Written by Roy Ananda
The work of Wendy Fairclough results from a surprising junction of influences and approaches. Drawn primarily to the genre of still life, Fairclough has reinvented this painting idiom within a framework of contemporary glass practice. Transposing day-to-day objects into glass through a combination of hand blowing and cold working, Fairclough orchestrates arrangements that range from discreet tableaux to sprawling installations. Whilst using still life conventions, the subtle interventions of the artist see these collections transmute into landscapes, memorials or timely commentaries on world events.
Fairclough regards the still life as a kind of theatre or stage where familiar objects are perceived not only in terms of their formal and functional properties but also in terms of their metaphorical or poetic potential. The domesticity of the still life is a crucial entry point into Fairclough’s work, but once the artist has lured us into her world we soon find that not everything is as safe as it seems.
In her large scale installation works such as Australian Landscape (Greenaway Art Gallery, SA, 2005) and Landscape (Narek Galleries, NSW, 2006), hand blown glass versions of unassuming domestic vessels such as buckets and saucepans, carefully placed around the gallery, evoke a vast and eerie landscape. Unlike a painted still life, this work exists in the same space as the viewer and defies a fixed viewing point. The safety and familiarity we might feel around these objects is knowingly undermined by their often precarious placement and by the very fact that these hardwearing, utilitarian objects have been transposed into a far more fragile material; the glass scrubbing brush, bucket and mop included in the Narek installation are particularly startling.
Vessels and containers figure prominently elsewhere in the artist’s work. In particular, carriers of oil and water appear as recurring motifs and, by extension, these precious fluids become implicated in the work. Indeed, pieces such as Soluble and Bringing It Home 20 March 2003 make direct reference to the crises and conflicts that gather around these commodities. Soluble in particular is charged with a mood of apprehension, with buckets, cans and tubs set up in an uneasy relationship with the low plinth that supports them. One vessel teeters on the edge, while another lies overturned on the floor.
Although Fairclough’s works essentially hinge on the relationships between her chosen objects, an examination of her individual components can prove to be as richly rewarding as encountering the whole. At first glance, Fairclough’s objects seem to be faithful reproductions of the original subjects. On closer inspection however, one realises the glass pieces are more like summaries or ‘sketches’ of the original, as if seen through fog or half-closed eyes, or perhaps blurred by the filter of memory. It is Fairclough’s intention to create ‘dream’ versions of the objects in question, archetypal forms that trade on what one thinks a tin can (for example) should look like, rather than the actuality of it. This dream-like character is further reinforced by the qualities of the glass itself. Fairclough playfully disrupts the viewer’s idea of what glass should look like, eschewing its reflectivity and transparency in favour of cloudy, translucent, sandblasted or engraved surfaces. In Fairclough’s hands glass is less likely to resemble glass than timber (as in her work Mahogany), ceramic (Still Life with Table) or ghostly apparition (Soluble).
Currently working from Blue Pony Studio, Stepney, Fairclough is embarking on a new body of work, acquiring further skills in casting glass and experimenting with a broader palette of colours. In conversation the artist speaks excitedly about the new possibilities of scale and form offered by casting methodologies. She refers to images of the New Zealand landscape and the works of Giorgio Morandi adorning the studio walls and somewhat sheepishly confesses to an urge to paint. With these potent ingredients in the mix, Wendy Fairclough’s upcoming work is shaping up to be her most complex and ambitious yet.
Roy Ananda is a South Australian artist and writer.
First published in the Craftsouth Bulletin, Issue 4, June-July 2008.