Sydney artist Emma Varga was first enchanted with glass when studying at the Applied Arts University in Belgrade and then designing and making decorative glass ‘production and one-off ‘ as a freelance artist and designer and working in a glass factory in former Yugoslavia. Varga’s fascination with the potential of glass as a means of artistic expression grew in proportion to the time she spent working with the medium. She was a highly experienced and skilled glass artist when she moved to Australia in 1995. The diverse body of sculptural work that she has since created is a tribute to her passion for working with glass, her extraordinary energy but also a result of mastery of her ‘multiple-layer’ technique of choice: she cuts tiles or strips from special sheets of glass, decorates them with paint of glass powder, stacks in required shapes and fuses in the kiln for up to two weeks. It is only when the works are meticulously ground and polished that they come to life.
Whether using glass tiles, or more recently tiny glass fragments and rods, Varga’s techniques are clearly highly complex and laborious. But she has no fear of complexity and in fact she revels in it. She compares her creative process to a highly focused but remarkably calming game in which she ‘plays’ with hundreds, or at times thousands, of glass elements that are strategically patterned and coloured and then assembled with precision, at times verging on bravura, to achieve the intended internal energy, light flow and pattern. Always transparent, most of Varga’s works are quite geometrical in form and architectonic in internal patterning and ‘construction’ ‘she has an enviable reputation for seeing and thinking in 3D.
When coloured glass was developed in antiquity, it was treasured for its capacity to imitate rare stones. When clear glass was made during the Renaissance, it was compared to natural rock crystal, a type of quartz highly prized by artists and connoisseurs. Nature has continued to inspire glass makers ever since and Varga also acknowledges it as a major source of inspiration ‘ she loves the northern beaches area where she lives and never ceases to be moved by the spectacular ocean and bush panorama offered by the spacious windows of her studio.
For some time, it was the colour red that reigned supreme in Varga’s work inspired by Australian sunsets and bushfires alongside occasional ocean blues, her tribute to the Collaroy lagoon. Her more recent works focus on a palette of fresh greens, pinks and shades of fuchsia inspired by nature’s ‘quiet achievers’: grass, flowering weeds and creepers and other small ‘amassed’ plants with a big impact on how we see ‘everyday’ nature.
Emma Varga is fascinated by the clarity and transparency of glass and the possibilities of freezing within it 3D images inspired by nature. Along with the new directions her work has lately taken, Varga has developed a new technique of fusing and casting glass sheets.
It is her past factory experience and vast repertoire of techniques that allows her to manipulate large slabs of glass, sometimes as many as 100 to 200 sheet of glass piled up and fused to create the 3D imagery she has visualised. Based on 9 years of experimentation, Varga’s multiple layers fusing technique enables her to create and gain control over the 3-dimensional images enclosed within the large transparent glass objects. The process begins with the cutting of thousands of glass elements from clear and coloured glass sheets according to complex 3-D plans. These are then fused together in stages, before they are ground and polished to reveal the finished sculpture with its fine details and veil-like structures floating in the sea of pure clear glass’. The latter extend Varga’s consummate skills acquired from her long experience working with the traditional Venetian, Czech and Scandinavian glass techniques. Thus Varga extends and applies a multiplicity of glass art techniques to achieve her ends: sculptural objects of transformative allure that define – and commemorate – the emotional and geographic milestones of her life.
Her present large geometric forms express a depth of tranquility and repose, towering and pointing vertically, yet reveling in the celebration of colour and razor-sharp patterning.
The very act of encasing monochromatic patterns within clear glass walls is itself an act of protection, of preservation: of memory, of colour and its associations, of acts of violence, of fear, and of love.
Dr Noris Ioannou: excerpt from the article “Red: Emma Varga’s (glass) art & life, Craft Arts International magazine, issue #67, July 2006.