Ever since she was a child, Australian artist Clare Belfrage has been uniquely attuned to rhythm. From listening to nature's pulse to immersing herself in the tempo of glass-making, she has made rhythm a continual focal point of her life and practice, finding in it a serenity and yet restlessness returned to time and again. “The industry in nature, its rhythm and energy, dramatic and delicate still holds my fascination as does the language and processes of glass," Belfrage writes in her artist statement. A similar industriousness is manifest in her own work: especially her series of delicately colored, evocative vessels that express a movement and vitality within themselves, and have evolved over the years in theme and technique. Marked by Belfrage’s mastery of fine cane drawing and stringers, the work is quietly impressive, and has recently been recognized in a new book and a short film. In addition to the publishing and film projects, Belfrage is also going to be showing in exhibitions in both Australia and the U.S.
The new monograph, Clare Belfrage: Rhythms of Necessity by Kay Lawrence and Sera Waters, is the first major publication on Clare's career as a glass artist. The book arose out of Belfrage’s successful nomination for the 2018 annual South Australia Living Artists (SALA) monograph. In support of the state's practicing visual artists and art writers, SALA Inc. Board yearly organizes the production of a book on a living South Australian artist, with funding from Arts South Australia and publication by Wakefield Press. Belfrage's book is the twentieth in the series and can be ordered here.
To quote from the press release, it “highlights her preoccupation with the pulse and flow of the natural world”, and, in tandem, “explores the bodily processes of glass blowing, particularly the specific skills of fine cane drawing for which she is renowned.”
In an email exchange with the Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet, Belfrage traced her vision for the monograph to her awareness of being uniquely attuned to rhythm, from the presence of music in her childhood to the constant turning and tension in glass-making. “The title, Rhythms of Necessity, came directly from a discussion around my making process, how working with hot glass dictates certain rhythms of movement, and connected strongly to the cane drawing process I use,” she commented. “So it seemed to really make sense as a title, as a way of holding different aspects of my life and work.”
This fluidity and intuition has shaped the monograph throughout its production, and, to quote from the press release, a “sense of rhythm underpins the structure of this book: an interleaving of short texts and stunning photographs of Belfrage’s vessels that reveal her story to date.”
Belfrage entrusted the writing of this story to fellow Australian academics and practicing artists Kay Lawrence and Sera Waters. Lawrence and Belfrage had previously worked alongside one another as academic staff members at the School of Art at the University of South Australia, where Lawrence was also at one point the Head of School, and the two had known each other for many years. The decision to approach her was intuitive, Belfrage said, as Lawrence “has a great perspective including a long one of contemporary visual arts and craft practice.”
Belfrage met Sera Waters more recently, after being drawn to her artwork and writing on craft practice. “I invited her to work on the project to bring a fresh perspective on my work,” Belfrage said. “I felt the combination of the two writers would be very interesting.” And instead of two separate essays, the writers worked collaboratively, interweaving their different themes and takes throughout the book, which intentionally does not progress chronologically but instead works through recurring ideas across Belfrage’s career. The intended result is to place her practice in a number of contexts.
“Putting the book together was a huge project,” Belfrage told Glass Quarterly. “It has caused me to be very reflective both through the hours of interviews with the writers and of course going through a lifetime of images.”
Together, Belfrage, Lawrence, and Waters did many hours of recorded interviews, discussed the approach to take with the monograph, and had “great round table conversations as [they] moved through several drafts.” The writers were assisted by Kirsty Dalaston, who wrote the Chronology and compiled the CV, and “was integral to the whole project.”
“It felt like a very rich collaboration,” Belfrage said. “We wanted to create a beautiful object and to tell a good story...Everyone who was involved in the book, writers, photographers, designers and publishers feel that we have achieved that aim.”
Belfrage has also recently released a brief video introduction to her work: A Measure of Time, in collaboration with filmmaker Randy Larcombe and his partner Suzi Ting. It is an atmospheric dive into her process and philosophy, suffused with sensory richness and a quiet reverence. Takes of Belfrage and her team at work blowing, torching, and sanding in the studio are interspersed with images of the Australian landscape, all rendered intimately with a close attention to nuances of color and texture. And in her narration and in interview segments, Belfrage offers thoughtful meditations on the physicality of the process, of deriving wonder from nature, and of finding transcendence in the little things.
“The film was an exciting and intense experience,” Belfrage said, “It was amazing being part of and witnessing the process, to see it come into being.” Though the end result is an effective four minutes, Belfrage said the project began with a two-hour long interview with Larcombe. Larcombe built the form of the film from there, whittling it down into a concise, rhythmic synthesis of Belfrage’s core concerns. Belfrage concluded: “Although I knew next to nothing about film I felt that we easily spoke the same language, I guess that of artists. We ‘got’ each other.”
As much effort has gone into reflection and celebration with these latest projects, Belfrage is far from resting on her laurels.
In autumn this year, she will be exhibiting what is likely her biggest solo show to date, with 25 pieces on display. From July 27th to September 16th, “JamFactory Icon 2018 Clare Belfrage: A Measure of Time” will be on display at JamFactory. It is part of the organization’s annual Icon series, which highlights the work of one of South Australia’s most influential artists working in a craft based media each year. After opening at the SALA festival in Adelaide, the exhibition will travel to ten other venues around Australia over the next three years.
“Along with the monograph, it is a real honor to be recognized in this way and it feels particularly exciting for this exhibition to have such a long life and reach such a large audience,” Belfrage enthused. “The longevity of the exhibition was a big part of the reason I commissioned the film. It will accompany the exhibition and is another way to help audiences connect to my work.”
“A Measure of Time” will offer the opportunity to see new work made in just the last nine months, alongside some earlier pieces for context and counterpoint. Belfrage said, “I would describe it as a very gentle show - we painted the walls a soft grey - and as you immerse yourself in the space, the textures, rhythms, colors and forms really come to the fore. It is soft yet dynamic.”
This exhibition in her home country is to be followed by another major show in U.S. this year.
From October 19th to November 18th, “A Breathing Landscape: Clare Belfrage Solo Exhibition" will be shown at Tansey Contemporary in Santa Fe. This exhibit includes works from recent series such as In Deep and Quiet Shifting as well as from the very new Shedding and Close Impression. Belfrage has said that the work in her newest series springs from a particular fascination with trees, and explore tree skins and bark shapes, colors, and patterns. While “the presence of line is strong,” it is also enlivened with other elements such as a dynamic surface rhythm and texture created by shards of different colors and shapes. “I think the combination of works will give a sensory experience of elements that relate to being immersed within the landscape,” Belfrage said.
And as for the future? “I love working out how to get certain patterns and textures and I have also really liked making some work at a much larger scale recently,” Belfrage said. And with comments that tell of both an endless energy and serenity: “I am loving being an artist, a glass-maker as much as ever. I still feel like I am learning a lot. I have lots I want to do within my art practice in terms of new ideas so I will just keep on going (or doing…or being).”
TO ORDER THE BOOK:
“JamFactory Icon 2018 Clare Belfrage: A Measure of Time”
July 27, 2018 - September 16, 2018
19 Morphett Street
Adelaide SA 5000
Tel: (08) 8410-0727
“A Breathing Landscape: Clare Belfrage Solo Exhibition"
October 19, 2018 - November 18, 2018
652 Canyon Road
Santa Fe NM, 87501
Tel: (505) 995-8513