In Aaron Micallef’s world science and art naturally overlap.
"He is inspired by patterns created by the interplay between different elements found in nature and made by man. The same can be said for his passion for transforming the way people experience light through his glass work, drawing and photography"
Aaron’s hot glass practice is devoted to capturing the fleeting and magical effects of light in blown and cut glass.
In the other part of his week Aaron is a scientist, working at QUT where he encourages nanoscale building blocks to organize themselves in unusual crystalline materials.
Artisan or chemist, there is a sense of alchemy about Aaron’s work, transforming something base into metaphorical ‘gold’.
Aaron can often be found working alongside renowned glass artist, Jo Bone to create complex forms inspired by nature from pre-formed, multi-layered and multi-coloured glass.
Tell us bit about your work?
Light is a big focus in my artwork - looking at what the light’s doing - and that’s why I love glass. All kinds of wonderful things happen when light moves through glass. I find the same fascination in photography, my lens sometimes catching the light in a certain way that can’t be seen with the naked eye.
I also love drawing. It’s so easy to access but sometimes light and pattern are too complicated to capture through drawing and that’s where photography comes in. I have this obsessive fascination with natural geometry - the patterns and symmetry found in nature. Really interesting stuff happens where a pattern breaks down momentarily and all of a sudden you get this state of almost- but not quite- perfection.
While my arts practice started in a hobby context way back when I was studying Chemistry at uni, my glass work came much, much later. I first found my way into glass in the late 90's, meeting the right people when I was doing part of my chemistry PhD in the UK. I met a glassblower and things went from there.
There’s a lot of cross over between chemistry and glass. Chemistry helps me understand a lot of the technicality of glass, what it's doing and making sure it behaves itself. My interests in chemistry and glass seem to naturally cross-fertilise each other.
Glass is not a common medium but once you’ve got the ‘bug’ it’s hard to shake. I think there aren’t more people working in hot glass because it’s quite technical - you need lots of equipment and expertise to get you going. A visit to Canberra Glassworks about 8 years ago got me back into glass, making my own paperweight in an off-the-street session, and the rest they say is history.
I guess what I love about glass is this magical and inexplicable transformation of sand, and ash and limestone into something amazing. At the moment, I am doing chemistry research where we take molecules and pack them into crystalline materials with potentially unique properties, such as interesting optical effects. All this focus on crystalline patterns and symmetry seems to find its way into my artwork.
In recent years I’ve worked considerably up-cycling glass, making functional and beautiful objects out of containerware which at best would have ended up in someone’s recycle bin. We take beer bottles and wine bottles, cut and re-blow them and then introduce new texture and pattern by cutting or sandblasting. In a more direct kind of way, we are giving them new life and transforming them into something a little bit special.
Jo Bone and I have been working together for nearly 5 years. The different way we look at our artwork, challenges and opportunities makes our relationship really important to our work; it gives us this cycle of inspiration.
What do you like about Brisvegas?
First off, I can tell you what I don’t like about Brisbane and that’s doing furnace work when it’s 40 degrees outside the studio.
But the great thing about creating in Brisbane is the support you get from Brisbane’s creative community. People are very generous and possibly tend to work together a lot more than our counterparts in southern states. I think that’s because the arts don’t seem to enjoy the same kind of profile or government support. There are lots of artist-run initiatives. Jugglers Arts Space in particular has been so accepting and willing to help me, despite my relatively late entry as professional artist. To thrive in Brisbane as an artisan, I think you need to be prepared to make an active choice to support your creative compatriots.
For me, proximity to Brisbane’s natural side is really important. Recently, I found myself standing under this majestic fig tree and felt like I was seeing it for the very first time. But it’s also the weird little things; our bugs and lizards that make Brisbane so intriguing.
Brisbane's light captivates me. It’s often brutal and intense, but then you can be surprised by a gentler moment. What I find amazing is that gentler moment is always fleeting. You only get a few minutes to appreciate it, capture it and then it’s gone - so you gotta work fast. A great example of this is the way the setting sun shines underneath afternoon storm clouds. You get this amazing light that reflects off the storm clouds onto the river. It’s just magic.
Places & Things
I remember when I first came to Brisbane, we used to get those afternoon storms in summer, as regular as clockwork, and then that incredible golden light afterwards. They don’t seem to be as predictable as they used to be but they are just as spectacular.
I reckon one of the best things about Brisbane are the CityCats. They give you a way to experience Brisbane from a perspective you wouldn’t otherwise get. When I have visitors from overseas, we get onto the river first before we get too organised walking around the joint. I don’t think we always appreciate how incredible Brisbane is when viewed from the water.
I can look at nature, sketch and photograph for hours on end without being interrupted.
This is an amazing artist-run initiative that has a real social justice focus. I’ve been pretty closely involved with Jugglers for quite a few years now. It’s a really special part of Brisbane’s creative landscape. It does great things for the arts and emerging artists in our city. The people who run it and the place are very close to my heart.
It’s not just the drinks that brilliant at the Junk Bar. What I love so much about the Junk Bar is that it’s very ‘Brisbane’ -it’s very intimate. I love that you can go there and find yourself up close and personal with some of your musical heroes.
The owners. Mia Goodwin and Jamie Trevaskis, are inspiring - in fact, the whole place is inspiring. I can look at the décor and see the use of up-cycled furniture and recovered glassware they have hunted down from here, there and everywhere. They’re edgy yet they’re not afraid to embrace things that aren’t brand new. I think we could learn a lot from that.
How tough is this!
Jo Bone, my glass working compatriot rightfully belongs on this list as do so many others. But I am going to use this space to pay tribute to people who are not only amazingly talented and hardworking but who bring such a lot to our local scene.
Sam Eyles & Sarah Seminutin head up this new Newstead collective. Sam paints and draws. Sarah is a designer and I admire her for embracing industrial scale materials that aren’t new and shiny to craft her unique pieces of furniture. They’re really hard working and doing a great job supporting creative people around them.
Emily Devers and Rick Hayward are resurrecting the art of hand sign writing, an art that is at risk of being lost. Their powerful messages are popping up on inner city walls in Brisbane and all around Queensland.
Guido is a big inspiration. He briefly shared some studio space with Jo Bone and I a few years ago. He’s justifiably famous for his work worldwide including those amazing silo projects in Brim in Victoria’s Wimmera-Mallee. He’s rejuvenating these little towns and the people who now live there step up and say, “we no longer invisible and we’re proud of who we are”. Communities across the world from the Ukraine to Iceland love working with him. He’s even painted in Chernobyl. The stuff he does is amazing - that muted palette is just so suited to rural locations.
Janette is a chemist and an artist - just like me. She brave enough to have a foot in the science and the art world and does great art. She’s recently graduated with a Fine Arts degree from Queensland College of Art and is still studying. She takes her inspiration from the practice of science, those endless repetitive movements like pipetting or other physical actions involved in experimentation.