Artist who sees through the glass brightly

Contemporary glass artist Richard Whiteley from Australia is holding his first solo exhibition in China, "Illuminated Space," at Shanghai Museum of Glass.
Artist who sees through the glass brightly
Ti Gong

"Blue Lung"

Contemporary glass artist Richard Whiteley from Australia is holding his first solo exhibition in China, “Illuminated Space,” at Shanghai Museum of Glass.

A master craftsman, Whiteley takes full advantage of the inherent properties of glass and light to express ideas about the physical and spiritual relationship to space through the 16 pieces of cast glass on show.

Each piece, from model making to lengthy casting and cold working processes, took the artist several months and dozens of kilograms of glass to produce.

“I’m trying to explore three themes: organic bodily structures, architectural voids and an imagined ideal of space,” he said.

Like architecture, his work has entrances and internal spaces which, when taken together, can be read as a metaphor for the human body. Each seems to inhale and exhale the light captured within, creating a sense of wonder and moment of personal introspection.

The voided form is something Whiteley has always been drawn to.

“Light is able to move through glass and to really be trapped and refracted by the glass. And in that way, the outer shapes and the inner shapes of the glass become one and they create a compelling conversation,” he said.

Part of his glass works were inspired by attending his aging parents’ medical appointments and seeing their body scans.

“Although I didn’t understand those MRI and CT images, there was a sense of horror and awe with them. Then without even thinking about it, abstracted bodily forms started to become visible in my drawings and model,” Whiteley recalled.

The organic, corporeal gestures in some of the pieces in this exhibition are a reminder of people’s desire to see within and know the inner workings of the bodies or other systems. 

“These works are created from the inside out — the abstract and asymmetrical forms which create the voids are generated first, with the external structure built to encapsulate them,” he said.

Color also plays an important role, which is often soft and understated in his glass art.

“I don’t want the color to overpower the form; it has to have an emotive quality, a tone,” he said.

Whiteley became an apprentice in a stained-glass studio at the age of 16 and has spent more than 30 years working with glass, becoming one of Australia’s foremost kiln cast glass artists. Across his career, he has been driven to explore the way light moves through glass — either trapped or refracted — and has mastered its ability to conjure a sense of wonder.

Date: Through October 13 (closed on Mondays), 9am-5:30pm

Venue: Temporary Exhibition Hall, Shanghai Museum of Glass

Address: 685 Changjiang Rd W.

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