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Ben Young Makes Sculptures Out of Layered Glass

With a background in boatbuilding, Ben doesn't follow art world orthodoxy.

Ingrid Kesa

Ben Young, ‘Solitude’, 2015, images courtesy of the artist

Glass and concrete don’t sound like much alone, but using these as his main materials Sydney-based artist Ben Young creates sculptures that are like frozen, suspended scenes. Growing up surfing in Waihi Beach, New Zealand, Ben has always been drawn to the ocean so a lot of his work is centred around the sea. Despite being such a solid material, Ben manages to assign glass a liquid-like quality through laborious cutting and layering. A boatbuilder by trade, Ben has perfected his art practice over the last decade, and currently has some of his work on show at Melbourne's Kirra Galleries. We had a chat with the sculptor about how he manifests a sculpture from a drawing through to a 3D being. 

The Creators Project: How have you incorporated aspects of boatbuilding into your art practice?

Ben Young: Boatbuilding has been a huge part of my journey as an artist. All the techniques that I use within my sculptures have been learned through my skills as a boatbuilder—from the planning phase and 3D drawings to the mould making and finishing stages. Probably the most important skill has been problem solving; working out how to transform an idea into realiy. As I don't have any formal art training I’ve just used the skills and materials I know to help me create my sculptures. I’m not sure if it's unorthodox in the art world but it works for me. 

Ben Young, ‘Subterranean III’, 2015

What sort of tools and equipment do you use to make your sculptures?

My tools are really basic. The glass is 4mm float glass—the same as you'd find in windows—and I cut it with a glazier's oil filled glass cutter. The glueing process is a little more complicated as I need to mix different compounds together, same with the concrete stage. I mould or carve my shapes and then pour the concrete. I hand carve the little bronze sculptures that are included in my work and then send them to a specialist to cast in bronze.

So you don't use any technology like 3D imagining software to help you?

No, all my work is completely handmade. Even the planning stage is pretty old school. When I was at school I loved technical drawing and have continued with this because it’s what I know. I could learn how to use computer programs to create 3D models of my work and appreciate how much easier it would be to have all the 2D shapes that make up my pieces created for me by a machine, but I think about how organic my work becomes when it’s cut from hand. It means I have the ability to change pieces as I go and sometimes the end product can turn out quite different to what I originally thought. I have a sketchbook filled with ideas and from there I create scale drawings of the work from different angles, which give me the shapes and sizes I need to start cutting.

Ben Young, ‘Steed’, 2015

How often do you mess up and have to start all over again?

To be honest, not as much as I used to—I have become better at knowing how glass can be cut and how far I can push things with the shapes I’m creating. When I first started out there was definitely a lot of mistakes and pieces of glass that shattered, these days it's more just a lot of small cuts on my hands! The biggest adjustment has been introducing the concrete to the work. The mix of the two materials—glass and concrete—can be quite unpredictable and you need to know quite a bit about how concrete dries, expands and shrinks and what effect this has on the glass. I have done a lot of research, testing and talked to a lot of really helpful people to perfect this formula. 

When did you learn to work with glass?

My dad made a glass wave years ago after we’d been on a family holiday to Greece and had seen some beautiful laminated glass in a window display in a jewellery store. When it came time for me to start playing in the garage with tools and learning off dad I decided I wanted to have a go at making things out of glass too. I’m a keen surfer so my first pieces were all waves and I just sold them to friends and the local community. As I got older the ideas progressed and it's obviously turned into much more than a hobby for me now. It is cool to see where I started though, my parents still have that first glass wave in their home and it's a nice reminder.

Ben Young, ‘Parallels III’, 2014

Your work just seem so incredibly intricate. How long does it take you to complete a sculpture from drawing to fruition?

It really depends on how detailed the piece is, its size and how many layers of glass I have to cut,clean and glue. They can take anywhere from a few weeks to a month. I like to work on a few pieces at a time so that I am working on the same stages, so might have anywhere from two to ten pieces on at once.

Ben Young, ‘Escape’, 2015

Ben Young is currently exhibiting some of his work at Kirra Galleries in Melbourne alongside fellow sculptor Peter Nilsson. The show runs until August 23, 2015. For more info head here or like Ben Young on Facebook.

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