Neil Roberts

Cochrane, Grace,

The Crafts Movement in Australia: A History, Book excerpts, Sydney: NSW University Press, 1992.

Grace Cochrane

See Index:

Roberts, Neil (plate 37), 232, 301, 325, 343, 383, 385, 387, 390

Chap 6: section on Glass, p232

In 1976 Neil Roberts (b.1954) saw Skillitzi blowing glass in Adelaide, and later Peter Docherty and Denis O’Connor at the mobile workshop ‘somewhere in the backblocks of New South Wales’, and ‘seduced like many others by the magic — heat, alchemy, skill, handwork, moved to Adelaide to hammer on closed Jam Factory doors’. After a summer school with Skillitzi at Tatachilla in 1978, Roberts joined the Jam Factory until the end of 1979. He later studied at Orrefors in Sweden, and in the 1980s moved away from glass-blowing towards sculptural installation works using glass.

Chapter 7: section on Women in the Crafts, p301

Meanwhile at the Australian and Regional Artists Exchange, ARX ’87, in Perth, Neil Roberts was pointing out that men were beginning their own initiatives to add to the weight of change brought on by women, saying that ‘language is understood to be the tool of those power structures, to reflect our deepest conditionings, and conversely be in the vanguard of change’. His own work by the late 1980s was using the language off glass and sculpture to explore issues associated with the social construction of masculinity.

Chapter 8:

section on Technology, p325

Glass artists Neil Roberts and Warren Langley incorporated neon lighting in glass works, while Giselle Courtney, reviving earlier skills, electroplated her lustred, flameworked jewellery.

section on Commissions: p343

1990 Neil Roberts, ACT Electricity and Water sculpture commission, Floriade Festival, Canberra, floating neoprene and water spray installation.

Chap 9: section on Glass


Some art schools such as the Gippsland Institute of Technology (where the glass workshop had been set up in 1974 by Richard Marquis with Nick Mount, and was revived by Brian Hirst as a student in 1978) and the Tasmanian School of Art in Hobart (also set up by Marquis and continued by Les Blakebrough until 1981) had developed hot glass courses, producing glassworkers who were to become significant practitioners. Not all of these courses survived the continuing cost of keeping the furnaces burning. The Sydney College of the Arts course, set up by Maureen Cahill in 1978, was based on kiln forming of glass, and in 1983 a new course emphasising kiln work was established at the Canberra School of Art with Klaus Moje. Others who later taught there included Neil Roberts, Brian Hirst and Elizabeth McClure (b.1957).


Australians also travelled overseas for further study: Peter Minson went to Orrefors in 1979-80, and was followed there by Neil Roberts in 1981. The Pilchuck Summer School in Seattle became a major focus for training, and also served to set up international exhibition contacts. This was largely a result of the influence of Klaus Moje, who was well known in the United States and had taught regularly at Pilchuck. He made it possible for Australians not only to study there, but also to work as assistants, and in most instances these initiatives were further supported by the Crafts Board. Apart from Moje, who went most years, three Australians went to Pilchuck in 1985, three in 1986, eight in 1987, six in 1988 and three in 1989.


Derek Smith set up the Glebe Glass Studio in Sydney in 1980, assisted by the Crafts Board, and in association with Sydney College for the Arts. It provided working facilities in its early years for such as Brian Hirst, who came from Gippsland to build the workshop, Anita Pate, Richard Kay, Neil Roberts and Keith Rowe (b.1952). The studio was later taken over, until about 1990, by Rowe, a graduate of the Sydney College course, when the Smiths moved to Tasmania. The Glass Artists Gallery was established in 1982, at first in Paddington and from 1986 in Glebe in Sydney, by a collective including, at that time, Maureen Cahill, Giselle Courtney, Neil Roberts, Michael Anderson, Keith Rowe and Andrew Neilson. Non-profit-making, the gallery wanted to provide a practical bridge from art school, and worked towards sales, commissions and the development of a professional public profile for glass artists.


Moving away from an early training in glass-blowing at the Jam Factory, and having worked in Hobart, Sydney and Canberra, Neil Roberts developed a conceptual approach to investigating the nature of glass and its history and functions, in association with investigations of personal identity, through sculptural installations. These works, which increasingly used found objects in the tradition of arte povera, included Knives and Shadows in 1984, and the site-specific event Eight made at the event ANZART-in-Auckland in 1985. In 1986 Roberts and others put on the exhibition Vessages in Canberra, in which a number of artists developed works using glass vessels as source material for an idea. In 1990 in Canberra, he made a floating installation Flood Plane on Lake Burley-Griffin as a sculpture commission for the Floriade Festival, using 150 metres of an aerial agricultural spray watering system, surmounted by a line of prose in red neon light.

Illustration: Plate 37

Neil Roberts: A Bullet and Breath, glass and metal object, made in Queanbeyan in 1990. ‘I’m not so much posing opposites, but finding some sort of equivalence in disparate sources…Bullet and Breath is to do with the idea of a bullet as an act of violence having equivalence to a breath, or glass as an aspiration.’ (7 x 25.5mm)