Hours of scrolling through Instagram is usually how we find the amazing artists and designers that we feature on Threaded and Thrown. It was during one of these scrolling sessions that we landed on Glenn Barkley's profile and it felt like we had hit gold. Do you know the feeling? It was like we had found the artwork that we wish we had created. So this is a super proud moment for us as Glenn had kind of become our ceramics idol. Read on to see the work we fell in love with, and to find out more about Glenn's hugely impressive background. It's that impressive that he even has his own Wikipedia page!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself...
I grew up on the south coast of NSW where I still spend a lot of time in a garden and studio I have in Berry. I split my time between there, and Camperdown in Sydney and I have a studio at Kil.n.it in Glebe.
What is your background? How did you start working with ceramics?
I went to art school in the 1990s at the University of Wollongong and I majored in painting. After that, myself and two other graduates Lisa Havilah and Nathan Clarke set up an artist-run space, Project, that is still operating.
I became more interested in the curatorial side of the art world and began working at the University of Wollongong as the Curator of the Art Collection. This developed into life in curating that eventually lead me to the MCA Australia where I was Senior Curator. It was twenty years of focused thinking about and looking at art. During this time, I didn’t make very much art!
I resigned from this role in 2015 for lots of reasons – gardening being one! I went to a hand building course run by Cath Fogarty in 2015 and things just took off – I loved the material from the second I touched it.
Your pieces are playful, colourful and tactile, and often include text - how did you arrive with this? What themes do you explore?
I listen to a lot of music and read a lot. Working with text just seemed natural. It’s also something I was drawn to as a curator. I’m also drawn to things like English slipware that use text to celebrate milestones. I feel my work in some way captures what it is to live now, and fixing in ceramics things that will be forgotten; like poetry and song, and things people might find on the internet.
The ceramics that I respond to are usually those that use clay inherent tactile qualities. It makes sense that this scatological aspect is something I would move towards!
How do you develop your ideas and what’s your process of working?
I think the key to my work is just that - work. It’s important to always have something to do and to have multiple ideas in the boil; ideas usually come from making. I’m also happy to do commissions and I’m a social person and often other people suggest things – I sometimes laugh them off but other times take them on board – it's led to some bodies of work I’m really pleased with!
How do you like to work?
I like to just get straight to it. I find the studio a very happy place to be. I always try and have two or three things going at once. I like keeping my hands busy and often that means making smaller things while larger works are drying or in between campaigns. It’s a good way to loosen up your hands and brain.
You're a Co-founder of Kil.n.it Can you tell us a little more about your role there?
I helped to set it up but now I very much just like working and being there! I like being surrounded by other inspirational makers and I love looking at what’s coming out of the kilns. It's also good if you have a question about how to do anything!
You were previously a senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia, and are now a Co-founder and curator of The Curators' Department in Sydney. We get a buzz from finding artists whose work we love and sharing it with people. Is this the same for you? How did you get into curation?
See above! My interests are very broad, and I do get a buzz out of finding things but often that can be a pot from 200 years to a piece of jewellery made yesterday to a film from the 1950’s. I think it’s important to keep your eyes open all the time. I find a lot of contemporary art just being about the world whereas I’m more drawn to the world itself – art, beauty and ideas are everywhere if you keep your mind, heart and eyes open.
Glenn is represented by Sullivan & Strumpf in Sydney and Singapore; Niagara Galleries in Melbourne; Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami; and Jhana Millers in Wellington, NZ. Make sure to check out his Instagram where he posts regularly and has been sharing his recent collaboration (see below) with Ebony Russell, who we recently featured on Threaded and Thrown!