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Lisa Samphire, "lamps"
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Lisa Samphire, "vessel"
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Lisa Samphire, "vessel."
LISA SAMPHIRE, Pattern in Light
Circle Craft Co-operative, Vancouver
August 4 - September 5, 2006
By Bettina Matzkuhn
Lisa Samphire’s glass vessels are enrobed in rhythmic stripes, circles, striated bands and blocks of colour. Their patterning isn’t ‘put on’, rather it is literally built into the material. In textiles, metal or clay, the patterns would generally be applied to the surface; in Samphire’s glass, the pattern is both decoration and structure.
Her exhibit includes free standing vessels and a series of lamps – a new adventure for her. The minimal stainless steel fixtures make a perfect foil for the extravagant shades. Samphire has been researching the different colour temperatures of various bulbs and how to avoid too much heat buildup in the enclosed space of the glass. She does all the work: for the viewer, one flip of the switch is all it takes to set off a dance of saturated purple, red and amber.
Samphire holds a BFA from the University of Victoria with a focus on printmaking. She says this discipline is relevant to being a glass artist as it combines rigorous technical elements with intuitive vision. Her inspiration blooms from the dense, luminous patterns of traditional eastern carpets and the pixel-like, glittering segments that make up butterflies’ wings. Samphire said she was smitten by Austrian artist Hundertwasser’s architectural mosaics she saw in Vienna and New Zealand. The riots of colour and pattern in the work struck her as pure joy – a joy that continues to resonate in her own work.
At her studio at Starfish Glassworks in Victoria, B.C., Samphire begins with a sketchbook and pencil, exploring the intersection of form and pattern in a series of drawings. These are accompanied by notes on the colour codes of glass as well as lengthy mathematical equations that estimate the amount of materials needed. Two scholarships to study the process of making and using murini allowed Samphire to work with glass artists Ralph Mossman of Idaho and Giles Bettison of Australia at the Corning Museum of Glass studios in New York. Both men are innovators in this technique.
Samphire cuts 2’ x 3’ sheets of glass into strips and layers the colours. Briefly heating them in the kiln makes them melt together; heating them further allows her to elongate them into “canes”. These are cut with the metal beak of a chopping tool into bite-sized pieces called murini – like extra-hard licorice allsorts. She spends hours arranging them on a steel plate while keeping in mind their three-dimensional future. They are heated, first to fuse them together and again to roll the whole slab into a cylinder, joining the seam and attaching it by a clear glass collar to the blow pipe. Samphire says there is a temperature at which all the molecules in the little pieces are “happy together” and become one - but overheat them and they will liquefy and lose their patterns.
Samphire will blow the glass into the shape she wants, sometimes manipulating it even further with paper and cork paddles. One vessel has two flattened sides and a rounded one evoking the body and wings of a butterfly. After the glass has cooled, there is still more work “carving” – grinding off the faintly uneven surface with diamond encrusted wheels – and an acid etch bath to finish off. This sharpens the colour and clarity the way putting a beach stone in water makes it glow.
Samphire has made her living from her glass work for over 20 years, including supporting herself through her BFA and a diploma from the Art Therapy Institute in West Vancouver. Currently, she manages the bookkeeping and accounting for Starfish Glassworks - a limited company she formed with two colleagues in order to pool their resources. All her behind-the-scenes work is discreetly hidden from the viewer, as is her exacting and labour-intensive process. We are simply offered works that are as mysterious as they are delightful.