Nestled in amid a vivid, thriving garden is a studio that faces west. As the sun sets on a crisp winter afternoon, the light sneaks its way in through the door, meeting the artist inside.
It’s a peaceful space, a sanctuary for thought and planning, but made vibrant with glass creations on every surface. Each piece has a personality of its own, defined by distinct colours, textures and rhythms.
“I feel like glass just gives me so much,” Clare Belfrage says of the medium she has worked with for three decades.
“There are a lot of challenges and I love nutting stuff out. There’s a lot more to be learned, and that’s stimulating. Thirty years ago, I had no idea and couldn’t imagine what is possible now.”
While her large studio is in the backyard of her home in Kensington, Belfrage does the glassblowing at JamFactory. And it’s not only the endless potential for growth that keeps her fascination with glass alive – it’s also the drama.
“It’s fast. It requires teamwork, and I like that, a lot,” says the artist, who is a former SALA feature artist and has won many awards, including the inaugural FUSE Glass Prize in 2016.
“You have this group of people for this intense period of time, say four hours. We’re all working with the goal of making this thing successful, and it’s high stakes. If you lose your focus, you make mistakes and have a hell of a time fixing it.”
Belfrage finds immense satisfaction in the physical engagement and tactility of glass art, and with that comes an intimacy with the work. There are other intimacies at play in her practice as well, particularly a deep connection with the natural world: its rhythm, its structure and its imperfections.
“A connection with nature is really important for the human experience and human understanding, and it’s become more urgent,” she says.
A great deal of Belfrage’s work focuses on the repetition of lines – something she is drawn to in nature, particularly in plant life.
“So, like with casuarinas and with xanthorrhoea, there’s that incredible rhythm built up just by, essentially, this repetition of the lines that might shift in its shape or shift in the way that the light interacts with it. I’m drawn to that.
“Being an artist is my job. I do it every day, and I think about it even more, probably!
“Someone once told me, ‘You carry your studio in your head’, and I think that’s true. It’s part of the way you view the world.”
While there is precision in her work, Belfrage is not in pursuit of perfection; the tensions that come with imperfection prove to be of greater interest.
“Where there are imperfections, where there’s an aberration, where there’s a shift in the rhythm. For me, that partly describes the living of a life, where there’s been tightness or hardness, where there’s been lushness and abundance.”
These tensions that Belfrage incorporates into her work have become something of a trademark, which has evolved with her over her career.
“When I was studying, I had my heroes that I would go find in library books, and I just felt, ‘What am I going to do that’s different? And what do I have to offer?’
“It took about 10 years just to sort of lay the groundwork for that, to find out what I’m about. But I feel like I’m still working stuff out with the material and with the processes all the time.”
In August, at the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre in New South Wales, Belfrage will hold her third solo show in 10 months – an enormous feat by any standard. Titled In the Glow of Green, it’s on the back of a residency in the gallery’s Nancy Fairfax Artist in Residence Studio.
“It was two weeks of just really quiet, thoughtful research: walking in the rainforest, a lot of photography, fair bit of writing, drawing, and just absorbing the place, all on my own,” she says of the residency.
In the Glow of Green will not only feature new pieces, but work from across Belfrage’s career. She says she has been enjoying how her works can speak to each other across the years.
“It’s been really similar themes, in some ways, for many years, particularly the last 20. But I’ve approached the themes in different ways and dealt with the glass in different ways.”
This all coincides with her retirement from her role as a board member of Guildhouse, where she has held the position of deputy chair since 2017. While Belfrage describes the not-for-profit as a “fantastic organisation”, she says it’s time for a change.
“At its core, it [Guildhouse] has been there to support us to have sustainable careers. Artists have such an important role to play within our culture, within our society, so we need sustainable careers.
“It’s the next chapter, which I always feel pretty excited about. I think change is good. I feel really proud, but I’m ready for the next thing.”
And, after a mammoth year, that “next thing” for Belfrage is a “clean slate of blank”.
“It’s a mixture of enormous relief because it’s been quite a solid, intense period. I love work, and I love working hard, but I’m ready for a little bit of space.
“But, I’ve got lots of ideas generating and I’m excited about it, and where that will go.”
Read more about Clare Belfrage’s practice on her website.
In the Studio is a regular series presented by InReview in partnership with not-for-profit organisation Guildhouse. The series shares interesting stories about South Australian visual artists, craftspeople and designers, offering insight into their artistic practices and a behind-the-scenes look at their studios or work spaces. Read our previous stories here.
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