In Celebrating the Recession Ann Robinson presents a substantial body of work – almost a complete survey of the primary bowl and vase forms of her career. Revealed by this are a number of fundamental continuums in her work – explicit environmental dialogues and references; the rigorous pursuit of the essence and purity of form; a broad cultural context and a South Pacific sensibility.
The exhibition title Celebrating the Recession is both a witty, wry reference to the recent economic environment and openly acknowledges one of the key stylistic devices of her work. Robinson uses space, set-back or indented. Forms slope backwards, and retreat. In this way, many of Robinson’s objects alter shape and substance as we view them.
Equally fundamental to her work is the use of intersecting lines – curved and linear – and the role performed by glass mass and how this interacts with light. Robinson employs colour with assurance and restraint but with a naturalistic, referential language.
The apparent simplicity of the Landscape Bowl belies and hides a purity of form in which the shape slides away and folds to understated rhythms. The astonishing Divaricate while the same form has an entirely different language in which the intricately worked surface has been decorated with raised branches and polished leaves. The naturalism of this is further explored with colour that is strongly suggestive of autumn or reminds one of kauri gum.
Robinson has also sourced key elements of her stylistic vocabulary from the natural (botanical) world and through a process of pattern refinement and simplification – including scale exaggeration and repetition – built a language that carries the visual weight of her forms with sympathetic ease. The Flax Vase leaves rise up stacked upon each other as if a cross-section. The tonal balance and deftness of her use of colour across the works is equally significant and apparent. In the beautiful and resolute Nikau and Agathis vases complex sensations are established by the alteration of glass mass and leaf pattern reversals.
Glass is a medium like no other – it has an internal (dimensional) space we can see and it interacts with light in innumerable ways. It changes character and nature – call it tone and substance – with the amount or restriction of light, as well as the viewing angle. The utterly extraordinary, magnificent Antipodean Bowl is recognisably based upon a kava bowl – (and thus has a visual context of celebration, ritual and ceremony) but Robinson has introduced to this metaphysical concerns by restricting the colour so that it seems about to hover or levitate from the juncture of the legs and yet the base of the bowl points resolutely to the earth and thus grounds it.
The flared, slightly twisted, rising form of the Curved Vase is a triumph of refined elegance. As the viewer’s eye reaches the four corners of the rising and falling lip Robinson has introduced a vane sculptural detail that is a design tour de force.
The Spiral Vase whilst obviously the same form as the Flax Vase is another powerful example of Robinson’s innate ability to carry a carved line. In this – as in almost all of her work – we can feel the maker’s hand and mind at work, and view a sensibility in action that has been informed by a South Pacific tribal, agrarian aesthetic and belief that any object must declare its functionality, its reason for being, just as readily as it emerges from a continuum of European design and purity of form. It is these alliances which are built into the languages and innumerable achievements of her work, and undeniably evident everywhere throughout this major exhibition.
Ann Robinson is acknowledged as one of the great glass artists of the world and indisputably New Zealand’s leading exponent of cast glass. Her work has received numerous national and international awards, widespread and on-going critical acclaim.