“Art without some business clues is doomed and business without imagination is stagnant.” – Peter Raos
For my wife and I, no visit to Auckland is complete without a quick ferry ride to Auckland’s central seaside heritage arts village Devonport to check out Peter Raos’ glass studio and gallery. During our recent visit we had the pleasure to spend some time with Peter and discuss his work and the world of the master glass artist. Malcolm Ebb
ME: When did you develop an interest in working with glass as an art form? How long did it take for you to achieve master level?
PR: I was introduced to glass as a medium while studying for my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Just seeing the direct relationship between the maker and material sparked my interest. The person demonstrating was Fred Daden from England and he had been trained through the apprenticeship system with over 40 years of glass blowing. We were able to do a small sketch which Fred then made a glass version of right in front of our eyes, it seemed like a very direct translation from idea to object. That sparked my interest and I wanted to acquire the skills to be able to do that. One of the most common questions I get is “How long does it take to make one of these?” The answer has many parts. It takes about fourteen years of full-time glass blowing to get control of hot glass without mistakes overwhelming success. It took me ten years to master the cane flowers, millefiori technique, then I had to figure out how I was going to use it. This year marks forty years of glass making for me and I am still learning and thinking about how to do things and what ideas I want to make. Then there is the equipment and type of glass and glass colours needed and all the technical side of heating and cooling glass which demands precision and careful practice as well.
ME: How different is what you do to what is commonly known as glass blowing?
PR: The main process I do is glass blowing but that is a bit like saying a musician does music. It depends on the artistry and many other factors. Most glass blowing is just colour and form and is often functional and can be very beautiful. I consider my work a little more poetic and a search for beauty.
ME: How would you describe your style? What and who inspires your work?
PR: My style is about creating imagery within a form. The imagery is made with many blended techniques of traditional and modern glass. Sometimes my work is more painterly as in the Impressionist gardens in glass or more realist in the Pacific Collection undersea pieces. Aside from the natural world I get a lot of inspiration from looking at other artist’s work whether they are painters or sculptors or any other form, I just like seeing how they realise an idea. Recently I went to Melbourne to see the Alexander Calder exhibition at the NGV and really enjoyed that.
ME: You are known for your beautiful paperweights; what are some of your other creations that have gained you world-wide acclaim?
PR: The term paperweight to me is a funny one, it just means a form to me like a vase
or a bowl or a sculpture. Paperweight forms have a long tradition and I like the huge range of creative expression over the past century. They are a real art form in my opinion and can carry intricate designs and cultural meaning. They are often given as gifts and hold a special connection in memory for people .I did a gift for the Nepalise ambassador here in Auckland and at the presentation a small group of Nepalise expats crowded around the green glass paperweight and asked with excitement “which river did you find this stone in?” That is a response that made me feel good. I think you could put my work in the decorative arts category but to me that would describe the market more than the essence. To me the essence of my work is to realise a beautiful idea in a beautiful object and spread a little joy.
ME: What challenges have you faced as both an artist and a successful businessman? What mistakes and lessons have you learned along the journey?
PR: Like all artists the biggest challenge has been lack of funds for resources and general running costs. This can only be met by some planning and budgeting.
Art and business are uneasy allies but I think each can benefit from the other. Art without some business clues is doomed and business without imagination is stagnant.
Mistakes are many and you pay dearly for them and that stops you from doing them over and over again. Being and artist is a balance between believing in yourself and doubting yourself. I have always tried to get my priorities right and if that isn’t working out, I try to analyse why and make a better decision. Glass is a very demanding thing to do, so you have to remember to put family first and other activities and not let it take over. One of the challenges I faced about fifteen years ago was that demand for my work was too high, I couldn’t meet it, my body was feeling the stress and I had several people working to help meet the demand which increased cost and complexity. I had to make the decision to stop wholesaling my work and only sell it through my private gallery. This allowed me to work at a more gentle pace for a longer time and also hold a collection of work which I can enjoy and I sell for a better price.
Closing comment by ME. A piece of Peter Raos fine art glass makes for a unique gift and lasting treasure for someone special. The perfect gift for significant anniversaries and retiring partners!