The rough with the smooth
Swedish glass artist Ulrika Barr likes to contrast blown glass with textured cast glass, encouraging curiosity in the viewer and engagement with her work. Linda Banks finds out more.
What led you to start working with glass?
In my case it was my mother – she was a creative person and worked as a preschool teacher. She used a lot of creativity when she worked with the children at school and in our home. We painted every day when I was growing up and, when I got older and found joy in the wood shop or with metal or clay, and then finally glass, she was always there as my biggest supporter.
She was also a collector of glass, so she took me to visit a glass studio when I was 16. I became so fascinated by the material – mesmerised really. Therefore, when I graduated, I looked up where to start learning the trade and found Orrefors Glass School, where I stayed for three years.
What glass techniques have you used and which do you prefer?
Since I’ve been blowing glass for 19 years now, I have tried a lot of different techniques, but I’m mostly drawn to sculpture and the abstract form. Right now, I’m exploring blown glass combined with sand-cast glass, but I also like to work with stained glass.
What is your creative approach? Do you draw your ideas out or dive straight in with the materials?
In my work, a lot happens in the hot shop when I’m working with the material; one thing leads to another. A mistake can be a good thing; I work with the chance, the flaws. But, of course, I also have an inspirational process of reading and going to different exhibitions to gather new input or ideas. Mainly, it depends where I’m at emotionally; what do I want to say right now and how can I translate that into the material? I see my art and the material glass as ways to express my thoughts and as an extended language.
What message(s) do you want to convey through your art?
I want to encourage curiosity. For example, I like to play with perception and create an interest or urge to touch the material. Much of my glass does not look like typical, shiny glass; it can seem like stone, lava, or ceramics.
My work is often intuitive. I listen to my gut instinct and work the material in a very playful way. It can be a little messy and rough – and I often work with contradictions in the material. I would say my designs are often connected to themes of femininity, organic form and the body. It is a way for me to tell stories related to those kinds of topics.
What is your favourite tool or piece of equipment and why?
I would say my big, thick, protection gloves are my favourite. I use them when I shape the sand-cast glass freehand.
Where do you show and sell your work?
I sell mainly through Galleri Glas in Stockholm, Sweden, but I also sell through Culture Objects in New York, US.
What advice would you give to someone starting out on a creative career?
Be patient, be thorough and understand that to learn a craft takes time. Be proud of the knowledge and the practice. And don’t hesitate to reach out for an internship – it´s best to have the actual lived experience of working with the material.
Do you have a career highlight?
I would say my career highlight was when, as part of the duo BarroLevén, we held an exhibition at the Glass Factory in Boda, Sweden, in 2019/2020. It was a big one, with a 300 sq m room space to fill. It took a long time building it and it was a lot of work. But it was such a great experience for me – and us as a team. The exhibition lasted for almost a year a was really appreciated by everyone – from kids to grown-ups.
Where is your practice heading next?
I´m currently working towards a solo show at Galleri Glas during 2024, where I´m going to dig further into the technique of combining blown glass with casting in sand. Plus, I´m also working on some lighting projects for restaurants.
I must mention how COVID-19 has affected me as an artist. This is a big one as, when it hit, I found it a very tough period. Eighteen months earlier I had completed my master’s degree at Konstfack university in Stockholm, Sweden, so everything was rolling along nicely. Then, suddenly, everything stopped. I had been working as part of a duo called BarroLevén with Kristina Levén and I was very proud of what we achieved together. However, unfortunately, she caught COVID-19 and has been long-term sick ever since. This definitively changed my professional career as an artist, putting a very good working relationship on hold and backing the tape a little bit. Now I’m starting a new era as a solo artist, after working in a partnership for four years.
About the artist
Ulrika Barr’s journey into the world of glass art began with a three-year education at Orrefors in Sweden, before undertaking her master’s degree at the Konstfack – University of Arts, Crafts and Design. This course included work at the Stockholm Glassworks, JP Canlis in Seattle, US, and Gunilla Kihlgren in Stockholm.
Her work has been exhibited in New York, Prague and Sweden.
Previously, Ulrika was a significant part of the glass artist duo BarroLevén, which created a unique combination of artistic vision and technical skills.
Find out more here.
Main feature image: ‘Moss’ (2023). Photo: Kjell B Persson.