Neil Roberts

Neil Roberts

Neil Roberts Cryonic quintet
Found glass objects, painted wooden stools on painted wooden base

Canberra Museum & Gallery, 1997

Neil Roberts (1954-2002) was born in Melbourne and trained as a glass blower at the Jam Factory in Adelaide, the Orrefors Glass School in Sweden and the Experimental Glass Workshop in New York. He came to the Canberra region in 1983 when he was invited by Klaus Moje, the inaugural Head of the Glass Workshop at the ANU School of Art, to join him in creating the Workshop’s teaching program. After two years at the School Roberts chose the life of an independent artist, but, with Moje, he was instrumental in setting the serious, rigorous and innovative tone of the Glass Workshop, which in the ensuing twenty-five years has earned it an international reputation.

Over time Roberts’s practice shifted from that of an artist who worked in glass to a sculptor whose work forms bonds between objects and between objects and language; it is about a kind of re-making and re-thinking. His interest lay mostly in used objects – including glass – often bearing the traces of their functional lives: tools, household implements, sporting equipment, workers’ gloves.

Cryonic quintet 1994 is a marvellous example of Neil Roberts’s assemblage art. Five elegant and eccentric towers of clear glass, constructed from commercially produced and junk shop-sourced dishes and vessels, sit atop five painted white stools, the whole on a platform resting on seven upturned pub glasses. This work was developed for and shown in the exhibition Symmetry, subtitled Crafts meet kindred trades and professions, which toured nationally in 1994-95, and was seen in Canberra at the ANU School of Art Gallery. Cryonic quintet suggests a relationship between the craft of glass and the music of jazz; the objects, glued end to end in lyrical and lively combination are like notes in combination, up and down, back and forth on a lit stage, playing out an improvised set. There is rhythm and movement in the work, a sense of spontaneity, teamwork and performance, characteristic of both glass blowing and jazz ensembles.

Neil Roberts was an important artist in the Canberra region and had a growing national and international reputation. He was enormously influential and supportive of the arts scene: active on the boards of the Canberra Contemporary Art Space and Studio One and a mentor to many artists. Roberts was the inaugural recipient of the ACT Creative Arts Fellowship in 1995, and the Capital Arts Patrons Organisation Fellow in 2000. In 2001 the ANU School of Art Gallery held a survey exhibition of his work, The collected works of Neil Roberts.

Several of Neil Roberts’s public art projects are close by: House proud 1998, the neon word-list that wraps around the Canberra Playhouse here in Civic Square, and The fourth pillar 1997, a large sculptural installation also incorporating neon at the ACT Magistrates Court in Knowles Place. In 1998 the Australian War Memorial commissioned Neil Roberts to design an installation from their collection for their Orientation Gallery, and the resulting work, Records of war, is a poignant inventory of objects carried to war by Australian servicemen and women. In 2002 the ANU Public Art program acquired the neon work Render to all their dues, which is installed at the rear entrance of the School of Art on Ellery Crescent.


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