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Silvia Taylor: Interconnecting Form, Function and Aesthetics

A new series of ten artists has started on Between the Art, and next up is glass and copper artist Silvia Taylor. Having met Silvia near the beginning of her career many years ago, it was great to catch-up for this interview to see how her work has developed and discover more about her artistic processes.

Silvia grew up in a small village in Ontario, Canada, called Belwood. Silvia’s formal glass training began at Sheridan College in Ontario, where she studied for three years before becoming a teaching assistant at the college. She then moved on to do a residency at professional glass studio Blown Away in Elora, Ontario. This led to an international, multi-disciplinary residency in Toronto at the Harbourfront centre, where Silvia stayed for over four years. These international connections have continued with work abroad, particularly with artists from Europe. Recently, Silvia returned to Belwood to develop her practice, working at a multitude of different glass studios.

Currently residing in her home village due to the pandemic, Silvia is working on her own art work as opposed to continuing her training and working with other artists.

This interview gives a fascinating insight into the world of glass work, the many different processes behind the pieces of art Silvia creates, and why form, function and aesthetics are integral to her work. Continue on for a thought-provoking read and a great book list at the end!

Where do you work? What makes this place important for your creative process?

Location for a glass artist tends to be very studio-based, because the work is equipment dependent. Currently, I work in three different studios as I do a multitude of different things to pull together all of my different bodies of work. I work as a production torch worker in Elora at Hanscomb Glass Studio. Considering Elora is such a small town, there are three glass studios there! I also do some components for my jewellery work at this studio. This studio feels much busier than my others, as it has a storefront, meaning there are always a lot of customers coming in and out. It often means that I have to be available to speak to people who have questions. I do my torch work in view of the public, so I always get a lot of questions! It can be hard to get into a flow. I go in there to execute, rather than to create.

I also have a home studio in Belwood, which is tiny, but it has everything I need for finishing both glass and metal. I have a little jeweller’s bench and soldering station where I make the metal components of my jewellery; I have my copper electroplater where I put copper onto glass for my sculptural work; and I have an engraving wheel and system where I cut, carve and polish glass. This is all in a compact, little area.

The third studio I work at is a glassblowing studio. Glassblowing equipment is quite an intense investment so it’s very typical that private studio owners will rent out their studios to help cover the running costs. This is my situation, where I go to a privately owned studio. This means when I’m working there, I am completely alone, which is very different from how glassblowing is normally done as most of the time you work with an assistant. However you can blow glass solo, and during the pandemic this has been the safest way to continue to work. This studio is beautiful. Again, it’s very small and compact, but it has big open windows that overlook the Conestoga River and the floodplains that lead down to it. While I’m working, I’m able to look out and see birds, such as woodpeckers - I even saw a bald eagle the other day! It has this natural element that I really enjoy.

How would you describe your creative process? Do you use certain mediums/techniques to develop your creative ideas?

As a glass artist working with such a finicky, complex, but also expensive material, I feel very inspired by both the limitations and the possibilities within it. I do a lot of research on other topics in my spare time and they seep their way into my subconscious when I’m working. However, when I’m in the studio, I am mostly inspired by solving problems around happy, little accidents – they are like little micro-discoveries! The material is very much part of my creative process, as it's almost like a full-time negotiation of trying something, and when parts don’t work out, trying to find another way to make it work. I am constantly re-negotiating my designs because I’m allowing for those little mistakes to incorporate themselves into the work.

I have four main bodies of work: sculptural work, installation work, jewellery, and production tableware. With having such different types of work, I’m inspired by a huge range of different things. For my sculptural work, I’m very inspired by artefacts. Glass works very well with this as it can represent something fragile, just as though something old might have a fragile quality. Glass allows you to treat the object with this same type of respect because of its delicateness.

My installation work is focused around social commentary. For example: I did a piece called Stable by Association, which has many different pieces that are all interconnected and balancing off of each other in order to stay up on the wall. Another installation, called Intuitive Continuity, has the rippling effects of different pieces put together. This work is much more of an emotional and social commentary.

On the other hand, my jewellery is about minimalism and accessibility. The pieces are affordable – I jokingly call it “glass, brass and class!” It’s more of a modern take on aesthetic, form and simplicity. And, then the tableware is about functionality, with questions around how well something pours, how much water it can hold, or what particular drink you are using that particular style of cup for. This range is a little but distant from the realms of art, and much more about craft and design.

It’s nice to have all of this different type of work as it allows me to use the different parts of my brain, and wear many hats and explore many different concepts, whilst trying to have a generally cohesive aesthetic to my work!

What is the main subject of your inspiration?

Form is a big one as this applies directly to function. I’m also inspired by form in relation to architecture, particularly cathedral architecture. I use this form in a lot of my sculptural and installation work, such as the Ogee shape that you see at the top of temples. This form also repeats itself in furniture design, where the same curvature is used. I apply these many different aspects from many different cultural and historical backgrounds, and stitch it into my work.

As I mentioned previously, the emotional and social commentary in relation to aesthetics is also important too.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have two different projects on the go at the moment. The owner of the glassblowing studio where I work is a big-time gardener, which means he starts up the studio in November and continues until the end of April, then closes the studio for the growing season. This actually works very well for me as I’m also a big-time gardener, so I can really take advantage of the time from late fall to early spring to be in the studio. Of course, it gets very hot in there - about 15°C warmer than it is outside - so as the temperatures start to pick up in spring, this really makes a difference! I’m blowing a lot of glass currently, primarily tableware.

On the days when I’m not in this studio, I’m focusing on my jewellery. I have an upcoming exhibition in British Columbia in May which I’m preparing for. I’m excited for this one as I haven’t done anything quite like it before! It’s part of the British Columbia Craft Council, and combines three different sections: one-of-a-kind jewellery, emerging artists, and production-line jewellery which is along the lines of what I do. They have accepted three different design variations of my jewellery line into the exhibition, with the intention that they will sell. I’m busy making multiples of these variations!

What does “sense of place” mean to you? Is this concept present in your work?

For me, sense of place implies belonging. This can mean a variety of things, such as community or in relationships, but also a sense of place can mean purpose. It also means location to me, such as on my family farm where I feel a massive sense of place because my parents built our log house themselves and raised me and my siblings here, and I know this land very, very well. There’s always a lot of work to be done all the time since being a farm and working outdoors. This sense of place comes with integrity.

I also feel this in the studio. Having a craft practice means you are very tied to the studio since glass itself is so precarious, it always demands your attention. In a glass studio the furnace is on 24/7 so there is a need to be there for safety reasons as much as a need out of artistic vocation! It feels very similar to tending to a garden: there is always work to be done, it might not be always pressing but as long as you show up and start working on something, things will always progress. I really enjoy this. Sometimes you can feel resentful, but for the most part it’s a feeling of responsibility. I think this is can be a part of sense of place as well.

Are there elements of your work that connect with or are inspired by the natural world?

Seasonality is a big one. I find at certain times of the year, I crave different types of work. In the spring, everything is bursting to life and it feels like a time for quick movement. I love doing my production work at this time because it’s a fast pace: I can make it relatively quickly, sell it relatively quickly, and there is this energy that comes with it. The repetitiveness in the process is really meditative so I really appreciate it for this quality. However, for my installation work, I love to get into this in winter. My winter projects are much more thoughtful, slow, with a lot of piecing things together.

In my sculptural work, I bring a lot of earthy qualities to it. I can create an almost bubbling effect using an electroplater that looks very natural but I do it in such a way that it can look like contour lines on a map. The texture underneath it looks very indicative of wind-eroded rock. I carve it using a very rough diamond engraving wheel, which leaves a rugged surface, and then I sandblast over the top which smooths it over, very much mimicking wind-erosion. I use this technique for all of the components in my installation work too because it adds a familiar effect, like natural erosion but fast-tracked! When this earthy, organic quality is paired with something clean such as brass, it provides a grounded way of bringing the two materials together.

Both glass and metal are derived from nature, and even in the making process you are really exposed to the elements, especially fire. You get this sense that you are working directly with the elements of the Earth.

"In the spring, everything is bursting to life and it feels like a time for quick movement. I love doing my production work at this time because it happens at a fast pace. There is this energy that comes with it."

Does the natural world have a part to play in your everyday life?

Being in an outdoor space, such as going for walks, is very cathartic but also very productive. This is a good time for me to refine concepts and ideas, and take inspiration from the outdoors and bring it back into my work. I do this daily – my morning walk has to be done before 10am! If I don’t get this walk into my morning, I feel anxious because it's as though the day is escaping me. If I can get outside first thing, I can mentally prepare myself for the day as opposed to trying to catch up with it.

Do you have a favourite artist or creative individual? Someone who has artistically inspired your work?

There was a sculptor who I really looked up to. We met and got along well enough to do an exhibition together, which was a big deal for me since I had admired their work for a long time. After working together, I realised that they were quite judgemental, very rude and demanding of the people who were helping with the exhibition. After this, I realised that there is something to learn from everyone, and there is something to learn not to do from everyone. This demystified the idea of an inspiring artist as chances are that even if you love their work, there may be something about them that you don’t align with. There are plusses and minuses to all of us!

Now, I take micro doses of inspiration all the time from everyone. In contrast, I’ve met some artists who I admire for how they think and work, and their role in the community, but I am not aesthetically drawn to their work. So I’m inspired by hundreds of artists and people, and I try to incorporate this into my work and life.

What would your top piece of advice be for creatives navigating their way in the arts industry today?

Authenticity is the biggest piece of advice I can give. This can be applied to the type of work you are making and to the way you conduct your artistic business. Taking on projects that don’t mean anything to you means you won’t put your best foot forward and ultimately it will be a poor representation of yourself and your work (of course, the opposite can be said for taking on projects that mean a great deal). In glass work there is the saying, “glass remembers.” Even though glass can be melted back into a molten blob, it will always retain information about when it was cooled and touched before. I always think about this when I’m performing my own artistic practice. If you do a good job of something, it’s going to come back to you – someone will see this work done well and they will remember it. Therefore, don’t be afraid to say no when it comes to commissions, jobs or opportunities that don’t resonate or make sense to you to save room for more important projects.

I mean this as a positive thing. If you stay true to what you are doing and what your work is about, you will be able to nurture this and allow your artistic work to evolve and grow. If you spread yourself too wide, the general concept or branding of your work can get lost.

It’s also good to recognise whether your art is truly your vocation or not. I jokingly say, “Don’t be an artist unless you have to!” However, there is a lot of truth in this. If it’s not a true calling, I don’t think you can truly make it a career. If you are so obsessed with it, it can mean work, fun, and many other things to you; whereas with something you don’t really want to work at but enjoy doing, it’s probably best to see that for what it is. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this! If I didn’t have to be an artist I wouldn’t be! I love making work, but it’s a real challenge because not only is it an expensive thing to do, particularly with my main material, it’s not always an appreciated thing. I have phases of not appreciating my own work! Some people understand the beauty of handmade craft or art, but other people see it as non-essential.

"If you stay true to what you are doing and what your work is about, you will be able to nurture this and allow your artistic work to evolve and grow."

Do you have a message that you hope to give to the world?

With everything that is currently happening in the world right now, I don’t feel I have a message to give, but perhaps it could be that “I am listening.” I think this is a great time to learn. There are a lot of voices that have never been heard and a lot of minority perspectives that have not been shared so widely ever before in history. Maybe my message will become clearer and more apparent to me once I have heard enough and know how to get behind some of the people who need support. I am happy to listen and learn right now.

Silvia's Book List:

These three books have really changed my thinking in the past year.

1. Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga.

This is about the seven deaths of indigenous children that happened in a Northern community in Ontario called Thunder Bay. The book talks about the history of indigenous people and settlers in Canada. I think this is a really important book for anyone who is interested in better understanding indigenous people in Canada and their history with white settlers.

2. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This book is about the interconnectedness of culture, ecosystems, biology, and history through ethnobotany. This is important to understand as an artist because artists are the mirrors of society. We reflect back what has already happened. Understanding this interconnectedness, and reflecting this back to people is important to echo. We must remember that as humans we are connected to everything else.

3.One River by Wade Davis

This author is a very thorough ethnobotanist and one of the first to go to into South America. He introduces some of the concepts to western culture that have been done by indigenous communities for hundreds of years.

To see more of Silvia's work, head to her website and Instagram @silvia_taylor

All Images: Artist's Own


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