Introducing Contemporary Glass Artist Edmond Byrne

A quick glance at our portfolio of artists will tell you that as gallerists we are most excited by artists whose work is not just technically brilliant but has a true point of difference - a force of energy that stops us in our tracks. They use a combination of technical expertise and experimentation to pursue their creative ideas and this opens up new horizons. So when we first came across the work of contemporary glass artist, Edmond Byrne, who is renowned for his experimental approach to making, we started to follow his career with great interest, adding his richly coloured glass sculptures to our portfolio earlier this year.

We were first introduced to Edmond's work by the Design & Crafts Council Ireland in 2019. He had just won the RDS Irish Craft Bursary for his and metal artist Adi Toch's innovative collaboration, a groundbreaking body of work, some of which has since been acquired by the V&A Museum and the Ulster Museum.
We are proud to be showing Edmond's latest body of work, Ensemble Collection II later this month at Collect 2022. For over a decade the artist has collected various off-cuts from his exquisite handblown glass, pieces that had some kind of resonance - a uniqueness of colour, shape, or patina - setting them aside for future reconsideration. The Ensemble Collection is a sculptural body of work borne out of these severed discards. Each unique piece has the DNA of the work they played an essential role in creating and, in their current composition, form a vehicle for Edmond to explore an alternative language of form and colour interplay in a search for a more sustainable way of making.
In the run-up to Collect 2022, we caught up with Edmond to find out more about this body of work and his practice in general.

  • On show at Collect 2022 with Cavaliero Finn as part of Edmond's series Ensemble Collection II

    On show at Collect 2022 with Cavaliero Finn as part of Edmond's series Ensemble Collection II

  • CF: Could you elaborate on the sculptural elements of your work. The pieces you are making for Cavaliero Finn for Collect 2022 will be entirely sculptural rather than functional which is one of the aspects that drew us to you, how did this draw you to wanting to work within the context of our gallery, particularly given that we don’t specialise in glass?
    EB: The Ensemble Collection uses discards from my making process and repurposes them to create sculptural forms. In a way, I see these fragments as the DNA of the work they helped create. When assembled into new work they still contain the residue of vessels. Making this work helps me challenge my aesthetic and extend my enquiry into form, texture and colour.
    As a maker, I do not seek out the conventional aesthetics of glass. I experiment: I dip it in water to make it crack and cover it in china clay, then blow it into a canvas mould. The process is irreverent to the material and this opens a visual language that excites me. In addition, this language allows the work to sit among other works that you would not expect glass to be among. This opens up curatorial opportunities and new audiences to reconsider what glass can be.
  • Exploring process

  • CF: We love that you are using off-cuts to create this work which feels particularly relevant as we reassess our approaches to waste and sustainability. Was it lockdown that made you think about developing this series or is it something you have been thinking about for a while?
    EB: I’ve been thinking about it for a while, collecting off-cuts for several years, that were too beautiful to just throw away. Lockdown and the subsequent lack of facilities for glassblowing created the necessity to reevaluate my work and what I could do in a more sustainable way, using ‘cold’ processes rather than high energy ‘hot’ processes.
    CF: Can you elaborate on the processes involved in this particular collection? What techniques do you use? What made you choose the particular off-cuts that feature in these works?
    EB: The process is predominantly cold working: using grinding and polishing abrasive equipment to shape and polish fragments to carefully fit together into sculptural forms. The pieces are laminated together using ultraviolet light.
    When beginning a piece of work I have a group of off-cuts that I select from. This is like a library of colours, forms and textures. I select from this group to bring together an ‘ensemble’. I look for colours that work together and try to see where the off-cuts want to take the work. It's a balancing act: starting with predetermined fragments with limitations, and discovering forms I would never have considered making from scratch. Several possible iterations are assembled and recorded before one is settled on.
  • CF: What is it that first attracted you to working with glass?

    EB: When blowing with hot glass there is a magical moment when it suddenly changes from liquid to solid, capturing the shape and gesture of the moment forever. Combined with its interrelation with colour and light, glass became a formidable medium of expression for me.


    CF: Your process can be said to be quite experimental? How is it different to the way other glass artists work and how has your way of working evolved?
    EB: As a creative, I have a habit of seeking out novelty, which can be a crux in a practice that draws from an ancient craft and traditional techniques. But as my practice has evolved I have been able to harness my experimental approach and bring out in a coherent way, aspects of this material that intrigue me. Experiments help me discover a visual library of textures, colours and processes, that with refinement, I can use in my work.
  • CF: You have talked about your fascination with historical glass in the past, how are you inspired by history and how does it come into context in your work?
    EB: Glass makers today use the same tools and techniques as were used in ancient times. One maker that inspires me is Ennion, a Roman glass maker who made moulds for blowing glass into 2000 years ago - a similar process to mine. We see his work in museums. I am drawn to ancient glass more so because of what it represents today. As a glass maker, I ‘read the work’, examine how it was made, seek out clues about the makers approach to the pieces, their sensibility, their technical thinking - through this, a connection is made with another maker that spans time and place.
    There is also an aura with ancient glass, the patina of time and the corrosion of the elements play on the material, creating opacity, lustre and texture. I’m drawn to this surface. It's a mysterious surface. It makes me wonder what has it gone through, what silent tomb has it come from? I want my work to have a sense of this so the viewer is drawn closer, to seek to see through the patina.
  • First-century Roman mould-blown glass produced by the master glassworker Ennion - image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum
  • CF: You are a Senior Lecturer on Design Crafts at De Montfort University. What does your teaching add to your own work?
    EB: I would say my work adds to my teaching. As a practitioner, my research into glass and colour helps keep my teaching relevant. I enjoy passing down my knowledge, helping the next generation of craftspeople discover their creative voice and have effective skills to navigate the design craft environment successfully.
  • Cavaliero Finn will be showing Edmond's Ensemble Collection II at the Crafts Council's Contemporary Craft and Design Fair, Collect 2022 at Somerset House from 25-27th February (with previews from the 23-24th February). Visit the show to see this work in the flesh alongside a range of work by ceramicists, Annie Turner, Matthew Chambers, Ashraf Hanna, Frances Priest, Mimi Joung, Ikuko Iwamoto, Sun Kim, Nicholas Lees, Daniel Reynolds and Björk Haraldsdóttir, metal sculpture by Cecilia Moore and Simon Gaiger and textiles by Katharine Swailes and Jacy Wall.


    Find out more about our presentation of work at Collect 2022