2022 is the UN’s International Year of Glass, a major celebration of this magical, beautiful and amazingly versatile material. There are many exhibitions and events: we’ve chosen to focus on the British Glass Biennale, which features over a dozen Design-Nation current and alumni members.
This week we talk to Opal Seabrook, an artist who brings a zingy Pop Art approach to her lively ensembles of cut glass. Opal joined Design-Nation earlier this year and is based in Hertfordshire. We asked her ‘What work are you showing at the Biennale?’
Opal Seabrook: The piece I am honoured to be showing at the British Glass Biennale is called The Time is Now – London Edition.
Design-Nation: Tell us about your ideas and the processes involved in making your work.
OS: I love storytelling, creating beautiful artworks with an interesting or even dark back story, and I love making people smile. Art is good for the soul and for mental well-being. I try to bring art into as many people’s lives as possible.
As a child I was intrigued with comic art and graphic novels, and I moved increasingly into graffiti and other storytelling and narrative art too.
This time feels explosive. Over recent years, I have been confronted and challenged by local and global situations which feel like a melting pot, surpassing the limits of what we believe is acceptable. This has made me stop and take a longer look around, becoming clearer on how I can make a difference, both as an individual and as an artist.
My glass journey began in traditional stained glass, where I developed meticulous precision hand-cutting techniques, ensuring every piece of glass is used, and nothing wasted. Working with a small kiln and limited studio space means that I must engineer and develop fusing techniques to enable me to create the pieces I see in my mind’s eye.
D-N: It’s the International Year of Glass – what makes this amazing material special to you? Why do you choose to work with it?
OS: When I watched someone making stained glass for the first time, it absolutely intrigued me. Firstly, it hit me that the craftsmanship and techniques have hardly changed since medieval times. Then, I realised how much stained glass is used for storytelling. Through the ages, art of all different types has been used to tell or illustrate stories, transcending written and spoken languages.
I have developed my glass art styles and techniques to be as sustainable as possible, refining my glass cutting techniques to minimize waste, and keeping all the offcuts to either use within other artworks or I grind them to create glass frit or powder. I even keep and make artworks from the waste products (sludge!) from my glass machines.
I choose to work with glass because it is bright and vibrant. There’s always the excitement and thrill of opening the kiln, each and every time. Sometimes you feel in control of the glass, and sometimes the glass controls you! I love the challenges glass gives me – spurring me on to design a way to create an effect if a particular colour, tone or effect isn’t already available.
D-N: What are your plans for the future? Where would you like to go, physically or metaphorically?
OS: Over recent months and years, I have been working on a body of work to address global issues – whether it’s war, equality/inequality, sustainability, global warming etc.
During the Covid lockdowns and with the help of my uncle, I built a new studio in my garden designed with sustainability in mind. Excluding my equipment, all the interior has been built using items reclaimed from skips, freecycle and second-hand purchases. I have repurposed these for my bespoke working environment, creating an area that maximises the best use of the space available. Having built this studio will also mean eliminating the emissions in driving to my previous studio, plus the costs and energy usage of renting that separate studio.
Following my selection for the British Glass Biennale in 2019 I was invited to teach some classes at leading UK facilities. I had also planned to travel to the USA to exhibit and collaborate with several fellow artists. Although this travel was postponed due to Covid, I’d love to use the next few years to travel around the UK and to different countries further afield to further inspire my work and techniques, learning and teaching as I go.
Interview by Laura Jacometti and Liz Cooper