Jennifer Hopper had a smashing time catching up with shattered-glass sculptor Matt Calvert.
There is the crunch of broken glass underfoot, tiny little pieces of it glitter the ground. There is a windowpane on the floor, smashed to bits and a bucket filled to its brim with gleaming granules. This is the studio of Tasmanian sculptor Matt Calvert, an artist who smashes to smithereens perfect panes of glass. He’s busy preparing for his upcoming exhibition I Spy at Criterion Gallery in Hobart. On show are his five smashed-glass sculptures in the form of children’s silhouettes.
Calvert works from his custom-built studio, high in the hills behind Hobart, eye-level with the clouds. It’s an idyllic setting in which to puzzle the pieces of his sculptures together, one miniscule shard at a time. Calvert begins the painstaking process by lining the base of his handmade moulds with two layers of laminated unbroken glass. He then builds up the layers of broken glass. “It takes literally hours and hours and hours: building up each layer as I go. I’m averaging one, sometimes two layers a day, so it usually takes 6-8 hours per layer. When I have 10 layers, I silicone them together and stand them upright.”
It’s the kind of torturous process that could either be considered meditative or mad, and Calvert often oscillates between the two. “It’s quite a contemplative exercise. I find the smallest possible piece and I work up from that,” he says. “Initially I was quite taken by the process, but the more you do it the less likely you are to enjoy it and I find as many things as I can to occupy my time while I’m doing it,” he laughs. But the results are worth the hours of assembly. Glass has a seductive quality, dangerously beautiful, tempting the eyes with its glittering good looks “It’s quite unique looking. It does have a very jewel-like quality,” says Calvert. Recently he’s taken to using black silicone instead of his usual clear silicone as a way of bonding the layers, lending the glass a darkened, semi-opaque quality.
I Spy applies this blackened glass effect to Calvert’s latest subject, retro silhouettes. Chidren’s figures, lifted from a 1950s magazine, are his current inspiration. The knock-kneed innocence of little Rosie and the youthful wonder of Boy Holding Rabbit are captured in Calvert’s splintered glass. The result is a process of starkly rendered figures, half a metre or so tall, whose complex construction is revealed as the viewer peers into the layer upon layers of hairline fractures.
Calvert’s fascination with glass began years ago when he started collecting the shards of red, white and orange tail lights left behind after road accidents. He used the shards to cover traffic cones, a sharp reminder of the accidents they memorialised. It was when Calvert was experimenting with plate glass that he discovered the inspiring qualities of safety glass. “I started using it purely be accident after smashing a big sheet and not realising that it was toughened glass,” he recalls, describing how he repeatedly threw a hammer at a newly delivered pane only to watch the glass bounce it straight back. After throwing the hammer from a great height with far from smashing results, Calvert idly tapped the side of the pane, the weakest part. “It exploded quite dramatically before my eyes,” he laughs. “I decided that I should be doing something with it and I’ve been working with it ever since.”
I Spy is at Criterion Gallery in Hobart until 22 September 2007. For more information, visit www.criteriongallery.com.au
By Jennifer Hooper
The J Arts Crew is a joint initiative of the Australia Council, the Australian Government’s arts funding body, and triple j.