Colin Reid

Colin Reid Burton Agnes commission. Cast glass. Still Life with Books. Cast glass.
Still Life with Books. Cast glass.
Colour Saturation piece. Cast Glass.

Colin Reid has been working with glass since the 1970s. He creates dramatic, abstract sculptures out of cast glass, experimenting with the effects of form, texture and colour, although light is his primary interest. He says, ‘The key thing about glass in general is that it’s transparent so you can work with light, playing with it as it passes through the interior of the form.’


Were you always interested in working with glass?

No! I stumbled across it by accident at Brixton Labour Exchange in the 1970s. I saw a list of government training courses on offer which included scientific glass blowing. I had got to the point where I wanted to find something creative which I could make a living with and thought that this might be interesting. So I did a six-month training course and then started off on my own making a range of perfume bottles. These were quite successful and I managed to sell them to a few craft galleries. Their success helped convince me that I could make a living out of glass, but I realised that I didn’t just want to do lampwork as it’s repetitive and small scale and so I decided that the best thing was to go back to college. I ended up doing Ceramics and Glass at Stourbridge.

Was this the moment you became hooked on glass?

I was really captivated by it and thought that it was a fascinating material. It was a wonderful time to start working with glass as it was the early days of the studio glass movement and lots was going on the field, like the Hot Glass Conference at the RCA. It was really taking off in the US and there was lots of energy and excitement about it – the field had a real buzz.

When did you decide to start working with cast rather than blown glass?

I was planning to do hot glass at Stourbridge, but Keith Cummings (author of the seminal book, The Technique of Glass Forming) was teaching there and so I ended up learning about the more sculptural type of glass he was interested in. I found it really intriguing and after experimenting with cast glass in my first year, knew that that was where I wanted to go.

What was the attraction of cast glass for you?

I loved the fact that you can make it up as you go along - it’s a wide-open process. And I could see that there were qualities of glass and forms that I could never make with blown glass as with blowing you are limited to rounded and vessel-shaped forms. I was interested in how you could create an interior space/form within the glass by casting thick pieces of glass. I wanted to play with this type of three dimensional canvas, experimenting with both the outer and inner forms. I felt that this was an area which hadn’t been developed before and it really fired my imagination.

How important is colour in your work?

I used a lot of colour in my work in the 80s and 90s and then stopped using it as I felt it was becoming more of habit than a clear choice. I started focusing on other qualities in the glass rather than colour, limiting myself to working with clear glass and a blue copper patina. But a few years ago I decided I wanted to explore working with colour again and I got some Arts Council funding to research into how to use it in a new way. None of the ways I expected to work worked, but eventually I found a way back into working with colour and I developed a new range of work using a really vibrant red which I called Colour Saturation. For the first 18 months or so, I concentrated on creating a real intense colour while using fairly simple forms. Now I’m pretty confident about how to achieve the colour, I’ve started exploring different forms. The work is radically different from anything I have done in recent years. It’s really nice to have some strong, warm colours in the studio.

Will you continue working with colour in this way?

I’m interested in working with more colour, not just colour saturation. I’m experimenting with black at the moment, using a dark, smoky grey colour which is quite moody and subtle.

What made you introduce such a big change into your work?

I had taken a few months off to go sailing and after that I felt it was time to take a creative jump rather than a small step. Previously my work had developed by incremental changes so this was a new approach for me.

How do you make the casts for your glass?

I first find a form that I like and take a silicone mould of it and then take it back to the studio. I then make a wax impression of it and work on that to make the final mould for the glass. I work from all sorts of things, not just natural forms. I like the everyday type of object you find in the home or supermarket and recently I found some interesting forms at the South Devon Train yard where they repair steam trains. A current series of work is based on castings of books following several commissions for pieces in libraries. The amazing thing about casting is that you can reproduce both texture and form in the glass – it’s quite magical.

How much do you work on the glass after it’s cast?

I’ve normally got a pretty good idea of what the glass will look like when it comes out of the kiln, but it changes a lot in the coldworking process. There’s always a lot of grinding, cutting and polishing so the piece is constantly evolving and it’s only finished at the end of the process. There’s a rightness about the form that I’m always looking for – an intuitive quality – and sometimes just the slightest change might make the difference to whether the shape works or not.

You make a lot of large-scale work for commission, as well as more speculative work – which do you prefer?

I like doing both. It’s nice to get commissions now and again, but they can be quite difficult and I wouldn’t want to do them all the time. They can be exciting and an opportunity to make something large-scale which I can’t really afford to do speculatively. There’s something quite special about making large-scale pieces, a certain physicality which you don’t get with smaller pieces – it’s to do with the effect of walking up to a piece of glass the same size as you.

Interview by Diana Woolf