey, North Carolina, along with his family and artist wife, Katherine Bernstein.
Katherine and William both grew up in New Jersey and met while attending art school at Philadelphia College of Arts. In the early years, Katie worked in hand-built porcelain and Billy, very influenced by Scandinavian and colonial American glass design, started producing a variable line of goblets and sculptural pieces.
In the mid 1970s, glass master and educator Harvey Littleton moved to the area and quickly took an interest in the young artists’ work. He insisted that Katie’s sculpture in clay would translate beautifully into glass. To make his point, he took several of Katie’s clay originals back to his studio and cast them in crystal. The results were wonderful, and Katie started working exclusively in glass.
By the ‘80s, both Bernsteins had established themselves as major forces in the glass world, but to keep their studio running they needed a steady flow of sales, which eventually brought them together in the creation of a line of goblets and tableware. Katie supplied the imagery with melted glass color rods, and Billy formed the result into a vessel. This combination proved very popular and received wide recognition in design journals and magazines. They continue to produce these pieces today under the name Bernstein Glass.
Currently, both Billy and Katie produce individual pieces for gallery shows and collaborate with two assistants on the functional work. Their oldest son Josh is a physician, and their son Alex is a respected glass artist; both live in Asheville, North Carolina. Katie and Billy remain content in their log cabin with their huge dog Murphy.
Says Billy: “This has not only been a year-long process of curating pieces for an exhibit, but a lifetime of making art that connects with all things about one’s life.”
Coinciding with the United Nations’ Year 2022 as the Year of Glass and the 60th Anniversary of the Studio Glass Movement, the “LIFE ART LIFE William Bernstein” exhibition has been made possible by Toe River Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Cary Art Center, Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass, the Blumenthal Foundation, and Mountain Electronics in Micaville, North Carolina.
Billy’s Digital Sketchbook: https://www.billysdigitalsketchbook.net/