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EDMOND BYRNE IS BLOWN AWAY BY GLASS (CRAFTS MAGAZINE)

This article was written 4 years ago.

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Glass artist Edmond Byrne finds inspiration in the endless versatility of his material – on both sides of the classroom. Katie Treggiden discovers how the cycle of teaching, learning and experimentation shapes his craft.

Watching a glassmaker stretch a piece of molten glass into a string the width of a hair and the length of a room was the moment Edmond Byrne knew he had found his calling. “I was hooked from that instant,” he says. “My perception of glass had been of transparent cut crystal – very precise, very controlled. And yet this was so malleable – it was like toffee. Glass is a tremendously diverse material and I was attracted to its spontaneity.” Byrne was undertaking a BA in Design in Craft at Dublin’s National College of Art and Design at the time, but he was studying graphic design. The demonstration was part of his core year (the equivalent of the foundation year in the UK) and resulted in both an immediate switch to a glass specialism, and an appreciation for the power of education that has seen him combine the two ever since.

Photography by Ester Segarra. 
Photography by Ester Segarra

Listed chronologically, his qualifications alternate between glass and teaching – as well as his BA, he has an MA in glass and two postgraduate qualifications in education, the most recent of which was earned at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) where he remains as a technical tutor to this day. He believes this combination of teaching and learning – of being both student and mentor – is crucial: “The two things feed each other. The more you develop your practice, the more you learn and the more you have to teach. It’s a tacit knowledge that can’t be learned from books. I’m always researching and experimenting to discover interesting ways of working with glass to use in my demonstrations to students, and my own practice in the wider glass community brings real-life experience and relevance to my teaching.”

When he is making his own work, he rents ‘hot shops’ – the part of the workshop where glass is blown, as opposed to the ‘cold shop’ where glass is polished – but his day-to-day base is within the industrial-looking glass workshops at UCA, surrounded by towering shelves of supplies. The art school comprises a series of low-slung modern buildings on the outskirts of Farnham – a market town in Surrey designated England’s ‘craft town’ as of 2013. The university boasts its own museum, often curated by students, and state-of-the art facilities built for function not form – a hot-shop, kiln room, and cold working facilities are about to be enhanced with a £100,000 investment in new glass blowing facilities. “UCA is a vibrant and creative environment,” he says. “Being surrounded by people who are as enthusiastic about learning and as excited about glass as you are is really inspiring.”

In the future, Byrne has ambitions to create a massive ‘emotion landscape’ of glass. “Something like the Tate Modern’s Turbine Gallery where the work could completely envelop you, filling your peripheral vision,” he suggests. “I am a huge Rothko fan, so I’d love to work at a scale where your vision is filled – and experiment with how your eyes react. When you look at those Rothko paintings and you get retinal fatigue so they dissolve into a single tone of burgundy, it’s magical.” But for now, his proudest accomplishment is twofold and, unsurprisingly, it includes both learning and teaching. “Getting through the RCA was a pretty big achievement,” he says. “And being able to pass that knowledge on to the next generation is a wonderful thing too.”

You can buy Issue 268 of Crafts Magazine here.