Celebrating Black History Month with Chris Day
19th October 2023
As we say bon voyage to Chris Day, who is about to embark on his imminent trip to the US for his first exhibition at the prestigious Museum of Glass* in Tacoma, in celebration of Black History Month our creative director, Angel Monzon, asks the artist some key questions about the significance and meaning of this momentous event.
His first encounter with Chris Day took place when Angel Monzon was guest judging the 2019 British Glass Biennale. Fresh from his BA graduation at Wolverhampton University, Chris presented ‘Strange Fruit’, an installation from his degree show. Not only was this artwork awarded a special mention, it is now about to be unveiled to the US audience.
Seeing talent, drive and huge potential, Chris was offered to be mentored by Vessel Gallery, culminating in his first solo show ‘Blown, Bound & Bold’, during London Art Week 2020, which challengingly coincided with the outbreak of the global Covid pandemic.
'Blown, Bound & Bold' Chris Day's solo exhibition, Vessel Gallery, 2020 | Photo credits Ester Segarra
Unfazed by the complex times we have experienced since, Chris’ work has grown stronger and bolder, resulting in many great achievements, most notably, six UK & international public acquisitions.
In many ways now the seasoned professional, with numerous interviews and exhibitions achieved within a short period of time, of foremost importance for Angel has been the gaining of a true friend, one with a very unique voice and approach to glass making. As Angel puts it;
"Chris creates glass sculptures that transcend beyond their craftsmanship and beauty, due to the powerful messages that each conveys.”
[*A Two-Way Mirror: Double Consciousness in Contemporary Glass by Black Artists curated by Jabari Owens-Bailey. Museum of Glass, Tacoma. Opens 21st October 2023]
Chris Day & Angel Monzon in conversation;
How did you get started in the world of arts and craft? And why did you choose glass as a medium of expression?
“My childhood dream of going to art school was denied as a result of my low academic achievements. In 2016 my wife persuaded me to reignite this passion which resulted in enrolling in a bachelor’s degree in glass and ceramics at the University of Wolverhampton. Glass and Ceramics were mediums I had no practice or knowledge of, at the start of the course I realised that glass was going to be extremely hard to pursue. I started to create copper cages to blow into, these were my comfort blankets, with being a plumbing and heating engineer, I wanted to show the beauty of copper pipes instead of what we normally associate them with. It was only while researching into slavery that the copper cages and the glass took on a totally different role. The work I produced helped give me a vocabulary that my dyslexia denied me and enabled me to start telling aspects of Black history in a different way.”
The artist's unique style of making | Photo credit Tom Arber
Have you found many influences from POC in the world of glass in the UK or are you one of the only few?
“Unfortunately, Glass as an art form in the UK is predominantly white, and I only know a handful of artists from POC that practice in all forms of Glass Making. When I first started I asked the question - Am I the only black glass blower? - at the time I felt very alone and wanted to find other black glassblowers to see how they engaged with this material and what inspired them. I was perhaps looking for someone like me or just someone to share and understand what I have been through. It is great when I do meet other artists of colour, especially in glass and my list of names is growing, each one of them with a different story to tell and a way of expressing it. My work is influenced outside the realm of glass and I think for most this is still a hard path to follow, especially when you take a stance on subjects that for some would label you as political, although hopefully, my success will encourage others to speak out.”
What more needs to be done to encourage diversity in the world of glass?
“I have been asked this question a lot over the years and my reply is; putting aside the diversity aspect, what has been done in the past to encourage new blood into the world of glass? I am extremely new to glass but in the few years I have been doing it, I still haven’t found anywhere in the UK where someone like me from a background where money was extremely tight growing up, is able to go into a studio and practice glass making either free or at a highly reduced rate. The energy crisis is crippling hot glass studios and recently we have seen the closure of university courses and many studios. The one establishment that could offer affordable outreach studio time, Northlands, has had to shut its doors. Diversity is important especially in glass, as for many, me included, I didn't even know these doors could be opened and it seems that if you expect POC to come knocking at your door at least give us a map to where free glass courses are available. Then perhaps this could start the ball rolling.”
Chris Day on residency during Februray 2023 at the Museum of Glass, Tacoma
Having been in the US a few times now, do you see any major differences there compared with the UK?
“The US glass community, especially what I witnessed in Tacoma, is very strong. From youngsters involved with the Hilltop artists from diverse and economic backgrounds, to veterans with injuries sustained in combat, they are using glass to provide a platform for personal development but also simply for fun. When you see a studio space as big as MOG full of young people enjoying glass, perhaps this is the biggest difference from the UK, the freedom to simply enjoy. Active engagement with different sections of society is high on the agenda in the US. On a personal level, I received an extremely warm welcome and for the first time I didn’t feel all alone.”
How do you view Black History Month and what does it mean to you? Or is just a ‘checkbox’ exercise in society and institutions?
“I wish there was no Black History Month at all. Black History is entwined with history full stop. The biggest problem is that for Centuries it has been white-washed out, history written for a white audience to enjoy. Black History Month is one way to readdress the balance, although a lot more needs to be done to create transparency. I have been extremely fortunate that institutions are using my work to highlight the inequalities of the past and acknowledge history needs to be exposed for all to see and not just be sugar-coated. Black History Month is a great way of reigniting the conversation and energy, but that needs to continue forward a lot longer than just one month, creating opportunities and projects in its wake. For those who may think that it’s a checkbox exercise I would say yes, it is. It's time to make sure all the boxes are ticked and society puts its house in order when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”
Left: Colour-Blind The King | Right: Colour-Blind The Queen | Photo credit Agata Pec
What lies ahead with your art? What up-and-coming projects are you working on?
“Since 2019 I have been on a rocket-ship-ride with exhibitions, commissions and projects. The most satisfying aspect is that of creating a conversation on issues that have mainly been swept under the carpet for decades. Over the last few years, I have created work responding to other people’s stories and history. This has given me the strength to talk about my own background and the skeletons I have locked away in the cupboard. This year I have created work that is totally about me being mixed race and the stigma I felt growing up, that still lives with me today. 'Colour Blind' and 'Transition of Age' were the first pieces that helped me open the doors of my cupboard. 'Transition of Age' will be exhibited in the Tacoma Museum of Glass in an exhibition titled A Two-Way Mirror: Double Consciousness in Contemporary Glass starting on the 21st October 2023. This exhibition will represent Black Artists who have used glass to create work that deconstructs social, cultural and racial identity. Closer to home, Two Temple Place in London, from the 27th of January 2024, will host The Glass Heart exhibition, which will look at the art and industry of glass in the UK. Continuing the conversation of my own identity, my installation ‘Judge and Jury’ will be on display, for all to judge and be judged. Mad March brings me back to the States where I have been invited by Habatat Gallery to be in ‘Not Grandma's Glass’, a year-long competition that showcases artists that are expanding the world of glass art. Other projects I am working on are top secret at the moment but I can safely say, I’m definitely going to need more rocket fuel.“
Judge & Jury which will be on show at The Glass Heart exhibition at Two Temple Place commencing January 2024 | Photo credit Agata Pec
Further Works by Chris Day