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.”