February 15, 2013
By: Erinn Donnelly
I recently had the great pleasure of meeting and speaking with Peter Bowles about his life, his work, and his influences. He is a world-renowned Australian glass artist and the current artist-in-residence at the Alberta College of Art + Design.
Q: Where did you get your start and what drove you to glass as a medium in the first place?
My grandfather, from the first time he saw me as a newborn, looked at my hands and said ‘”Yeah, they’ll do.”’ He was a cabinet maker and from about the age of six or seven, I started making things with him in his workshop. He was extraordinarily patient and it’s from him that I get a real joy out of the physical act of making things.
I later grew into an angsty teen and didn’t know what I was doing; I failed all my A-Levels. It was in my college years that I went on to do a foundation art year which got me back in touch. As part of that, I went to visit Stourbridge College of Art and Design, England (the traditional glass centre for the UK), and I got to watch one of the old factory-makers work with the third-year students. I was transfixed by the spectacle and sense of energy, so I made an application and got in.
Q: You’ve been involved with glass for about 25 years and worked extensively throughout Europe and Australia in many glass studios. Do you find your style is a mix of styles or do you lean more toward one?
My practice is a mess [he laughs]. I have an inherent fascination with both material and process, and also the whole personal need for making objects. There’s definitely a mix of styles. Actually, I probably try not to have a style. It’s all food and grist. There is a part of me that almost stubbornly refuses to have a style and beyond that, it’s just about making interesting objects. Professionally, it may not be working in my favour to work so broadly, but to me it makes sense at a fairly fundamental level – so that’s the way it is.
Q: Are there any particular artists you’ve had the pleasure of working with that you feel have greatly influenced your work?
Thousands! I can think of two that come to mind immediately, and interestingly, they’re both glass artists. One was John Smith who is, sadly, deceased. He was my lecturer when I was at Stourbridge; larger than life, deeply committed, highly inventive and a fair but severe critic. Finn Lynggaard is another. He hasn’t so much influenced my work so much as my approach. He was an incredibly generous man, who had a vision for glass far greater than himself or his own practice. I’m always humbled by being with anyone who devotes themselves to their practice. For me there is a real beauty in honest labour, and when coupled with intelligent critique and dialogue, I get drawn in and curious to know more.
Q: Glass Manifesto is the studio and gallery, originally in Perth, now in Tasmania, shared by you and Anne Clifton. What can you tell us about what it was like to bring to life Perth’s first independent glass blowing and casting studio?
Scary as hell. It was quite an ambitious project and there was no established audience at the time in Perth. We started off grossly undercapitalized but we managed to get off the ground through our combined enthusiasm and drive. I had always had the idea of owning my own studio and it essentially took about 15 years, and all the support from Anne Clifton, to get things rolling. Everything was just a flurry of excitement, desperation, and extraordinary opportunities. It was an amazing time.
Q: What direction is the studio and gallery headed in with its relocation, and what plans do you foresee for the future?
It’s interesting because we haven’t set up the gallery again as yet. The main crux of it is a return to private practice. We made a hell of a lot of work there in Perth – probably too much. Now without the continual overhead, there is an opportunity to return to what we need to be making. I’m about to embark on a PhD at the University of Tasmania and Anne is studying Latin so she can continue her research on the archaeological aspects Roman Glass. Oh, and also planning to build a straw bale house for ourselves in amongst all this.
Q: What’s the driving force behind your return to your private practice?
It’s just a reassessment of what is really important for me to be making. Without being too cliché, it feels like it’s a mid-life position on what it is for me to be a practicing glassmaker and object maker.
Artist Bio: Peter Bowles is a practicing glassmaker and artist now primarily based in Tasmania, Australia. He has served on numerous boards and peer-review panels including The Department of Culture and the Arts in Western Australia, Ausglass and the Australia Council. He is currently a Visiting Lecturer at ACAD and is soon to begin a PhD at the University of Tasmania. You can view his work on the Glass Manifesto website: www.glassmanifesto.com.
Author Bio: Erinn Donnelly graduated from the Alberta College of Art + Design Glass Department in 2011 and is currently one of the Prairies Representatives for GAAC. Since graduating, Erinn has focused her attention on writing about art and looks forward to a career as an author and journalist.