A Class Act in Glass; SCULPTURE When the National Glass Centre Reopened in June after a PS2.3m Refurbishment, the Most Eye-Catching Innovation Was the New Gallery for Temporary Exhibitions. the First of These Features the Work of Erwin Eisch. as David Whetstone Reports, It Sets the Bar Very High

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We all know glass can be beautiful, especially with the light shining through it. We also know it can be useful. Think windows, cooking utensils, lenses.

But glass as art that makes a political or satirical point, that makes us smile or squirm? Maybe that's something new to a lot of us.

The first exhibition in the light and airy new gallery at the National Glass Centre is devoted to the work of Erwin Eisch and here you will find plenty of pieces that do not pander to conventional notions of beauty.

Being made of glass, Eisch's artworks are innately fragile. Knock them over - God forbid - and they would probably do what glass is famous for doing.

But actually, sitting against the pristine white walls of the gallery and beneath the gently flattering lights, they evoke a kind of strength.

They are bumpy and lumpy and often painted in garish colours. They are human heads with all the imperfections that entails. They blow raspberries at the idea that glass is fey or fragile or - like windows - there to serve without being seen. You'll want to stroke them.

Eisch is known as one of the founding fathers of studio glass, meaning the idea of glass as an artistic medium rather than something utilitarian.

He was born in 1927 in the Bavarian town of Frauenau and was apprenticed to his father, master engraver at a glass factory.

Eisch could have gravitated towards a career in industrial glassware but he had an artistic temperament.

When not engaged in studying the intricacies of factory-produced glass, he studied painting - this in the era of Jackson Pollock, the American renowned for covering canvases with drips and dots. He emerged as something of a rebel.

Eisch started to make glass objects and to display a sense of humour which didn't always sit easily with gallery owners. He was mischievous, satirical, politically aware.

A fateful meeting in Germany with the American glass artist Harvey Littleton changed the course of both their careers. …


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