Garry Nash Art Glass

Garry Nash Art Glass

Gary Nash's hot glass workshop in Auckland
There is no long history of glass making traditions in New Zealand.

During the nineteenth century several efforts were made to start a glassworks here, but all of them failed after only a short time. There was not even a successful bottle factory until the early part of the 20th century.

Studio glass works, like Garry Nash's Auckland studio pictured above, sprang up in the mid to late 1970's, inspired by major artists from overseas.


Today's New Zealand glass artists enjoy a freedom from concepts and constraints tied to the past. As Garry Nash himself put it, "Working in the relative isolation of New Zealand unencumbered by rigid parochial European traditions of glass style and technique has allowed me the freedom to develop a unique style reflecting the New Zealand environment".

Garry's work has always been innovative, exciting, and challenging. Over the past twenty five years, since he first committed himself fully to glass in 1979, Garry's work has been easy to recognise for his distinctive statements about modern life expressed in the brilliantly versatile medium of glass. Even before he owned his own furnace, Garry was making significant sculptural pieces from segments of glass combined together.

Left above: "Moonrise over Ponsonby" Garry Nash, 1993. One of the "bill poster" series approximately 20 inches tall.

One of the wonderful things about Garry is that he is always willing to share with others the significance or meaning that a particular piece represented to him when he made it. His statements about his works help us to put not only his own glass, but that of other studio glass artists in New Zealand, into an international perspective.Nash early sculpture

Describing this early sculpture (right) he said "It represents standing on your own two feet, waving a flag around, and making a stand for something".

There was a series of eight of these figures, made in the 1980's.

Even at that early stage Garry Nash was recognised by art glass collectors as a major artist. Long before he had completed the series, he had built his own furnace and was developing his technical mastery to the highest possible level.

In the early days of studio glass making in New Zealand, the major artists (Garry Nash, Ann Robinson, Peter Raos and others) worked together in a co-operative venture at Sunbeam Glassworks in Ponsonby, Auckland. Later they went their separate ways, and Garry bought the original Sunbeam workshop, which he still operates today.

Garry's major early innovation was his "bill poster" series of large vessel-form free-blown sculptures with "torn poster" images on the surface. These took the glass art world by storm, with exhibitions in the USA, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. In 1986 Garry wrote these words about his "bill poster" series:

"Each generation wishes to leave behind some artifacts as a record of the fact of their existence. There appears to be a subconscious urge to record the essence of experience in a personal, idiosyncratic manner. People look to artists, writers and craftspersons of a generation to sum up and record the achievements of their era. In this way, I see my images, and forms, as being a reflection of my time, like the school photo, the family portrait, the sports team photograph.

Because of the non-specific nature of these messages, I have elected to use the concept of the "bill poster" as a means of expressing my observations. I see these "peeling" messages on construction site barriers, bus stands, and trees. They represent to me a kind of soap box platform of the visual world; a communication of the to-whom-it-may-concern type."

Nash vase "the lesson"
Below: "The Lesson" Garry Nash 1993. One of the last in the "bill poster" series. This sculpture is over twenty five inches high. Body colour dark blue over yellow, with white engraved shard put on the molten surface and blown to add to the "torn" look.

Here again, each piece has its own story to tell.. This one, called "The Lesson" represents, in Garry's own words: "All the things you have to learn to survive in life. Its about the knowledge you need, - you need to know how to handle people, how to handle money, how to handle technical things, - a huge amount of stuff, some of it very difficult, that you have to know if you don't want to be trampled in the system"

The "bill poster" series ran from 1986 to 1995. Garry's work has passed through a number of phases, many of them overlapping but each quite distinctive in its style and method of production.

His exhibition pieces, most of them two feet and more tall, took countless man-hours to make, and some required special equipment and a team of co-workers.

One of Garry's studio specialisms was a series of iridized vases with trailed glass and sometimes gold and silver leaf.

Above left: Iridized vases made by Garry and his team during the mid 1990's.

The technology to make iridized glass was developed by Tiffany in the USA, Loetz in Austria, and others in the late 19th century. Their expensive pieces went out of fashion when "carnival glass" became popular. But in recent years studio artists in many countries have revived interest in this kind of beautiful glass.

For a time in the mid 1990's Garry made a series of large vases with gold and silver leaf decoration. Very fine gold leaf and silver leaf was floated onto the surface of the molten glass, and the piece was then blown larger, so that the leaf broke into a mosaic of tiny pieces.

Right: Dark blue vase with gold and silver leaf. Signed "G. Nash '93". Height 10.5 inches.

During the 1990s when Garry employed a large staff in his studio he signed the pieces he made himself "G. Nash" near the base. Pieces that were made by his studio were signed "Nash"on the base, usually with an engraving pen. And they were all usually dated. Today Garry makes most of the glass himself and signs it either G. Nash or Nash.

Garry is probably best known in New Zealand for his series of large sand-blasted and engraved platters and bowls, which have been described as "Vessels of Coloured Light".

Many of these are made from two or three layers of different coloured blown glass, with an engraved pattern cut through to reveal the underlying colour.

Above right: Sand blasted, engraved, hand-blown vase signed 'G.Nash '94' Height 13"

This series of bowls and platters were predominantly made in cobalt blue like the vase above, pink like the platter near the bottom of this page, and a deep blue-green. The surfaces were sandblasted and acid etched to produce the matt finish. The engraving is diamond wheel intaglio cutting, working with very distinctive patterns, instantly recognisable as Garry's work.

Garry also designs and makes paperweights. This beautiful paperweight has a millefiori base, gold leaf insert, and an air bubble in the centre.

Another of Garry's very popular series had millefiore mosaic pieces set into the centre of platters and around the surface of vases.

Of his recent work, Garry wrote:

"I have an intense interest in the rich history of glassmaking and have drawn impartially from its long rich and varied past.

Being able to combine a technique from sixteenth century Venice and blow it in an eighteenth century English style is one of the great joys of being involved in the studio glass movement.

I continually push the boundaries of hot glass in terms of scale to achieve an architectural presence with my work. This is one area of hot glass traditionally ignored that modern technology has made possible.

Colour is the cornerstone of the studio glass movement. I combine colour and form in my work to invoke an emotional response."

All of Garry's work is handblown without moulds. Working with such large pieces requires considerable strength and stamina, as well as skill and ingenuity.

It has been said that the size of Garry's vessels and sculptures makes his work distinctive.

It takes many hours to make one of these large vessels, and there is a high failure rate due to the technical difficulties and the intense concentration needed for long periods.

Garry described the bitter disappointment when a moment's lack of concentration can results in a potential masterpiece lying ruined on the floor.

Left above: One of Garry's 'bill poster' series, made in 1987. This one is from the environment series, and represents "all the things you surround yourself with in your life, like the buildings and the people you choose"

Garry's glass can be found in public and private collections around the world, including the following:

Above: Garry working with a "gather" of molten glass to blow into a large vessel.

Garry Nash is one of the artists featured in the author's book about New Zealand Glass. This book covers both extensive historical information and current glass artists in New Zealand, with some superb photographs and explanatory text.

INFORMATION about New Zealand Glass !
Including many original catalog pictures and dozens of photographs.
NOW available - this is the new second edition of this book and it covers the fascinating history of glass in New Zealand, the story of Crown Crystal Glass, NZ bottles and an overview of contemporary New Zealand glass artists.
Available as a paperback or as a Kindle book.

Buy Now or take a look

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