The two puffer fish figures topped by goblets have won an Art Gallery of WA award. (Supplied: Art Gallery of Western Australia)
A pair of goblets balancing on top of two lifelike puffer fish, crafted using Venetian glass blowing methods from the 1400s, has taken out a contemporary art award.
Tom Moore’s The Pyrotechnic Puffer Fish is an intricate and whimsical piece which recently won the Art Gallery of Western Australia’s annual Tom Malone Prize.
Moore takes home $15,000 in prize money and his piece will be added to the gallery’s collection.
“It’s a great acknowledgement that I am doing something worthwhile and it feels really nice to be part of a public collection,” he said.
“I think this kind of prize has been effective at encouraging glass artists to be more ambitious in what we make in order to try to win.”
The two puffer fish figures took hours to create and were made in separate parts before being glued together. (Supplied: Art Gallery of Western Australia)
The puffer fish were chosen from a field of around 60 entries.
They have been exhibited alongside a shortlist of 12 other works.
“Tom is one of those absolutely unique characters,” exhibition curator Robert Cook said.
“His work is about storytelling and narrative, and he also has the very best of Venetian glass traditions.”
Inspired by history
At first glance, the puffer fish appear to be simply imaginative, elaborate characters created in the mind of Moore.
But he said there were layers of meaning and serious historic references in the work.
“These two objects arise from my historical research,” he said.
“There are references there to cabinets of curiosity, which often had marvels of nature alongside wonders of artificiality or art.
“Puffer fish are in almost all of these collections.
“There was something fascinating about this object and has such a goofy, relatable human-like expression but also looks very surprised about having been preserved in a collection.”
Puffer fish, like this one in Florence’s Natural History Museum, were often included in historic curiosity cabinets. (Flickr: Dan Cook/CC0)
The delicate goblets atop the puffer fish, with extremely fine white stripes on the surface, are inspired by history.
“Since the Renaissance there have been these somewhat over-decorated, little-bit-ridiculous goblets with elaborate stems,” Moore said.
“A lot of the processes that I have used in those objects were developed in the mid-1400s in Venice.”
Centuries-old secrets revealed
Moore studied his craft at the Canberra School of Art.
He said he felt extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to spend his entire career pursuing his passion for creativity in hot glass.
“When I started there was quite a lot of communication between Italian glass blowers and the Americans who were starting the studio glass movement,” he said.
And luckily Moore’s teachers in Canberra were in close contact with those artists in America.
“I had access to techniques which have been kept secret for a very long time.
“As an Australian, to have access to this rather protected knowledge seems like an incredible piece of luck
“I became very driven to learn how to do these really complicated decorative techniques and also to make wonderful things out of glass.”
Rabbit Monday by Kayo Yokoyama, another of the shortlisted entrants in the 2018 Tom Malone Prize. (Supplied: Art Gallery of Western Australia)
A lifetime dedicated to glass
Moore is now completing his PhD on the history of glass and is making works alongside his thesis.
“The first time I saw glass blown was at an open day at the Canberra art school, when I was about 15, and immediately knew I wanted to do it,” he said.
“When I went for the interview they said: ‘You can’t just have a go at this, you have to dedicate your life to it.’
“I thought about it for a year and then I decided that I would — and it has been very fortuitous timing.”
The shortlisted entrants in the Tom Malone Prize for contemporary Australian glass are on display at the Art Gallery of WA until May 28.