Artist Emma Camden turns slabs of glass into luminous artworks

by Mary de Ruyter / 04 July, 2018
Emma Camden and son Miro, who’s a steampunk fan, with some of her glass artworks (from left): “Ann’s Houses”, “Stairs” and “Flyer”. Photo/Ken Downie.

Emma Camden and son Miro, who’s a steampunk fan, with some of her glass artworks (from left): “Ann’s Houses”, “Stairs” and “Flyer”. Photo/Ken Downie.

Keeping up with Whanganui glass artist Emma Camden.

It’s a rare moment when you’ll catch Emma Camden standing still. More likely, she’s throwing herself into the physical process of casting glass or the rough and tumble of roller derby, or roller-skating across Whanganui’s bridges with kelpie Vincent running behind.

Happily, there’s room to move at home with partner and fellow glass artist David Murray, daughter Lola (a talented painter) and son Miro (a steampunk enthusiast). They live in a converted Freemasons lodge: downstairs a studio, upstairs an apartment, and a meeting hall that currently houses a skate ramp.

Camden, who was born in England, has been creating luminous, angular works since the early 1990s. She has exhibited around the world, and her pieces are in the collections of Auckland Museum, the Dowse Art Museum and Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, and galleries in Brisbane and Denmark.

Emma Camden’s “Stairs”, exhibited in The Central art gallery, Christchurch.

Emma Camden’s “Stairs”, exhibited in The Central art gallery, Christchurch.

Working with glass made by Gaffer Glass in Auckland, she varies its colour thickness to create the appearance of density and lightness. “The works are heavy in weight, but some parts you can make thin and light, and other parts you can allow the eye to go right into it.”

Camden’s striking pieces riff on subjects such as architecture, history, home and death. In a few glowing pieces from the Passage series, it looks as if she’s actually captured fire.

Creating such beautiful works is full of “nasty, laborious” stages: hefting a 30kg slab of glass around inside a sandblaster cabinet, or grinding down a piece with a water-fed sander over four to five days.

“Tomorrow, I’m lifting a piece into a vat of hydrochloric acid, to put a sheen on the glass,” she says. “I’m wearing plastic clothing, welly boots and a respirator.”

Roller derby with the West Coast Bombers league keeps her fit; her skating name is Crystal Crush-Her. With Murray and another friend, Camden also co-owns Tree Gallery on Taupō Quay, where she was showing work as part of an Artist Open Studios series in March.

The gallery specialises in ceramics but glass will always be Camden’s first love. “Every time you look at a piece in another light, it changes in its character,” she says. “Glass is a magical medium to work with.” 

This was published in the April 2018 issue of North & South.

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