Step into a strange, ornamental world where the closer you look the more detail you see – and the stranger things become. The glass art of Amber Cowan creates worlds in miniature, featuring sometimes mysterious pairings of images – princesses, urns, leaves, snails – all swirling in intensely intricate clusters of coloured glass.
Until 15 years ago she worked in ceramics, but once she turned to glass she knew she’d found her natural medium. Cowan’s work is created by using fragments of vintage pressed glass, dating from the 1940 to the 1980s, put into a new artistic context, often arranged by colour. Pressed glass is created when molten glass is forced into a mould, and was used to mass-produce ornaments, including sentimental figurines. The pieces of glass and moulds that Cowan uses as her raw materials are often salvaged from glass factories in the US, now a near-defunct industry. “I rework objects currently relegated to the aesthetic dustbin of history,” she explains in her artist’s statement. “I reincarnate them into ornate abstractions that pay homage to the glass itself but with a reminiscent sentimentality for times past.”
The nostalgia in her glass art pieces is there on the surface, with some of the stock forms (swans, flowers, ladies’ hands) she draws on verging on kitsch. But her careful layering of these images creates something more multi-faceted and complex, and in some pieces even unsettling.
At the same time, by using vintage glass, she is capturing lost colours that are disappearing along with the factories that created them. These colourways – once well known to glass figurine collectors – are documented in her work, and often appear as part of the naming of pieces. Shell, blue Burmese, Rosaline, yellow Burmese – evocative names from a lost industry that have a poetic sound all their own.