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2001/62/1 Vase, 'Cell series', glass, cold assembled murrini, hot worked, blown, ground, made by Giles Bettison, Adelaide, South Australia, 2001. Click to enlarge.

‘Cell series’ vase by Giles Bettison

Designed by Bettison, Giles in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Giles Bettison (b. 1966) started making his distinctive glass vessels with their innovative murrini decoration, in late 1995, and now has a national and international reputation for this work. He became interested in glass making in Adelaide, influenced by artists in the glass workshop at Jam Factory Craft and Design, and by the visiting American glass artists Richard Marquis and Dante Marioni in early 1994, before enrolling at the Canberra School of Art where he started working with this proces...


Object No.


Object Statement

Vase, 'Cell series', glass, cold assembled murrini, hot worked, blown, ground, made by Giles Bettison, Adelaide, South Australia, 2001

Physical Description

Vase, wide flat base, rising to tall conical form, narrower at the top. Body made from fused sheet of small murrini tiles of stacked and stretched canes of ochre, grey, brown and clear Bullseye sheet glass, the mosaic of tiny multi-coloured segments interspersed with two vertical stripes of larger clear glass segments cut from rods, one stripe shorter than the other.


Makers initals intergrated into the design along the bottom edge of the vase, a small murrini tile appears, white ground with red lettering 'GEB'. Makers mark also on the bottom of the vase, faintly hand engraved 'Giles Bettison/ cell 2001'



245 mm



Giles Bettison (b. 1966) uses an old glass-making technique in a new way, in order to understand his identity in relation to the special environmental and cultural associations held with this country, within the contradictions of using glass-working traditions that come from another time and place. He sees his work as a way of finding out about himself, through investigating and resolving issues of past and present, self and society, place and purpose. The process has involved research into the history and technology of this way of working, combined with some careful thought about his feelings for the connections and interactions between family traditions, land use and landscape in his own experience.

Skilled as a fitter and turner, and also a musician, Bettison started to work with glass artists in Adelaide in 1992. He helped with the construction of some individual studios and furnaces and started to work as a production glass blower at JamFactory Craft and Design. Interested in traditional practices and aware of his enjoyment of skill based activity, he saw in glass-working an opportunity to bring his various interests together: 'I thought,' he said, 'that people working with passion from a tradition tended to be the people who had the clearest dialogue with their materials and processes, and did it best. I enjoy the idea that I am playing music that is thousands of years old. With glass, I get huge pleasure out of being part of all that tradition, and to be able to contribute to it.'

The visit to Australia of American glass artists Dick Marquis and Dante Marioni in 1994 confirmed his commitment to making glass: at their demonstrations in Adelaide and Canberra he found himself 'in awe of their dedication, their vision and their assuredness'. He 'watched like a hawk' and became interested in the murrini technique. In 1994 he enrolled in the Canberra School of Art, graduating with First Class Honours in 1996. He started to experiment with making murrini vessels with segments of canes cut from fused sheets of Bullseye glass, prompted by the opportunity of working as technical assistant for the 'Latitudes 1' workshops in 1995, where he worked as technical assistant. Here, made possible by the compatible glass developed by Bullseye, glassblowers worked alongside kilnworkers to combine their processes. At this time he was researching the work of early modernist artists like Piet Mondrian and Josef Albers, and he became interested in Anni Albers's drawings and textile designs. He saw connections between his interests and the traditions of textiles and tried to capture the vitality and energy of, for example, the patterns, textures and cultural value of textiles from Africa and Asia.

Later, after returning to Adelaide and setting up a studio in 1997, he started on the 'Paddocks' series of 1997-1999. Through his 'pointillist' combinations of colour, he looked at the Australian landscape, especially the rural area in South Australia where his father comes from: 'Ochres, wheat colours, reds, blacks, the colours of storm clouds, rows of paddocks, soft chalky pink, with small bits of strong colour coming through'. This work was to do with evoking a feeling or emotion. 'The designs were abstracted; they were to do with how visual experiences made me feel. I was trying to reflect a mood; a moment in my life. When I see the patterns of how people use the land, or respond to it, I know and understand what they are doing - putting a fence up, taking a crop off, making a road. What they do is shown in the patterns and colours. But the natural landscape is also strong. Its strength is undeniable, unquestionable. It is to do with powerful natural ecosystems. It is so complex you can't take it and own it.'

'Throughout my whole life', he explains, 'I have travelled in south and south-eastern Australia. I have many memories of the landscape in these parts from early camping trips with my family, visits to Sydney and Melbourne by car, my own move from Adelaide to Canberra to study and all the family's farming history. These experiences have had a great influence on my life and have led me to have a different kind of awareness of the land as I move through it.' He has continued to travel, consciously looking at paddocks, hills and trees, trying to see how their colours worked together and photographing places that had a strong emotional or visual effect. The photographs remind him of the mood of the time - whether the weather was dark and brooding, whether a storm was approaching or whether the day was sunny or hazy and humid. There may be a memory of leaving or meeting people and places. 'These are a diary of all sorts of emotions and experiences,' he explains. 'Using photos in conjunction with my memories, I choose the colours, patterns and forms I will use. By combining these things, I try to create an object that, for me, embodies a contemplation of time and place, a moment in my life.'

Bettison was also interested in consciously altering or reflecting a mood through offering multiple perspectives, combining colours and textures and often now presenting his vessels in groups. 'If you are on the rim of a valley,' he says, in explanation, 'it is a very different view there, from that in the valley looking up.' Thus, some wider bowl shapes were designed for the light to enter the vessel, in order to see the different layers of colours. Some tall, slender vessels were intended, by contrast, to be seen from the outside. Other works have been presented in groups so that the pattern can be seen in different ways, from both inside and outside. And following a further Latitudes workshop, some vessels include transparent glass where the internal pattern is discernible in three dimensions.

In 1996 he softened his colours by pulling the glass canes out further and miniaturising the spots or stripes of colour within them with the effect of pointillist painting, whose vitality was most evident only on close scrutiny. Detailed inspection of a pale brown colour for example, might find tiny points of emerald green, white, yellow and black. Still trying to tone down the effect he started to use some complementary colours in a tonal range, and in some tall, thin, sombre shapes of this time the colour shifted from dark tones at the foot to a lighter colour at the rim. The opportunity to work as a student with Lino Tagliapietra in the United States in that year was important. He worked with hotter glass than he was used to: 'one's body has to move with the glass like a dance - the process has to be more spontaneous.' On return he was aware that his forms became looser and the groups of vessels more mobile.

By contrast, the works from the 'Cell series' (from 1999) and Vista series (from 2000) are a more objective consideration of the environment. The 'Cell series' is 'to do with visual compositions, in the manner of a design exercise in pattern and colour and rhythm.'

The 'Vista series' started as a response to aerial views of the American landscape seen when flying from Oregon to Chicago. Always observant, and usually documenting his experiences, Bettison collects photographic images of colours and patterns for reference for glass works. This landscape became part of his overall impression of an orderliness in the United States, a particular 'down-home' way in which he perceived people expressing or presenting themselves and in the way they worked and managed their land. 'These are probably the most literal interpretations of landscape that I have made so far. It was visually so impressive the way it was that I didn't want to abstract it so much. The land was flat, divided by white roads into squares, with each square then divided into halves and quarters, and within that into patterns and colours. There were earth colours, with some greens; khaki, straw, corn-stubble colours.'

The experience of such an ordered agricultural landscape reminded Bettison of a similar flight over the Middle East where the aerial view was also beautiful, but in a different way. 'The land-use patterns followed the undulations of the land more gently. The fields were long and narrow; it looked as if they had been ploughed up and down about ten times and that was it. The fields were simply strips; you could tell from the colours that each had been worked differently. The gentle patterns around the contours says something about the geography, the climate, the people, or even the technology the people use; it is their response to their landscape. In contrast to the United States it had an 'old' feel. And in Australia there is a random look, but you know that when you get down there, there will be geographical and economic reasons for those variations in size and shape.' Thus, while the content of Bettison's 'Vista series' is not necessarily directly American, it was certainly prompted by his recent experience there. It confirmed his interest in the contrasts between the ecology of the natural environment and land that has been manipulated by agriculture and settlement. 'People are often scared by the wilderness and seem to need to dominate it and control it. Yet if a farm is abandoned, it is not long before nature reclaims it. My journey, perhaps, is an attempt to be better at ease with the natural environment, while at the same time grasping at an understanding of what people are doing, and being part of a consciousness for land-care change. It seems fundamental to maybe be able to allow a natural balance to happen.'

In his work, Bettison is trying to assess his place as an individual choosing to hand-work glass within the bigger picture of a technological world, and has became particularly involved in the functional, decorative and symbolic issues associated with the history of making vessels. While acknowledging that mass produced, utilitarian products often exceed the economic and even ecological virtues of their handmade counterparts, he insists that 'for my mind, handmade decorative objects are a celebration of life and its values as well as a celebration of the success and skill of the maker...It is this area of glass making that I have chosen to pursue, using a technique that has always been used for making highly decorative objects and that is often associated with great virtuosity and skill on the part of the maker. I see it as an area within which I can explore my own reasons and values and possibly communicate some of these to others.' Bettison's practical experience and ability have also contributed to the development of the minimal hot-shop technology he uses to carry out his innovative forming process. He uses a kiln but not a furnace to combine glass blowing with the fused murrini sheets.
Giles Bettison's work has been exhibited in Australia at galleries including Quadrivium, Sydney, and in exhibitions such as Return of Beauty (JamFactory, Adelaide) 2000, Contemporary Australian Craft (Powerhouse Museum and Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art 1999), Young Glass International in Ebeltoft, Denmark 1997, and he had a solo show at the Barry Friedman Gallery in New York, N.Y. in 2001. His work has been profiled in journals such as Glass (Autumn 1997) and New Glass Review 17/96, 35/98. He has also won several awards including a development grant from the Australia Council to participate in the Bullseye Glass Residency Program in Portland, Oregon (1998), and the 1999 Urban Glass New Talent Award, given by the international Urban Glass Center in New York. He also has been awarded the Mitchell Giurgola Thorpe Architects Award for Design and the Australia National University Acquisition Award; has been a finalist in the Ebeltoft Young Glass International Glassmuseum (Denmark), the City of Hobart Art Prize, and the Resource Finance Corporation Glass Prize; and received a PONCHO scholarship to attend the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, Washington.
Notes compiled from interviews with, and notes supplied to Grace Cochrane 1997-2001, and published variously in Glass (Autumn 1997); Young International Artists in Glass: Australia, Bullseye Glass Co 1998; and Return of Beauty, JamFactory Craft and Design 2000.

Vase, from the 'Cell series', cold assembled murrini segments of fused and stretched canes cut from coloured sheets of Bullseye glass, hotworked and fused in a kiln, then blown, and later ground. Made by Giles Bettison, Adelaide, 2001, in his studio at 17 Queens Court, Adelaide.

The technique Giles Bettison uses is a new variation on an old method used for making murrini from compound canes of coloured glass, and including them in blown or moulded forms. Instead of the traditional bundles of cylindrical canes, that are then heated, stretched and cut into segments, the process involves the use of Bullseye coloured sheet glass. This company, the Bullseye Glass Company in Portland, Oregon, USA, manufactures coloured sheet glass, and for many years has worked with artists like Klaus Moje in Canberra, to develop compatible glasses for fusing and kilnforming, and later blowing glass. Different coloured sheets of glass are cut into rectangles and are then stacked up according to design, placed in a kiln and fused together. Strips are then cut, heated and stretched into canes (to about 20 x 1500mm) with multiple coloured stripes, reducing the size of the coloured elements. The cane undergoes an annealing process before being cut into murrini pieces about 6mm thick and then stacked, fused and stretched again. These are cut into murrini tiles, that are then laid out, side by side in rows, on a steel plate dressed with clay. The plate is then heated in the kiln until the murrini are fused together to form a homogenous sheet. A collar of clear hot glass the end of a blow-pipe is rolled along the edge of the sheet to pick it up off the plate. The sides are then rolled and joined together and the end closed off. From then on, the process to shape the form is basically the same as normal glass blowing. The surface is ground when cold. (See notes in file and photos in Bullseye catalogue).

Note: the term 'murrine' is sometimes used instead of 'murrini', and there is some confusion between singular and plural. Bettison has chosen to use 'murrini' because Marquis uses it, and he considers him an authority.

Notes compiled from interviews with, and notes supplied to Grace Cochrane 1997-2001, and published variously in Glass (Autumn 1997); Young International Artists in Glass: Australia, Bullseye Glass Co 1998; and Return of Beauty, JamFactory Craft and Design 2000.



From the collection of the artist.


Credit Line

Purchased 2001

Acquisition Date

24 July 2001

Cite this Object


'Cell series' vase by Giles Bettison 2016, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 February 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title='Cell series' vase by Giles Bettison |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=25 February 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Collection Gallery 1 at the Museums Discovery Centre.

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