Nick Mount

Nick Mount is the seventh practitioner to be designated a Living Treasure: Masters of Australian Craft – an initiative in 2005 of Object: Australian Centre for Craft and Design. The series ‘celebrates the achievements of Australia’s iconic and influential crafts practitioners’ by means of a major publication and a national touring exhibition. Previous recipients of the accolade include Les Blakeborough, Robert Baines, Marian Hosking, Jeff Mincham, Klaus Moje and Liz Williamson.  

In the vanguard of the studio glass movement in Australia since the 1970s, over the course of forty years of practice – involving extensive international travel to conduct workshops, stage exhibitions, undertake residencies et al – Mount has become renowned for sculptural works of dazzling colour and virtuosic technique. Since 1997, he has focused on the continually evolving Scent Bottle series – remarkable assemblages of discrete, blown-glass components (base, vessel, neck, lip and stopper) – that has consumed his attention for a greater period than any other single body of work. 

Mount’s sculptural objects represent a symbiosis of dual formative strands of influence; the distinctive Venetian glass blowing techniques, specific to Murano in Italy, in tandem with the dynamism and experimentation of American glass artists, such as Dick Marquis and Dante Marioni (similarly inspired by the Venetian artisans), part of the vigorous post-WWII expansion and valorisation of the crafts movement in the United States. In Tony Cox’s 2001 film Nick Mount’s Fascination with Glass’, Mount recalled the impact of his initial sighting in 1975 of the Venetian glass maestros (notably Lino Tagliapietra) at the Murrina factory in Murano, Italy: ‘I saw the glass workers, working as a team in an environment that hadn’t changed for hundreds of years. The spirit and the passion of the connection with their material inspired me to make glass my medium.’1 It was a passion and sense of community he brought to his role from 1994 to 1997 as studio head of the glass workshop at Adelaide’s Jam Factory; at Mount’s invitation Lino Tagliapietra conducted an influential one-week workshop in Adelaide in 1996.

As a result of Seattle-based glass artist Richard Marquis’s2 glass blowing demonstration in 1974 at the Gippsland College of Advanced Education, Nick and Pauline Mount, who were studying sculpture, completed the tour as Marquis’s assistants, thereby forging a relationship with Marquis and the Pilchuck Glass School that has endured; for the last decade Mount has been the international co-chair of the school. Almost forty years after that initial encounter, in June 2012 Mount and Marquis conducted a demonstration during the Glass Art Society’s 42nd Annual Conference, 50 Years of Studio Glass at Toledo in the United States. With the characteristic sense of playfulness that infuses his work, it was titled ‘The Nick & Dick show’.

An essay I wrote for Mount’s 2004 exhibition Un Nouveau Souffle at the Australian Embassy in Paris, compared the teamwork aspect of the glass blowing process to a well-choreographed dance, intuitively performed.3 It is this necessity for cooperation that first attracted Mount to the medium and which has generated a strongly supportive glass community in Adelaide, where the facilities of the JamFactory glass studio are made accessible to professional glass workers. For Mount, the roles of teacher/mentor/demonstrator (in both national and international contexts) cumulatively form an important additional strand to the intensive making of exhibition, production and commissioned works. Since their marriage in 1974 and the establishment in the 1970s of private glass studios in Gippsland (One-Off Studio and later Budgeree Glass, prior to the move to Adelaide in 1984), Pauline Mount has played a crucial complementary role that is much more than administrative – in other words, the teamwork begins with Nick and Pauline.    

From hazardously molten to cool, hard and glittering, the seductive, chameleon qualities of the material itself – allied to a sense of implicit danger that grafts an additional layer of appeal – are obvious. Conveying a commensurate sense of theatre, even the Italian terms for the myriad techniques – each ending with a vowel, accorded due emphasis in Italian – are evocative; a canne, battuto, crepuscolo, incalmo, lattimo, mosaico zanfirico, murrine, tessuto and so on.I

In recent years there has been a greater preponderance of black/grey/white monochromal works – in which the texture of the surfaces becomes foregrounded to great effect – and a lessening of the exuberant combinations of brilliant colour associated with the 1980s and 1990s. Nevertheless, a lively palette persists and variations of a rich aubergine hue (featured in the ‘strange fruit’ series), as well as an intense chartreuse/yellow and deepest indigo are especially appealing. With the fastidious attention to detail that applies to his entire output, even monochromal pieces are distinguished by shifting tonal variations of disparate black or indigo glass, a juxtaposition of matt and glossy, a component of inciso or the surface embellishment of a carved section. Ever-experimental, Mount developed innovative special crayons to draw on a series of conical scent bottles (the individually-fired markings emulated flames) for the Fire exhibition in 2003 at Thomas R. Riley Galleries in Seattle.  

Frequently his forms take as a point of reference the humble tools of the artisan, regarded by Mount as touchstones to centuries of hand crafting. Like the 1980s series of walking canes, which were a homage to the ‘friggers’4 of factory glass workers, Mount’s recurring motif of the plumb-bob is derived from the shape of a traditional measuring tool of the mason’s trade. Initially appearing in the guise of overscaled stoppers for the Scent Bottle series, more recently Mount has begun to use the form as the starting point for new series – including Reclining Bob (2009-’11), Wall Bob (2010) and Working Bob (2011) – or rather sub-series, since as Mount states; ‘I feel that all the works that I make can be considered as Scent Bottles. As the series extends, they take different forms’.5

A four-week residency in 2006 in the Glass Studio6 of the Kurashiki University of Science and Art in the Okayama region of Japan, provided the opportunity for Nick and Pauline to collaborate on pieces inspired by the colour indigo; for the first time, Pauline worked directly on the surface of the glass domes produced by Nick. Given Mount’s often-stated attachment to the hand-worked object, it is unsurprising that they sought out hand-dyed traditional indigo cloth, a fibre (as opposed to silk for example) traditionally associated with the Japan’s peasant classes and humble household textiles.

‘When Nick and I went to Japan for his residency, we made an appointment at a traditional indigo dye studio in Kyoto, where we bought samples of studio-dyed cloth, which we used as a reference for the patterning on the domes. After Nick blew the domes and then sprayed them with low-fired enamel, I then did the pattern, mostly using the sgraffito technique.’7

Having returning from Japan with ‘a group of components… influenced strongly by [the] Japanese experience in their forms, surface decoration and method of construction’8 the new works provided the focus of the exhibition Indigo at Sydney’s Sabbia Gallery in 2006.

Inspiration can flow from many sources and since 2011 the striking Still Life compositions have continued to evolve as the result of Mount’s response to a commission for a London hotel.9 ‘The Still Life pieces’ says Mount, ‘have grown and are composed in the same way as all of the Scent Bottles.’10 (In 2012 one of these new works has been acquired by the Art Gallery of Western Australia.) For the first time, Mount has merged overscaled, glass-fruit forms with the inventive addition of sleek and meticulously carved, exotic timber ‘stems’ – variously fashioned from olive wood, limewood et al. In one highly effective grouping, Mount counterpointed a prostrate, highly textured white granulare ‘strange fruit’, 11 with the slender/bulbous verticality of a glossy/matt black Scent Bottle with scarlet curlicue. Perhaps most remarkable of all is the folie douce of the ambitious White Granulare Composition (2006). As Tony Hanning notes in Nick Mount: The Fabric of Work, the granulare technique – resolved in Venice in the 1940s and demonstrated to Mount by Marquis – involves the suspension of murrini within a softer glass body, in order to create a highly textured, nubbly surface.12 Created at Marquis’s Whidbey Island studio in 2006 and the stunning centrepiece of the Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft exhibition in 2012 at Object: Australian Centre for Craft and Design, this technically challenging series of fifteen Scent Bottles in which rose coloured glass softly resonates beneath the white textural surface – was the product of a serendipitous and unrepeatable set of circumstances.13 Each individual Scent Bottle is crowned with what is possibly Mount’s most definitive signature – the precocious flourish, the riskily slender swoop of a stopper, now sometimes complemented by the curving timber extensions of his glassy pieces of fruit.  

 

Wendy Walker, August 2012

 

In the course of forty years of practice, Nick Mount has participated in numerous national and international exhibitions. In 2012 they are 10 Years of Bottles and Bobs: A Survey, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA (June 1-July 15); Nick Mount: The Fabric of Work, Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft, Object: Australian Centre for Craft and Design, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW (8 Sept-3 Nov); The Treasure, Sabbia Gallery, Paddington, NSW (5-29 September); Nick Mount @ 60, BMGART, Adelaide, SA (3-25 August). The substantial monograph Nick Mount: The Fabric of Work with an essay by Tony Hanning is published by Wakefield Press in 2012.  

Nick Mount is represented by BMGART Adelaide, SA; Etienne Gallery, Oisterwijk, The Netherlands; Galerie Vee, Central, Hong Kong; Masterworks Gallery, Auckland, NZ; Pismo Fine Art Glass, Denver, Colorado, USA; Sabbia Gallery, Sydney, NSW; Thomas  R. Riley Galleries, Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Traver Gallery, Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, USA.

Endnotes

1. Tony Cox, Nick Mount’s Fascination with Glass, Pabulum Productions, 2001, 27 min video film

2. Richard Marquis was invited to Australia by the new Crafts Board of the Australia Council to advise on the establishment of glass blowing courses at Australian art colleges and to conduct glass blowing demonstrations. A subsequent Crafts Board assisted study tour in 1975-’76 to Europe and the USA confirmed for Mount the possibility of earning a living from a professional glass practice.

3. I wrote the following fragment as an epigraph for the exhibition catalogue of Un Noveau Souffle at Ambassade d’Australie (19 April-7 June, 2004),  Paris after witnessing Nick and Clare Belfrage working as a team at the JamFactory glass studio

‘A strange, intricate kind of dance/ this graceful arch of a sideways, tip-toe stretch/ a choreography well ingrained, intuitively performed.’

 4. Friggers were non-functional objects made by factory workers in their own time from scraps and leftover molten glass – animal shapes were popular.

5. Nick Mount, email communication with Wendy Walker, 31-07-2012

6. Nick and Pauline Mount were invited to Kurashiki by Akihiro Isogai, a former trainee at the JamFactory and currently one of Japan’s most respected glass artists.

7. Pauline Mount, email communication with Wendy Walker, 30-07-2012

8. Exhibition notes for Indigo exhibition, Sabbia Gallery, Sydney, NSW, 23 July –17 August 2006

9. Mount was commissioned to make objects for a number of wall niches in the hotel’s foyer. In a new development, one of these was an overscaled glass acorn with a carved wooden stem. 

10. Nick Mount, email communication with Wendy Walker, 31-07-2012

11. This is the term Mount gives his fruit forms, which are overscaled and not botanically accurate facsimiles of actual fruit.

12. Tony Hanning, Nick Mount: The Fabric of Work, Adelaide, SA: Wakefield Press, 2012, p 29

13. Richard Marquis is a leading murrini specialist and the works were made in his studio (outside Seattle), which is customised for working with murrini. An accident with the colouration of a group of rods ordered for Mount’s project means that the precise effect cannot be reproduced.