Dian Shi

(University of Sunderland, PhD)

This art-based research focuses on applying metal oxide in glass art to create ‘Chinese glass calligraphy’. Dian Shi is a glass artist inspired by the shades of ink in Chinese calligraphy and this research emerged from her artistic practice using metal oxide melted into glass. The use of metal oxide in glass to give colour has a long history, for example, oxides were used in the 19th and 20th centuries by Amalric Walter and Henri Cros. Today, glass artists usually obtain coloured glass ready-made from a company. However, some are not satisfied with the available palette. Some develop their own colour using different quantities of metal oxide. Researchers have explored metal oxide for creative practice in glass art, such as Max Stewart, Heike Brachlow and Sylvie VandenHoucke. Glass artists/researchers have also been inspired by traditional calligraphy in creative PhDs.

Chinese ink on paper can create different shades – dark to light. Similarly, percentages of metal oxide can dictate tone and colour in glass. Dian Shi set out to explore this idea through the research question: how might metal oxide be used in glass to emulate the ink shade of Chinese calligraphy for creative expression? It was believed that several glass making methods could be combined with oxides to create innovative effects.

In order to address this question, a contextual review, including case studies and interviews was undertaken. Practical studio tests were used to identify possible practical routes. These tests were divided into two phases. Phase one explored: different shades in glass ingots, sheet glass and lampworked glass rods. Phase two focused on compatibility between metal oxide coloured glass developed in phase one and clear furnace glass. The main aim, was to create calligraphy using glass and oxide that ‘floated’ inside of glass forms or could ‘stand-alone’.

Having identified practical routes, five series of artworks fabricated in a Chinese glass factory were created. A technique of ‘calligraphic lampworking’ using glass rods coloured with oxides was used to create calligraphy inside of glass forms. Water jet cutting was also used to cut out calligraphic shapes from sheets of glass coloured with oxides. Here the water jet machine emulated brush-like effects inside of glass. All the works provide different perspectives on the researcher’s idea that ‘Chinese calligraphy is life’. This relates to the Chinese word ‘Qi (气)’ which reflects the calligrapher’s spirit and energy.

In summary, this research offers possible applications of how one artist has combined metal oxide with glass to form Chinese calligraphy that other artists might use and adapt in their practice.