A conversation with Alexander Beleschenko
Alexander Beleschenko (1951, based in Wales, UK) creates architectural glass installations. His works can be seen in Britain, Germany, France, USA, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
Yes, I do consider myself a stained glass artist, even though I have only made a few stained glass windows in my 35-year career. I have taken that job description really through the fact that my introduction to the art and craft of the medium was in a schooling of the traditional practice. There have been times that I have thought of using other definitions but they all end up being far more confusing, especially to the layman.
The other term associated with what I do is Public Art and that one I don’t really care for much. It is a strange one because I don’t see the end result of my artistic efforts as being specifically for the public. I see it as primarily being embedded into architecture. I want my art to be transformative and relevant to its architectural context. I came to working in glass after experiencing art in architecture when I lived in Florence, Italy for two years. I don’t ever remember anyone defining Michelangelo’s David in the Piazza della Signoria as public art!
Art in architecture demands a special mind set by which one sees that constraints are the strength of the work. I love the challenges of honing in on the conditions; I love the fact that there is a dialogue that engages client, architect and even maybe engineers. I am always appreciative that people offer something to the process and I have never been in a situation that these offerings have been prescriptive. Everybody tips their hat to me understanding that I am the artist and it is my work ultimately.
My practise is also totally embedded and responsive to the material of glass. To be as ensconced in this art glass world, as I have been, you have to live and breathe it. My practise has thrived on the approach of direct contact with the material. Every moment of contact is added to one’s register of sensibility. All the misfirings, adventurous cuts that failed, broken panels, are all there in the final results. They are the unseen struggle that makes the journey to reach one’s goal the adventure it should be. Glass is latent with opportunity. There are occasions in my studio that chance placements of glass offer new combinations previously unthought-of.
I’ve sent my work abroad to all three of the major German glass studios to be fabricated. On my first visits to the studios I saw them totally engaged in making stained glass for ecclesiastical situations and mostly for established glass artists such as Schaffrath, Schrieter and Klos. Now, with a growing demand for glass for secular situations and for new interpretations in the material there has been a paradigm shift. The studios are now populated with a broad range of artists, a large proportion of whom are unfamiliar with the working of the material.
In reference to this new trend it was interesting for me to read in a recently published article about the Franz Mayer studio that they have the practice, an outreach (their words), to talent spot artists from other disciplines to make works in glass. I wonder if this is due to a lack of confidence in practising and upcoming artists who are dedicated to the art form itself. There has been a trend to unshackle stained glass from the applied art category, which is where I think it belongs. I very much see it as the hand maiden to architecture. When you look at the wondrous work of twelfth to fifteenth century windows in European cathedrals I am pretty sure you don’t reach for the phone to Google the artist’s names.
Recently I have come back to my roots. I have been making my new commissions and extending my scope of glass working especially within the area of glass painting. Being back in the environment of my studio I feel happiest and most comfortable because I have total freedom. Freedom with a whole new set of challenges.