The dancing figures in some of Paul Critchley’s more exuberant glass creations are almost a tribute to his own energy and enthusiasm. Figures emerge from a huge tidal wave; a wind-racked tree is, from another angle, constructed of fluid, united people. Paul is energised by the medium he works with and by the boundless possibilities of his craft.
Paul is one of the craftsmen at Arreton Barns, where amid the confusion of coach parties and tourists, he produces pieces of beauty.
His most recent commission has been the trophies for the Island Life food and drink awards: simple irregular icebergs in clear glass, engraved and unfussy. He has also produced the trophies for the Green Island awards – made, appropriately, from recycled green glass; the Healthy Eating awards – small bowls embraced by four figures; and the Isle of Wight Diversity Awards, consisting of four figures dancing in a circle.
“I design the award in conjunction with the client, making it appropriate to the event it’s celebrating,” says Paul.
He also takes a lot of commissions from individuals for special occasions. Gorgeous family groups made from sparkling clear glass are engraved on the underside with the names of all those the piece represents. “I don’t charge any extra for that. I like the idea that the piece reinforces a family’s history. And I like work which gives out a positive message. Family groups, celebratory pieces, they speak about the good things in life.”
The cute robins and penguins which sell from a fiver to visitors who come and watch him at work somehow add to the surprise of the diversity of his work. “I could make small pieces all day long, but I get bored really quickly,” he says. “I like to move the goal posts all the time and keep the work challenging”
If you can have a holistic approach to glass making, Paul has it. He always thinks about the environmental implications of what he was doing. “I put a heat exchanger on my furnace’s flue, so the waste heat powers the galleries radiator.”
With his sandblaster he does all his own engraving, enabling logos and text to be on the surface of the glass. Paul’s assistants also make pieces and help to finish and polish the glass.
He recycles all his glass: nothing is wasted. “Glass is a special material, I respect its beauty, so I can’t throw it away.” When he’s got enough waste glass of a certain colour, he re-melts it and produces pieces such as the recycled fossil blocks, made from aluminium moulds he designed years ago.
Paul’s background is pretty unusual. He trained in sculpture, and after teaching art and design for six years here and in New Zealand, decided to use his skills in glass casting which he learnt there. Glass sculpting and blowing has been largely self-taught. “You learn by experimenting with the glass, books help and I’m always sketching out new ideas.”
Indeed he is passionate about learning. Young visitors, checking his website after seeing his demonstrations, can find names of colleges where they too could become glass makers. He is delighted that when, next year, the wall to the studio will be replaced with windows, more people will be able to watch the craft in action. “I don’t charge for demonstrations, but encourage donations in our charity boxes.”
Paul is always looking to move to the next development: the expansion of his studio, the diversity of his business, working with other craftsmen to increase his own knowledge. So it is unsurprising that his preferred pieces reflect the energy of the material itself. “I like elegant lines,” says Paul. “I like movement.”
Diamond Isle Sculptured Glass, Arreton Barns Craft Village, Main Road, Arreton PO30 3AA. Tel: 01983 523618. www.sculptured-glass.co.uk