Occupying a corner site in leafy Paddington is Sydney’s foremost gallery for contemporary art glass and ceramics, Sabbia Gallery. As the light streams in through the wide windows onto Glenmore Road it brings to life the glass art that sit on pedestals in the main room of the gallery. Anna Grigson, the director of the gallery, calls this the sixth element of glass.
“You can place it in front of a window and the light runs through it and then all of a sudden that response to a work changes.”
The exhibition that’s currently on show, Clare Belfrage’s Drawing Out Time encapsulates the dynamism of contemporary studio art glass. The thin lines that criss-cross the earthly sculptural forms dovetail with the wider bands of colour that structure the works. This represents the creative tension between the three-dimensional, sculptural nature of glass objects with the textural details which require the fine hand work of a painter. For Grigson this animates many of the works on show at Sabbia Gallery because, as she puts it, “there's no coming back when it comes to glass.”
There’s certainly been no coming back for Grigson and Sabbia Gallery. Established in 2005, the gallery was the next step for Grigson who had previously directed Quadrivium Gallery which was housed in the Queen Victoria Building. While at Quadrivium Gallery, Grigson was able to nurture the growth of art glass in Australia and provide it with a major platform.
“There were so many really good glass artists that there just weren't enough exhibition space for them,” recollected Grigson.
From the connections and relationships that Grigson had established there and after Quadrivium’s closure, opening Sabbia Gallery was the next natural step.
“It just sort of made sense along the way. I don't know if we over-thought it, we just let it happen.”
With her sister Maria Grimaldi on board, the duo gave the gallery two to three years to take off and now, twelve years on and with a move from Surry Hills to the present site in Paddington under their belt, Grigson and Grimaldi have established themselves at the forefront of contemporary glass and ceramics in Sydney.
Glass and ceramics, as an artistic medium, have often struggled against being lumped together under the banner of crafts and associated with smaller trinkets sold in homewares stores. While not disdaining these objects and those who make them, Grigson always knew that Sabbia Gallery aimed at a higher-brow audience and aspired to be seen alongside contemporary galleries that exhibited paintings, photography or video work.
“So I just knew from the outset that we just had to come at that high-end, but also the artists that we were going to be working with are artists that wanted a gallery to represent them.”
This symbiotic relationship with artists has been at the core of Sabbia Gallery’s philosophy, which prides itself on the close relationships that it has established with its stable of artists. This means that artists are able to have solo shows in a gallery which recognizes their work as carrying equal conceptual heft to any other contemporary gallery in Sydney.
This leads to a hectic annual schedule, with over 20 active artists and only ten slots of solo shows. In response to this, in 2017 Sabbia Gallery has branched out into new areas. For the first time this year Sabbia Gallery presented at the Sydney Contemporary art fair. This led to the gallery gaining significant exposure and John MacDonald, the Sydney Morning Herald art critic reviewing one of the ceramic works by Honor Freeman on display at the Sabbia stand as “much a museum piece as anything on display at the more cutting-edge establishments.”
Also this year, Sabbia has extended its collaboration with Indigenous artists working in ceramics and built on their long-standing connection to Ernabella Arts with the major touring exhibition Clay Stories, currently on show at the Jam Factory in Seppeltsfield in the Barossa.
For Grigson this is all about broadening the market and expanding people’s ideas about what contemporary glass and ceramics can be.
“Most people were amazed by the fact that it was glass or ceramics but at the end of the day that shouldn't matter,” notes Grigson. Instead, the focus should be on the quality and nature of the works.
As interest in art glass continues to grow, Grigson has some concise advice for those interested in beginning a collection, “Normally I tell people, look through our stock look through the artists we have on the site, tell me which pieces you really connect to and enjoy and then we start from there.”