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Glass artist Kirstie Rea named 2020 DESIGN Canberra designer-in-residence

Internationally celebrated Canberra-based glass artist Kirstie Rea was last week announced as the 2020 DESIGN Canberra designer-in-residence.

The role of designer-in-residence required Rea to design and produce a signature work for the festival responding to the 2020 theme of ‘care’.

To do that, Rea told Canberra Weekly she came back to a form she has been using and developing for at least a decade that uses a process of folding glass to create a glass blanket.

Her sculpture, With Care, features a stack of Rea’s glass blankets set within a timber doorframe handcrafted by a friend of hers, woodworker Zeljko Markov.

Visiting Rea at her Pialligo studio, set in an idyllically located rustic shed, With Care features prominently on a podium in a gallery space.

Nearby on a workbench are dozens of her glass blankets.

“In the past I’ve done single blankets and sometimes stacked them in little piles, so this time I decided to stack a big pile of blankets within a doorway, and the doorway really thinking about lockdown over the early pandemic months,” she said.

“It represents leaving something on the doorstep for someone that was an object of care … For me, the glass blanket represents comfort and care, care you can offer someone,” she said.

Rea has run her practice out of her Pialligo studio since 1987, teaching and producing art, describing it as a perfect location “amongst the apples and horses”.

“I love coming to work … I don’t want to work from home, I love that drive here and the separation.”

Rea started to develop the idea for the work in January/February, shortly after being approached by Craft ACT to be the DESIGN Canberra artist-in-residence.

“I developed it on paper, as I do,” she said. “I also tend to write a lot of words around the concept – concept build. Those words and that writing helps me visualize form.”

Rea developed her glass folding technique some 10 years ago in Calgary, Canada when she was there for a semester teaching at the Alberta College of Art and Design.

“I was there for a winter semester and very much thinking about back home and Australia and summer, and that’s when I started to think about the form of the blanket,” Rea said.

“Slowly I was running sheets of glass through the kiln, slowly folding them over various items, and came up with a folded blanket.

The form takes “about four firings” to get it folded as a blanket might be.

“In the early stages it’s just an overnight firing so it’s quite quick, but as the layers of the glass come together like the layers of a blanket would, it cools a lot slower in the kiln so it’s a few days.”

Kirstie Rea Design Canberra feature sculpture With Care
Rea’s sculpture, With Care, features a stack of her glass blankets set within a timber doorframe handcrafted by her friend, woodworker Zeljko Markov.

Rea has been an active member of Craft ACT, which runs DESIGN Canberra, since the early 1990s when they were based in Watson, regularly attending exhibition openings and even teaching for them.

She started working with glass after taking her first class in 1974 right out of school.

In the early days, her practice focused on stained glass.

“My initial attraction to it was light and colour, and they still are big attractions to the medium,” she said.

Rea started studying glassmaking after seeing a degree starting up at the Canberra School of Art in 1982 run by Canberra arts legend, Klaus Moje.

One of the first cohort to complete that course, she credits a worldliness Moje instilled in her for her progression and development as an artist.

“Early on … he showed us and made us aware of what was going on around the world,” she said.

“We were really encouraged to travel … Even as students, he put our work in exhibitions that travelled internationally, which was incredibly generous of him.

“In the past 30 years I’ve travelled every year, only one year I didn’t travel, to America and other parts of the world to teach and exhibit, except for this year which was cancelled.”

Rea’s glass sculpture With Care will be exhibited during the DESIGN Canberra Festival, which is scheduled to be held 9-29 November; click here for more.

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