In the Waitākere Ranges, glass master Simon Lewis Wards plays with confectionery, prints and lighting.
The career of sculptor Simon Lewis Wards took off 13 years ago when he began creating colourful glass sculptures of iconic Kiwi confectionery, most notably the jet plane.
“The idea for the candy sculptures came
Over the past decade, his creative journey with glass has expanded to include fine art sculptures, large-scale public works and, most recently, his first lighting pieces.
Simon’s foray into the world of glass started as a teenager, when he left high school and started working in a glass studio doing odd jobs. Years later, as a bored drainlayer, he revisited the glass world while helping friends set up their studio. During this time, he discovered an affinity with sculpting and mould-making.
A stint in Paris, from 2014 to 2017, saw him develop his skill set to include stained glass and slip casting techniques, mainly self-taught via YouTube. After a period of relative isolation and introspection in France, he returned to New Zealand, setting up his studio in a former vineyard in Auckland’s Waitākere Ranges. His work is now sold and admired across the globe.
What is it about your work that gets you excited?
The time between having an idea and beginning the making process in my studio. That feeling of anticipation and potential gets me high.
What’s your studio like?
I rent a 300sq m warehouse that’s located on a former vineyard, once the hangout for a local gang. Until moving here in 2018 I’d always worked out of garages or small studios — I didn’t realise that moving into a bigger space would literally expand my work by giving my ideas room to breathe.
In a practical sense, this opened up new possibilities with scale and my practice changed a lot. My landlord, Brent, has curated a very solid little community up here — we all help each other out, and all work with our hands in some respect.
Describe your making process.
I’m constantly inspired. When an idea lines up with a material or a new technique I’m thinking about, a spark is ignited. I don’t sketch, I build visually — I can see what the finished piece will look like and I reverse engineer from there. What tools do I have, what new techniques do I need to learn?
Usually, there’s a “eureka” moment when I figure out how it’ll come together. From there there’s a lot of tweaking, refining. The idea, and the engineering required to bring the idea to life, are equally exciting to me.
How has your work evolved over the years?
My craftsmanship and execution evolve, but the essence of my work never changes. I’m drawn to objects with deep visceral stories and a nostalgic element.
Lately, I’ve been exploring utilitarian forms which we see every day and have our own interpretations and memories of. The new Bubble Lamps came from that. It’s my first exploration into lighting, and the lamp is an iteration of the larger Bubble Wrap piece I showed at the Auckland Art Fair earlier this year.
I loved working on the engineering of these pieces — cast glass bubble wrap sheets are heated to 600 degrees and I have to put on a spacesuit to pull them out of the kiln to form the wrapped shapes of the lamps. The best part of my job is watching people respond to the work — it triggers an urge in people to physically touch the sculptures.
What was the biggest hurdle you overcame in the early years?
It took me a while to get my head around the importance of investing money back into the work. I would buy everything else I needed then realise I had nothing left for my raw materials. I finally learned to shift that to being the first thing I bought. Now investing in new work is my favourite thing to spend money on — that and shoes.
Did you seriously consider giving up?
Never. When I started making art, I quickly realised I wasn’t meant to work for someone else. I averaged about four jobs a year when I was working in trades, so I’m sure the workforce felt the same way about me!
Any tips for other creatives wanting to launch their own business?
Growing my practice has been equal parts push and patience. Determination should be the easy part. Every day in the studio the universe tells me I need to be patient, every mistake that happens is from impatience or not listening to my instincts.
What self-care strategies do you have in your life?
I have a lot of amazing strategies that I very rarely use. I wish I had the same discipline for self-care that I do for my art practice. I have meditated off and on for a while now.
Even though it’s sporadic it’s given me the ability to zoom out when I’m having a tough time. I visualise myself flying away from my physical body at a rate of knots — heading into the stratosphere is a really good way to gain perspective. I try to remember to do this every few days to get some separation and clarity.
What inspires you?
Meeting and talking with others who have an intense passion for their chosen thing. It’s palpable and usually comes at a perfect time, perhaps when I’ve lost my way creatively. That energy is infectious and will have me heading straight to the studio.
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