Emma Camden is one of New Zealand’s leading glass artists. She creates works that play with light and form as well as magical gem like colour, to produce artworks that seem to resonate from within. Working with the lost wax cast glass method, Camden creates small and large works, that radiate with the intensity of the lead crystal glass colours that New Zealand business (now located in the United States) ‘Gaffer Glass’ specialize in.
This technique takes time and precision. Camden herself talks of the ‘nasty laborious’ stages of this process. Firstly, glass is poured into a wax mould, cooled, and then perhaps sandblasted with a water fed sandblaster. Or possibly Camden might don protective gear, to lift the glass into a vat of hydrochloric acid, in order to produce a wonderful finishing sheen. It is heavy and time-consuming work which almost transforms the material into an artwork of timelessness, with magical alchemic properties.
Camden likes to utilize light by producing objects that vary in density. As Camden states; “The works are heavy in weight, but some parts you can make thin and light and other parts you can allow the eye to go right through it.”
The size and subject matter of the pieces vary, however running through her oeuvre is the theme of architecture. Camden uses this theme to explore topics that resonate both universally and autobiographically. Standing firm on a base, the viewer can explore her glass stairs, towers, viaducts, pyramids and passages, or her simple small structures that remind us of the quintessential and universal idea of ‘home’.
She has also explored the pyramid structure and the Egyptian belief, that the shafts of light within them allowed the soul to escape after their death. Thus the unknown and the otherworldly, can be explored within her simple abstract shapes. As a student Camden was also interested in the metaphysical landscapes of painter Giorgio de Chico and his use of perspective to create architectural angles and spaces within an artwork.
Born in Southsea, England, Camden graduated from the Southampton Institute of Education in 1985 and completed a BA (Hons) in Glass with Ceramics at Sunderland Polytechnic in 1990. She moved to Auckland New Zealand in 1991 to work at Carrington Polytechnic, as a stained-glass tutor. In 1993 she studied in Canberra in a masterclass with renowned UK glass artists David Reekie and this began her love of the lost wax cast glass method. She also worked with internationally renowned New Zealand artist Ann Robinson, which allowed her to consider working on a larger scale. She has gained international and national recognition for her work and has received numerous awards including the Ranamok Glass Prize (Australia) in 1999. In 2016, Camden exhibited in her mid-career survey exhibition at Sergeant Gallery, Whanganui entitled: “Now: new and selected glass works”. This also toured The Dowse Museum, Lower Hutt, Wellington.
She has been included in numerous group exhibitions and her work is in the collections of Auckland Museum, The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt; Glassmuseet Ebeltoft, Denmark; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; Te Papa Tongarewa, National Museum of New Zealand, Wellington.
Camden lives in Whanganui, New Zealand, with her partner, fellow glass artist, David Murray.