In Crystal Palace, Mike Crawford imagines a meeting of minds between Maori artisans and those from the British Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century. Directly referencing “one of the major events in the history of British decorative arts - the Great Exhibition of 1851,” (1) Crawford skilfully weaves together two visual art traditions.
The hue (gourd) is a departure point for a number of the pieces in Crystal Palace. The swell of the Kupenga Jugs suggest the fullness of ripe fruit and the twisted necks of the gourd can be imagined in the solid curves of the handles. The raised pattern of netting, used here as a decorative device, is Crawford’s nod to the utilitarian origins of the forms.
The statuesque Kowhaiwhai Jug and Raupo Urn both sport kowhaiwhai patterning that Crawford has pared back to a spare ornamentation. The sinuous lines emphasise the volume and scale of the vessels and on Raupo Urn the fronds reach up from the base of the work, recalling the repetition of a William Morris fabric or later Art Nouveau florals. On smaller vessels, the incised patterning is complex and dense as “kowhaiwhai patterns morph into a flowing, organic motif that borrows from the patterns of Victorian decor.” (2)
Working on a conceptual level as a metaphor and cultural signifier, Crawford’s use of embellishment on his glass works operates on a physical level as well. Unadorned works in the collection draw attention to the clean lines of the form and the volume contained in the work; they appear to absorb light and glow softly with a calm presence. Where the surface of the glass is broken up with flowing lines, so too is the light fragmented as it is refracted back off multiple surfaces. This movement of light engenders a sense of energy as the viewer walks about the work or the light conditions change.
Mike Crawford’s works reveal a finely poised balance between concept and craftsmanship, and as the original Great Exhibition in 1851 showcased the best of the best, so too does Crystal Palace.
1. Lucy Hammonds, Crystal Palace, July 2014