06 December 2022

Art

THE FRAGILITY OF A MASTERPIECE

How Nienke Sikkema’s intuition forms magic from the most unforgiving material

Nienke Sikkema (1988) describes her practice as “playing with glass.” But the rising talent's unique understanding of the material has lead to prestigious recognition in the world of design. “When you work together in glass it’s like a choreography. Everything has to fit together.” A conversation with the fourth artist to feature in The Art of RAW, where denim waste remains the starting point for every art piece.

FEATURED ARTIST
NIENKE SIKKEMA

There are not a lot of people working with glass. How did you start in such a niche art genre?

“It started in my final year at the Arts Academy when we had an assignment to design an award. I really wanted to create it out of glass. But the glassblower I contacted made it with really straight, sharp edges – which is typical of glassblowers because they’re super focused on the perfection of the craft. Anyway, I really wanted it produced in a fluid shape, so my art teacher sent me to a studio to see if they could help. They created my object and in return I asked for a traineeship – I’ve been there ever since!”


What attracted you to it?

“When I first went to that studio, I just got mesmerized by it. It’s like a candy shop. I met the studio owner Bernard Heesen and watched him work and was also mesmerized by the whole process. I noticed that all of his assistants were female and I thought ‘wow, ok so women can also apparently do this.’ I always thought it was a male dominated world.”

You work really closely with one of the most important, contemporary glass artists nowadays Bernard Heesen. What’s this been like?

“Bernard is a revolutionary glass artist. He approaches it in such a different way and I have definitely taken that from him. I really have learnt a lot from him and would say he’s my main inspiration in glass for sure. In the beginning I felt like I needed to move out of his shadow because he is a true master of his craft. It started with him as the teacher and now it’s more equal. We influence each other.”


How do you inspire Bernard?

“I think with certain ways of sticking to a concept. Definitely with color usage. And perfectionism, maybe? I have more of that, sometimes too much.”

Who else do you feel helped you along the way?

“Definitely Debby, who’s been Bernards assistant for more than 20 years. I learnt so much from her along the way, she’s super skilled and absolutely brilliant at making the smaller, more refined glass objects with lots of intricate details.”


What’s it like working at the studio now?

“It’s an intense cooperation because there’s only a few of us. And when you work together in glass it’s like a choreography. Everything has to fit together. The person has to be there at the right time and give it back at the right temperature. If it goes wrong, you have to start all over again.”

So, let’s talk about glass. How do you work with such a fragile material?

“You have the warm part of glassblowing and then the cold part; the sanding and polishing. In its cold form is such a terrible material really. All the freedom, flexibility and forgiveness it has when it’s warm, goes when it’s cold. It’s an absolute disaster to transport it because it breaks so often and you can hurt yourself pretty badly, which is a pain in the ass!”

Sounds pretty stressful… What about glass when it’s warm then?

“You can do so many things with it once you start to understand it a bit, it becomes intuitive to work with. You start to understand ‘Ok, it’s this temperature, now I can stretch it.’ I learnt a lot from making my jewellery boxes with the animals. I make them in a way that makes sense to do it with glass, not trying to do anything that’s super forced. For example the giraffe; you can just pull the neck out, cut it and maybe pull it a bit more. Just doing it in a way that the glass facilitates what you want instead of forcing it. I try to follow the glass in a way.”

Where do you get your ideas from?

“My ideas come from the process of working. I like to experiment by doing, you know? Seeing what happens when the glass is manipulated constantly. There’s an Italian way of working where they roll the glass repetitively. I’m always trying new techniques and learning about the material and what it can do.”

What was the inspiration behind your glass vases ‘Blown in Blue’ for G-Star?

“I was thinking ‘Ok, what are the first things that come to mind when I think of G-Star?’ They are Dutch! I always associate jeans with blue, so I started to associate the two: Dutch and blue. And it lead me to my inspiration- Delfts Blauw earthenware. I based my designs around that, especially the iconic shapes and yeah, I took it from there.”

How did that lead to your finished pieces?

“Well, I decided I wanted to focus on iconic parts of the jeans. I made a glass vase, gluing the staple parts on; like the pockets and the zippers. You always have a pattern of blue on Delfts Blauw, so I tried to follow a similar one when I placed the jeans onto my vase. I then created a mould out of this which I used for all three and experimented with the different colorways.”

The colors are amazing!

“Yeah, I really wanted to show glass in its purest form so I decided on a transparent vase where you can really see the shape and the print. The blue and white one is obviously in reference to Delfts Blauw. And then I wanted to put a modern spin onto the third one by using a contrasting bright yellow.”

I’d say you’re a rare species in the art world but are amongst the likes of famous glass designers like Copier. How do you see yourself within the history of glassblowing?

“It’s funny, because Bernard sees a line from Copier, to him, to me. Copier was a designer but he knew glass really well and made his designs from his knowledge of the material which is actually a bit like how I work. But in all honesty; I don’t really place myself within the history.”

I have the feeling glassblowing is gaining popularity.

“Yes, it’s having a bit of a revival to be honest. You see it a lot more often now, which is good for me. I see a lot of designers that aren’t glassblowers themselves doing things with glass which is super nice.”

Where do you see your future in glassblowing?

“I would love to work for myself. If I could, I would just do whatever glassblowing projects I wanted. [laughs] That sounds very narcissistic! But you know, create my own work, people like it and I make a living through that. What I like most is discovering the material, trying new things, seeing where it goes and making mistakes.”

Do you ever see yourself working with other materials?

“Well, it’s not easy to run a glass atelier - the gas bills right now! But I’m still discovering so much about glass - I’m definitely not bored yet! So I think I’ll try working with the material as long as I can. See how it goes but so far, so good.”

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