Christine Cholewa is a Canadian / Adelaidian glass artist currently showing a new body of work at Craft. Christine’s work uses graphic imagery to record and detail moments in life, in particular showing the evolving connection between humans and nature through blown, fused and sandblasted glass panels. Cholewa draws on her own personal life, the imagery depicted in this exhibition come from the realm of the everyday with a comfortable familiarity. Christine talks to Gallery Curator Debbie Pryor about her art practice, her collaborative public art works and her upcoming projects.
Your work in Place & Time observes our interactions with our environment, in both natural and urban settings. What is it that draws you to this subject matter?
In some ways the subjects in my art select themselves. None of my imagery or photos that I work from are staged or set up in any way. There are of course instances when the lighting or setting is easier to work with or I know will be ideal for the process of making my work, but it is not until I am reviewing the imagery do I know if I am going to use an image. The moments that I use just come from my everyday life. They are ordinary but in a good way. I want to press pause for a moment and let us ponder these everyday events and appreciate them. Sometimes I might look at a photo or image and think “no that is not right” and then the next time I might see the same photo differently and think “this image is really good, lets see if it will work”.
As a glass blower, how did you develop your exhibition work from the object-based pieces you previously made to two dimensional wall based glass and photographic work?
I have always tried to combine imagery and objects, even in my work at uni I was always making stencils to fire onto the glass, or sandblasting imagery onto forms. One day I just made the leap from the plinth to the wall, and it seemed to make sense. I had trouble connecting the imagery on 3D forms, but somehow making wall pieces with imagery was more practical and straightforward.
Place & Time is your first solo exhibition in Victoria, the works in your show are set in Canada, Europe and Adelaide, many of them could easily be mistaken for a Melbourne setting – do you feel that you were capturing universal elements within these separate cities?
I think that since these moments are just snap shots of my life and travels that they definitely can relate to other people’s experiences, in other places. I am your average person, living a similar existence as the billions of others I share this planet with. Often the moments are really simple ones, like a bike ride or walk through a city or town when travelling, or when I am doing my weekly errands around the city. It would be nice to explore imagery focusing on a set city or location, but I have not done this yet.
Your processes of making follows that of traditional sheet glass fabrication, pre industrialisation (blowing a hot glass canister, slicing it down the middle and slumping into a sheet); very few makers create sheet glass this way as it is easily purchasable, is this traditional process important to your work?
I enjoy working with both types of glass. The large black squares in the exhibition are made using off the shelf or industry made sheet glass. I finish the edges and sandblast them, before fire polishing the image in the kiln. I like the cleanliness of these images and the simplicity of the one colour. The hand blown and made sheet glass I use in the other pieces in the show. Being a glassblower by trade, I enjoy the process of being in the hot glass studio, and making. When I began making wall pieces I was just using the skills and studio and equipment I already had to make sheet glass. It was a straightforward and logical move in my practice. I am not a kiln worker so I am not skilled or knowledgeable in working with flat sheet glass made by industry. That being said there is something I really like about the quality of the hand made sheet glass. The unevenness in thickness, and colour application that is unachievable in the shop bought glass. Being hand made is important to my work, and I enjoy the process of making, but I don’t want to limit myself to one process or type of glass.
Aside from your own art practice you also collaborate with Deb Jones in designing and making public art – what is your process of working collaboratively, and what are challenges/triumphs when working outside of glass?
I work collaboratively with Deb Jones making public artwork and designs under the name of CHEB. Working in the public art realm, glass is often not a suitable material. It is not robust enough, or too expensive for certain applications and budgets. So that is why when working in the public art world we often use other materials. Usually the material we select is just the best one for the job to get our idea across. Working collaboratively is really straightforward for us. It is like job sharing. We both have certain strengths we bring to the job and we brainstorm ideas, methods, and materials for each scenario. I think we work well together because we totally trust each other and can totally rely on each other to not let team CHEB down. In a lot of ways doing public art is more like project management, there are plenty of meetings, and planning, and paperwork to be completed along side the creative processes. I wouldn’t enjoy doing these things in isolation, its much more fun working together.
You are part of the team at the Gate8 studio, a studio space hosting glass artists, jewellers and a graphic designer – tell us about the studio space you work from.
The studio is in a neighbourhood just outside Adelaide CBD about a ten-minute bike ride from my home. The studio is located in an old Baptist church. The front room where the services were held is where we have set up our personal design spaces. Each artist has a set space that they can use for running their business in this main space. Behind this main room are other shared workshop spaces, with sandblaster, kilns, basic wood and metal working tools. At the back of the building is a cold shop used for glass and stone working, as well as mould making, but everything is on wheels in that room so sometimes it is used for large workshop space, or even cleared out for the odd social gathering. Next door to the studio is the old church hall, which lucky for us has a building company working from there, and we work with them on our public art projects.
What artists/thinkers influence your work?
My first response is, ugh I don’t know. But really there are just so many people. There are those people in the local glass community who I look up to for technical ability, and professional practice. There are those people around me at the studio in the local artist community who inspire me with their drive for achievement in their work, and always pushing their work further. There are those people who make great work who I am envious of, and make me want to be a better artist. Its really hard to say where the inspiration comes from directly, it’s a big mix of making, and professional practice and community, that drive me to keep going. Sometimes the artwork seems to have a bit of a life of its own, and I try not to get in the way of it.
What’s next for Christine Cholewa?
I have just sent off a piece to the Hobart City Art Prize, I am a finalist. That show is up until end November months at the Hobart Museum and Art Gallery.
I also have a couple pieces that I am making for an exhibition at JamFactory Gallery in Seppeltsfield that opens in November called 1+3. The premise of this show is that furniture maker Andrew Bartlett is the 1 and then 3 other artists myself, Deb Jones, and Kate Sutherland all make some work collaboratively with Andrew. I am making some glass panelling for some furniture.
CHEB is working on a few public art projects, we have about 4 different jobs that we are at various stages of execution, and will keep us busy in to the new year.
I just wanted to thank Craft for giving me the opportunity to have an exhibition at the gallery, my first time exhibiting in Melbourne. It has been enjoyable working with the team at Craft during install and in preparing for the show.