Max Jacquard

Portrait of Max JacquardAlbionBlown forms
Casted glass forms
Casted glass form

Glass artist Max Jacquard claims that one of the things that attracts him to glass is the fascination with the alchemic process of glass transformation by heat in the kiln. ‘A metaphoric and an aesthetic transformation occurs during the making process’, he says. He has used this process to create a wide range of glass work from architectural to sculptural and he refuses to be pigeon-holed saying, ‘I would like to be thought of as an elusive glass artist whose work is not easy to predict.’


What are the main challenges involved in working with glass?

You play a constant game with the science of it when you work with glass as you are continually pitting yourself against its idiosyncratic chemistry. This means that you have to deal with a combination of planned outcomes and accidents as the glass may move differently every time. You have to limit the amount of accidents that happen but always leave the window of opportunity open for the uncontrolled element and go with the flow. I think it’s important to allow for incidental qualities but also to know what accidents you are not prepared to accept – for example a major crack in the work. You’ve got to know how far you can push the material and techniques and where to stop.

What particular glass-making processes are you most interested in?

My practice is based around kiln-forming. Casting and slumping are the two techniques I use the most and I try to see them as a palette for achieving a range of different qualities. But although my focus area is kiln forming, I will also use other techniques such as sand blasting and cold working and I use different materials such as bronze, metal fixings and black painted wood to set the glass against. I also incorporate a lot of found materials into my work. But it’s not just about working the glass and sometimes it feels as though the glass is only a small part of the process. I start with the model making and then go on to mould making – sometimes worked in clay or based on the texture of a found material. That is transformed into silicone rubber and then wax and then investment plaster and it is only at this stage that glass is introduced to the process. The silicone, wax and investment plaster can be seen as ‘Transfer media’ that are effectively lost in the creation of the glass, but the quality of the work at this stage is all important in the resultant qualities of the glass.

In the past you have said that you use glass as a way of describing personal experience. Can you explain what you mean by this?

Personal experience is very important for my work. But it’s not the emotional experience as much as the aesthetic experience, by which I mean the product of all my memories, although not in a nostalgic, sentimental sense. For example, my Green Man figure draws on the memory of flying back over England having been in a hot country and seeing that the English countryside looks like a green patchwork as well as the memory of looking at knights wearing chain mail on tombs and a memory of a patchwork blanket which used to be in my cot as a child.

You won the Best in Show award at last year’s British Glass Biennale for My Lost Loves III. Can you explain how piece developed?

I normally start with an idea and the inspiration for this piece came from the Maidens of Minsterly, a set of seven faded paper flowers hanging in a church in Shropshire commemorating girls who died before their wedding day. I found the idea both tragic and fascinating and I also fed into it ideas about every love you might ever have had and all the people you never even knew you loved – the idea being that the only thing that physically remains from these thought is a tissue. It’s a kind of tangible evidence (like a tribute) to an emotion or memory. I then started with a series of experiments involving scrunching up tissues to see what shapes they form and then dipping them into wax to try and crystallize this form. I then had to work out a way of casting this waxy tissue form in glass. The next challenge was to remove the mould from the cast tissue and then finish the glass so as to recapture the original quality of the tissue – at the same time as allowing it to express something else like fragility or preciousness (the glassy qualities). Finally there was the question of how to display them that required thinking about how people would have arranged these tissues.

How important is light and lighting in your work?

Light is massively important in glass as when you are dealing with absorbed and reflected light and light contrasts - it feels as though you are working with a palette of light. Sandblasted glass holds the light in a completely different way from polished glass for example. Matt surfaces tend to absorb the light, giving a soft quality and making it easier for the eye to run across the surface of the piece, whereas with a polished surface the eye and light tends to pass right through the piece. And if you introduce colour to your glass it adds a completely new dimension to your palette.
Lighting is absolutely crucial to display and can make a piece took 10 times better – if it’s badly lit it can be completely ignored. But the glass has to have the right qualities in it in the first place or else it won’t do interesting things in the light.

How big a role does architectural work play in you practice and do you enjoy it as much as your sculptural work?

About 50% of what I do is architectural work. Qualities in my sculptural work are very often transformed into my architectural work and vice versa. For example a patchwork-like texture that started off in a figure has now found its way into a piece of glass used for a screen in a doorway. I find both aspects of my practice challenging for different reasons. As an architectural artist I am working in a much more design-led way. My job is to come up with an aesthetic solution to a particular brief that will inevitably contain spatial and functional requirements as well as narrative requirements. The narratives are the same as those in my sculptural work but they are played out in a different way – they are less to do with my own personal viewpoint and more situational. The piece’s function does limit what you can do with it, but you try to stretch that to contain elements of narrative – it’s a balancing act but when it works well you can produce some wonderful things.

Have you got any particular tips for glass makers starting out on their careers?

It’s all about trying to keep your sanity and not letting the glass take over your life. For example if you have a piece in the kiln the temptation is to monitor it constantly but it’s much healthier to go to out with your friends instead. You have to learn to let go as you can’t control what goes on in the kiln and not get stressed out about it.

Other tips would be: don’t expect to make too much money out of glass to begin with. Stay light on your feet and find something else for your bread and butter. Then you will be able to make the things you really want to without having to sell out early on. A good idea can always be turned into something that will make money but only if you are open minded about it. Not every idea you have is best made in glass.

Building a career in glass takes a long time, just like the process. Take the long view, but be on the lookout for ways to save time in your making. Once you are familiar with the principles then there are always ways to cut corners. Sometimes it is the end that justifies the means.