Review / Mowbray’s ‘refreshing’ art dances with death

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‘Block #4’ to ‘#1’, by Ian Mowbray. Glass, gold leaf, silver leaf and coloured glass

IAN Mowbray was one of the first studio glass artists in Australia but is possibly not well known in Canberra. 

‘Yes, this is all my baggage so far’ by Ian Mowbray, Snow Dome

He – and his family – has a macabre sense of humour. He says that rather than have a family photograph album, they have the family’s collection of body bits “discarded from operations, misadventures and autopsies”, including “my father’s aorta”, which is displayed in a specimen jar.

The exhibition has three groups of work: snow domes, block objects and specimen jars of body parts. All are a little dark and a little repelling, with strong sexual illusions.

The blocks are cubes of glass into which he has plunged smaller, carved glass objects: several torsos in underwear, bulging in the correct places, and other objects; most with sexual titles.

The technique, devised by Mowbray, is mostly unpredictable, and consequently the torsos look as though they’re leaning towards the viewer. One group of blocks, titled “Block #1” through to “#5”, consist of small glass spheres plunged into gold, or silver leaf, or into a cube of coloured glass, and then into a cube of clear glass. The works are intriguing, enigmatic and draw the viewer’s eye. They are clever and highlight the virtuosic skills of this artist, as well as his imagination.

I have never liked things in formaldehyde in glass jars, so my immediate reaction was to turn away from the row of family body bits. However, the titles of the works gradually fascinated and drew me in. Most of the parts are finely carved, showing another of Mowbray’s consummate skills. Perhaps the most ghoulish are a number of digits in a work titled “The Smiths all Worked at The Mill” from 2012. The grim reality of these works is relieved by their wit and audacity.

The Snow Domes put this humble souvenir into a different perspective. The contents are all made from glass, and encased in glass, and sit on a glass base. The “snow” is made from tiny particles of glass, and sparkle in the light. These are also humorous and the titles allude to Mowbray’s energetic life. Like all of us, he has had issues with health and love and has danced with death. He handles these taboo subjects with humour and considerable skill.

If is refreshing to see work in glass that is different and unlike much of what is generally shown in Canberra.


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