Artist Ben Young began his career as a boatbuilder not knowing that it would eventually inform his work as a glass sculptor. For the past fifteen years, he has honed his craft in a way that pays homage to his vessel-constructing past as well as life growing up in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. His minimalist aesthetic uses blocks of blue-green glass, concrete, and brass to convey the vast ocean and related man-made elements.
Each step of Young’s process is done by hand and begins with a sketch phase. He then hand-cuts the sheet of float glass and laminates it, layer by layer, into its final form. Unsurprisingly, working in this way can be a challenge. “I work with 2D shapes and have to figure out how to translate that into a 3D finished piece,” he explains. “Sometimes my starting point changes dramatically as I have to find a way to layer the glass to create certain shapes.” The end result is always striking and boasts a beautiful interplay between textures; the smoothness of the glass sings against the pockmarked surface of the concrete.
We spoke with Young about what sparked his love of glass art and how being a boatbuilder helped him in the work he makes today. Scroll down for My Modern Met’s exclusive interview.
You’re a self-taught artist. What resources did you use to learn about making your own art?
Yes, I guess I’m self-taught when it comes to art, but before the art, I was a boat builder and spent eight years in the industry so I feel the skills I learned building boats has helped me so much with my art. Just being able to problem solve and think outside the box on ways to make my work and test what is possible.
Nowadays the internet is my biggest resource. I look at a lot of different fields not just art for inspiration and ideas, and YouTube has some great video tutorials if I’m ever stuck on something I need to know.
How did you first become interested in sculpting with glass?
Many years ago while traveling with my family as a young kid, my father saw a window display in a jewelry store on one of the Greek Islands.
This was made from layered glass with a breaking waveform and this caught our eyes. On our return home, dad thought he would turn his hand at glass cutting and see if he could create his own version. I was too young to start playing with broken glass; but, a few years later, it was my turn to give it a go and I was hooked. From there, it has developed over many years to what you see today.
What elements (if any) from the landscape where you grew up in the Bay of Plenty make their way into your work?
I think growing up in the bay has given me a great appreciation of nature and even more so the sea. It has been a major influence in all parts of my life. That being said, I’m inspired by coastal landscapes worldwide and I love to show the vastness of them and the mystery of what lies beneath the surface.
Take us through the creation of one of your pieces. How much planning goes into the piece beforehand?
Each piece is different. The more work I create, the more I understand the areas that need attention and the others that fall into place as I go.
If I’m working on a new idea or something I have not done before, I spend a lot more time at the planning stage. You have to think through each step and anticipate the issues you will face and see if there is anything you can do earlier on to help solve these things.
What is your most technically challenging piece to date?
To this date, I would say the diver piece would have to have been the most challenging.
What about it was so tricky?
Carving out the negative space in the glass and working out the order that the carving needed to be done as the piece went together so everything could be reached at the next step was very challenging. You cannot hide any mistakes in glass so it was just about not rushing and getting everything right.
Lighting plays a big role in the presentation of your work. In what ways do you use it to enhance your sculptures?
The nature of my work and glass in general really allows you to have some fun with light. You can play with how it reacts with the work and more often than not it will surprise you by doing something different. Some of my work is specifically designed with its own light source to really play on these characteristics but I try to hide the source of the light so to not make that the focus of the work.
What are you working on now? Anything exciting you can tell us about?
I’ve got a few new ideas in the pipeline and I think I’m going to loop back and explore the figurative work once more from earlier in my career. Now that I have a bit more of a following, I want to use that to further explore some topics that I’m passionate about – climate being one of them and also encourage some positivity in the world rather than the negative spin the media loves to put on everything. Too much hate and more love.
My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Ben Young.