The maker’s colourful creations are on show at Tiffany & Co
As a boy, Joshua Kerley watched his father – a builder, carpenter and mechanic – at work on all manner of practical projects. Today, the London-based glass artist and designer, freshly graduated from the Royal College of Art’s Ceramics & Glass MA programme, credits this early experience with forming his own mindset. ‘I’ve always had a hands-on approach,’ says Kerley, who won the 2018 Bullseye Emerge Academic Gold Award. ‘I wanted to study architecture, but during my foundation course in Bournemouth I discovered there was this category called the applied arts which would allow me to make – so I decided to follow that route instead.’
A BA in Contemporary Crafts at Falmouth University followed, during which he focused on glass. Then came a three-year stint as the university’s senior glass technician. ‘This helped give me a strong grounding of technical knowledge, which has allowed me to push boundaries and be experimental,’ he says, adding: ‘I feel fortunate that I had these skills before doing my MA. Increasingly, students don’t arrive on these courses with formal training.’
At Falmouth, Kerley had developed an abstract sculptural style connected to his earlier interest in architecture – ‘I began looking at buildings more closely,’ he says – and his kiln-formed glass drew from the structures surrounding him; on returning to his family in Wiltshire, he created a collection inspired by the agricultural buildings around Salisbury. Being awarded a scholarship to study at the RCA facilitated a move to London. ‘It offered me a completely new palette of materials and architectural forms. The grid shapes in my degree show came from this exposure to London’s urban landscape.’ Recent pieces include Fletton II, a cylinder in sage-green pâte de verre partly moulded by a slice of London brick, and Sinter II, a tower-block-like sculpture formed of tiny glass pellets.
While his work has long explored the possibilities of mixed media – his earlier Making Connections series paired kiln-formed glass with cork, polystyrene, wood, and even rubber bands – at the RCA Kerley started to develop a more oblique slant on multimedia making. Experimenting further, he produced work using polystyrene ball-like glass beads, sintered together in moulds at a low temperature. ‘They’re a development of my cast polystyrene pieces,’ he says. For him, mimicking low status materials in glass is a challenge to perceived ideas about material hierarchies.
‘In traditional kiln-forming, a lot of the labour comes later in cold-working and polishing, but for me it’s all in preparing the glass. It’s four days’ work just to make the beads for one piece.’ To create these, glass is heated in a kiln until liquid, when the surface tension causes it to crawl into droplets: ‘Making sure none of the beads are touching is the lengthiest part. It is quite mindnumbing, but I don’t mind it.’
It’s clear that the possibilities offered by kiln-forming are a key part of his passion for glass. ‘Blown work is often shiny because it has to be heated to molten temperatures,’ he says, ‘but with kiln-forming, you can achieve more variation in surface quality, texture and colour.’ Other recent pieces use pâte de verre: tiny grains of opaque powdered glass, fused together in a mould at a low temperature. For his degree show, Kerley used this technique to create a series of functional objects with deliciously sugar-like textures: pendant lampshades in which light oozes through a colour gradient, and jars in candy-coloured hues featuring foaming lids. These playful pieces are created by mixing baking soda with powdered glass, which rises in the kiln to form a creamy head of foam.
‘I’m a fan of Studio Furthermore’s foam-like ceramics,’ Kerley says. ‘A lot of my interest in art and design lies in material research and experimentation. I find Silo Studio really interesting: they use industrial materials and processes, but bring them into a craft context. I also admire Jochen Holz’s glass – I like how he blurs the boundaries between the sculptural and the functional. I feel that much contemporary glass doesn’t use colour in a considered way – it is often just psychedelic and a bit mad. I’ve been mixing my own colour palette: this has been a big part of my MA research.’
Recognition is coming swiftly for the early-career maker. After winning last year’s Bullseye award, he scored a place on Bullseye Project’s stand at this year’s Collect art fair, and his work is now in Bullseye’s group show Emerge/Evolve, currently touring the US. More recently, Kerley won a year of free studio space in London, thanks to The Tiffany & Co. x Outset Studiomakers Prize, and his work will go on show with other award-winners. ‘It’s prohibitively expensive to live here and rent a studio, so it’s a real weight off my shoulders,’ he says, ‘and I can carry on investigating London architecture in my work.’
Tiffany & Co. x Outset Studiomakers Prize exhibition is at Tiffany & Co., London WC2E 8BT, 26 September – 16 October. Emerge/Evolve is at Bellevue Arts Museum, Washington, until 12 January 2020. Are you an emerging craftsperson? Share your work with us by using the hashtag #newmakers on Instagram.