In India, contemporary glass artists form a small group and Srila Mookherjee belongs to this rare tribe. Rarer still is the fact that she blows her own glass. In the thriving glass industry at Firozabad, you would find many glass-blowers, but artists working with the material, lending it a contemporary expression and also blowing glass are not many to be found.
At her exhibition “Embellished Glass” in Art Heritage scheduled to open on Saturday, Srila is showing 100 glass works in a host of different sizes, shapes and colours. Fashioning platters, vases and bowls in glass, Srila freely plays with colour to create sheer poetry. Their delicate curves, slender heads, a swirling effect of colour render her work a lyrical quality. Art and technology, she says, share a perfect balance here. Srila blows a bubble into the glass that has been melted in a furnace, through a long iron pipe. She uses colours which come in concentrated stick forms which are attached to the top part of the pipe. The piece is then brought out and Srila gives it the desired shape with a wet newspaper. The piece is then put in an annealing oven, which allows the glass to cool slowly. “The entire process is about reheating, blowing and shaping. You have to keep heating it till you get the shape you want. Glass as a material is so malleable but only when it’s hot,” explains Srila.
After it cools, Srila works on the surface of a few pieces; for instance she often uses the technique of sandblasting and in the show has platters with trees sandblasted on them. Another piece, a vase, is embellished with vark which was wrapped onto the object while shaping it. A few pieces are in dichroic glass, which is glass treated with chemicals. When heated, different patterns emerge on the surface.
Interestingly, Srila specialised in ceramics from the National Institute of Design (NID), and then opted for an apprenticeship in Finnish Lapland (first with Pentik, ceramic tableware manufacturers, and then Eiropaja, a pottery studio). Fascinated by the material, she went to London to train as a glassblower.
“Although there are many artists who work with glass, very few know how to blow it and even those who know don’t, because they don’t have a studio; they get it done. So I was very fascinated by the art form. A lot of my blowing is actually drawing. All my ideas take shape while blowing,” says Srila, who set up her own studio workshop, Aakriti, in Kolkata where she lives.
It’s not easy to be a glass artist in India where the medium is still not very popular. Even finding the material isn’t easy. Initially she got glass for her work from the Central Glass and Ceramics Research Institute in Kolkata (CGCRI). “After that stopped, I got waste glass from LaOpala and now I have started importing it. And NID is one of the few institutes in India to have their own furnace,” she says.
Working with glass since 1987, Srila — who has also taught glass-blowing at NID and Kolkata’s CGCRI — is also reinterpreting glass. “Glass is always looked at as a utility item. A lot of my works have no opening. They seem like vases but there is no opening. It can be seen as an object of beauty.”
(The exhibition “Embellished Glass” will be on from this Saturday till September 21 at Art Heritage, 205, Tansen Marg)