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Symphony of Blue by Alison Lowry


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Alison Lowry

I am interested in textiles, especially clothing. Fabric preserves the essence of its maker; traces of the wearer become entwined with the warp and weft, allowing physical objects to become containers for memory.

This interest in fabric and embroidery started with some family heirlooms: a collection of beautiful and intricate Irish white work hand made by female relations. More recently, an embroidered christening robe that has been in my family for over hundred years inspired a major body of work. Through this work I examined my family links and ties to the past. I examined how delicate life is, and how the states of birth and death can be similar in their fragility and vulnerability. This body of work grew and developed to encompass many other thoughts and feelings, and I realized that these ‘little dresses’ could be interpreted in a variety of ways by both the viewer and maker.

The universal themes of birth and death are still woven through my work, yet I am increasingly starting to explore how clothing acts like a second skin, and how these items are inexplicably interlaced with narrative. ‘Empty’ dresses hang like skeletons in our closets, bound with the memories the (absent) body still holds inside.

Glass, for me, is the perfect medium to encapsulate these transient notions. Glass offers endless sculptural possibilities and is full of contradictions- a mirror of life itself. The process of making is intrinsic to my practice and I am fascinated by the interface created when glass is used in conjunction with other processes and techniques, for example photography, printmaking and textiles.

I employ a variety of glass techniques to create my sculptural works: ‘Pate de verre’ is French for glass paste and is the technique of using crushed glass packed tightly into moulds and fused in the kiln. The resulting works are usually thin walled vessels or sculptures. I sometimes take a mould directly off a fabric or garment, but this can destroy the material. The moulds can only be used once and these pieces have a high failure rate. To finish them I can sometimes spend many weeks sand blasting an individual piece. More recently I have also been sand-casting my pate de verre pieces. This experimental technique involves layering a garment with glue, glass powders and frits. The unfired glass dress is then embedding in sand and fired to a high temperature. The fabric and glue burn away and when uncovered, only the fused glass item remains. To create additional texture I use the textile technique of flocking the exterior.

Another technique I use is ‘box casting’. This entails layering up of many pieces of glass and melting them together in a kiln to create a solid block. This technique allows me to place images and text- either ceramic decals or screen prints- in between layers of glass to create a narrative and give a depth of field. These works generally need a lot of coldworking, which can include sawing, grinding and polishing to create the final piece.

The last method I am increasingly using is the ‘lost wax technique’, which involves creating a positive form in wax and enveloping it in a mould. The wax is then steamed out, leaving a space into which the glass is melted into, in the kiln. Once fired, the refractory material is broken away revealing the positive cast in glass. These sculptural pieces are normally solid cast shapes and can require, depending on their shape, some hand polishing with diamond pads.

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