Dark and beautiful, Bertil Vallien’s sculpture takes the viewer on a mystical journey through the subconscious. Part oracle, part art object - his boats, maps and heads reveal existential secrets through a series of symbols and codes embedded in a glass matrix that appears to contain light. Sweden’s most innovative and well-known contemporary glass artist, Vallien pioneered sand casting in the 1980s and began creating sculptures in glass that inspired his now famous quote: “Glass eats light.”
Born in 1938 in Sollentuna, a suburb north of Stockholm, Vallien studied ceramics at the Konstfack School of Arts, Crafts, and Design in Stockholm, then spent two years at the School for Advanced Industrial Design. At Konstfack, he graduated at the top of his class and was awarded a Royal Foundation grant. His love of ceramics took him to Los Angeles for a position with HAL Fromholt Ceramics, and soon he was meeting artists, critics, and gallery owners, attending events at California universities, and exhibiting his ceramics. In 1963, he was invited back to Sweden by the C.H. Åfors glass-factory, where he contributed to a successful reorganization of the company and designed many of their most well-known lines.
Vallien’s introduction to glass offered artistic opportunities that were lacking in ceramics, and blowing glass became central to his work. He describes it as, “ladling matter out of a volcano and watching the glowing lava turn into ice.” His work has a symbolic and mystical narrative, in which the human head, boats, maps, stars, crosses, bridges, pyramids, and rings play recurring roles. Sometimes the light-absorbing glass is transparent like a membrane that allows vision into the spaces within. At other times it is translucent to represent how our understanding can at times be clouded.
From California to Israel, Vallien has exhibited around the world including The State Heritage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia); the National Museum (Stockholm, Sweden); the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, England); the Art Institute of Chicago (IL); the National Museum of Modern Art (Kyoto, Japan); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY); the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney, Australia); and the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA). He has received numerous awards, such as: Prince Eugen’s medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts (1995); an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Vaxjö (2002); the Gold Medal from the Royal Academy of Science, Stockholm (2005); and the Libenski Award, Seattle (2008).
At 82, Vallien is still active as a creating artist. In 2018, he exhibited new work at Spritmuseum, Stockholm, in an exhibition titled, Under ytan (Under the Surface). The art objects were made in a coarse-cut black glass that suggested an archaeological excavation of a desolate civilization. Wrecked ships and desolate landscapes stood on pedestals in a dark room with a light source above it.
On February 8, 2020, during Imagine Museum’s Fire and Light Gala, Trish Duggan, Founder and President of Imagine Museum, presented Vallien with the “Artist of the Future” award, based upon his undaunted journey as an artist looking toward the future while continuing to aspire other artists in new ways of expression and communication. “Bertil’s vision about the future and his unbound curiosity about what lies ahead puts him far ahead many of the younger artists working in the field today,” said Duggan about the award recipient.
Continuing down his prolific path, on May 14, 2020, Vallien’s exhibition Surface Tension opens at Gallery Glas in Stockhom. His show Anhalt will be on view at VIDA Museum and Art Gallery, Borgholm, Sweden, beginning May 23. The artist is also preparing for his demo at the Glass Art Society (GAS) conference in Smaland, Sweden, May 20-23, where he will be presented with GAS’ Visionary Award.