Matilda Street Gallery hosts EarthFire: Forged In Flame

Something incredibly exciting is about to launch at the Matilda Street Gallery.

Tai Chiu-Mei, known to locals as Aisha, is an internationally-renowned Taiwanese artist who has recently taken up residence in Eungai.

It’s not often our community is graced with such refined artistic talent, so it is especially exciting that she plans to hold her first Australian exhibition right here in the Nambucca Valley, in collaboration with her equally talented husband and daughter.

Shorna, Alan and Aisha

Shorna, Alan and Aisha

Aisha was born to farming parents, and grew up with her hands firmly wrapped around clay.

She was a nurse for many years, and taught at a school for the blind, before deciding that her true calling was to use her hands to create art.

But that experience left a resounding pang in her heart; the most prestigious art universities in Taiwan dealt almost exclusively with visual art and it pained her that the blind were unable to experience it.

In her mind, art should be democratic and capture the imagination through the employment of multiple senses: “the heart is touched by what has been touched”.

As someone with boundless energy, she was also frustrated with the static nature of painting and ceramics as mediums, believing they could not capture the movement of life.

That is when she chanced upon glass.

“The material looks like it’s moving, shifting – the light shining through it changes it,” she said, “and it’s the perfect medium to capture the vibrancy of colour.”

Unlike a painting, a piece of glasswork is often finished in hours, but captures the ephemeral nature of movement that a painting simply cannot.

Unlike a painting, a piece of glasswork is often finished in hours, but captures the ephemeral nature of movement that a painting simply cannot.

Plus the unforgiving nature of glass requires one to have an intimate knowledge of chemistry, physics, mathematics and engineering – something which appealed to Aisha’s hyperactive need for challenges.

“It’s a huge skill to get the colour temperature to match the glass components so that as they cool it all shrinks at the same rate,” she said.

“It took me ten years to feel proficient.”

Aisha’s husband Alan Macintosh likens hot glass work to the challenge of trying to hold a ball of honey on the end of a stick and shape it, without it hitting the ground.

She has been honing her skills as a hot glass sculptor for the past few decades, in Taiwan and America, often transcending well-worn techniques through scientific discovery.

Her art has featured in solo and group exhibitions, with pieces also appearing in major collections throughout Asia, Europe and America. She has curated international exhibitions, won numerous awards and is commissioned by the Taiwanese Government to speak at international universities.  

Together with her metalsmith husband, the pair have been forging impossible and exquisite collaborative artworks to wide critical acclaim in Japan, China, Hong Kong and the USA.

She pioneered her own ‘Murrine’ glass technique, and the pair have turned heads with their unique welded steel and glass combinations.

“Getting a piece of steel anywhere near glass without scratching the glass is...fraught,” Alan said.

And their most recent works – a series of glass busts held aloft by Alan’s incorporated rock and steel supports – use textured moulds lined with sand crusted into silicate crystals.

Aisha said God made the human body and it’s already perfect – a work of art. But we wear our experience like a cloak of tactile art around us, as do the glass busts.

Aisha said God made the human body and it’s already perfect – a work of art. But we wear our experience like a cloak of tactile art around us, as do the glass busts.

To Aisha, the finished effect is most important to the aesthetic symbolism of the pieces, as it represents “the texture of life’s experiences”.

“I’ve not been born into a rich family – life for me has often been coarse. And my experience of life often comes out in my artworks,” she said.

Aisha has combined nearly two years’ worth of blood, sweat and tears into her upcoming exhibition at Matilda Street Gallery.

And having been separated from her hot glass studio and team in Taiwan, she has had to busy herself with artistic expression through another medium – felt. She has been attending Macksville TAFE for the past 16 months in an effort to familiarise herself with the material.

Her first piece, a large needle-felted canvas called ‘Narcissus’, acted as a catharsis for her, and draws upon her upsetting experience navigating around someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and having to uproot her life in Taiwan to relocate to Australia.

Her first piece, a large needle-felted canvas called ‘Narcissus’, acted as a catharsis for her, and draws upon her upsetting experience navigating around someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and having to uproot her life in Taiwan to relocate to Australia.

She said the remarkable texture of Australian wool spoke to her tactile sensibilities and she found herself imagining vast woollen narratives.

“The warmth of felt is the complete tactile opposite to the smooth and cool feeling of glass,” she said.

Her felted pieces will join with the glass/metal works which she’s had shipped over from Taiwan at a fraction of the cost to create them here on three phase power.

They will also stand alongside watercolour landscapes and an amazing woodworked jewellery box created by the pair’s talented year 12 daughter, Shorna, who recently took out two prestigious art prizes at the Macksville High School graduation.

Shorna Tai and her prize-winning jewellery box

Shorna Tai and her prize-winning jewellery box

The collaborative exhibition, entitled ‘Earthfire: Forged in Flame’ officially opens this Saturday, October 20, from 5.30pm at the Matilda Street Gallery, 26 Matilda St, Macksville.

All are welcome to come and have a look, and a feel, of something truly remarkable.

The exhibition runs from today, October 16 to November 11.

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