Glass was an untried medium for BV at the start of the sixties. Undaunted, he set about the task with frenetic energy to create work, the magnitude and quality of which was breathtaking to audiences and critics alike. Vallien's glass creations from the sixties are an outpouring of his creative imagination - an explosion of form, colour and technical innovation.

During college years and his first year at Åfors there was a marked polarisation in the approach to art and design: classicism versus a more personalised style of expression. The artist/designers who were attached to the glassworks in the first half of the 20th century were often skilful painters with the ability to produce designs of great excellence, which were translated by skilled artisans into artefacts of great beauty. The pure, sober lines of the classical style, which came to be known throughout the world as "Swedish Modern" reached a zenith in the 1950s, in which decade modernism made an entrance into Sweden. The major influences derived from America and included jazz music, the action painting of Jackson Pollock, Jack Kerouac's beatnik ideology, and sculptural pottery. The new generation of industrial artists had a different kind of training, and a modernist outlook. The fifties saw a revolution in Swedish artistic glass. At the forefront was a young sculptor named Erik Höglund, who had been engaged by the Boda glass-factory in 1953.

Bertil first encountered modernism through his teacher, Stig Lindberg, at the College. Lindberg and the sculptress Hertha Hillfon, were among the pioneers of expressionism and opposed to the cult of manual skill. In the absence of facilities (i.e. a kiln) at the college, the students would instead visit the large factories in Småland. The favourite was Boda, where the charismatic Höglund had achieved a breakthrough. There was a certain rapport between the two artists; they shared a lust for life, tremendous creative energy and a colourful personality.

From 1963 Höglund was joined by Vallien, who was now an acclaimed international glass- artist. That Åfors became his workplace is due, he believes, to the fact that the factory was in need of an artist, and was run by the same man who hired Höglund - Erik Rosen, legendary director of Boda for three decades:

-It gave them a chance to experiment and to develop their talents. I gave them my support, and was also thinking ahead.

In 1964 the Boda glass factory celebrated its centenary with a manifestation of its products at the Nordiska Galleriet in Stockholm, where Bertil's first collections were shown. One of his very first pieces of artistic glass was an engraved glass bubble mounted on a wooden plinth; it was acquired by the National Museum of Fine Art.

Vallien applied his view of art and his American experiences to the practical work at Åfors. What he lacked in experience of the material he made up for with curiosity and experimentation in the 'hot-shop' (glass-house/workshop). Like Höglund, he explored innovative techniques in his search for a new mode of expression. He exploited the natural sculptural properties of the glass to create bowls, dishes and bottles - such as the swelling mould-blown glass bottles he created throughout the sixties. (They are offset by a quadrangular base.) Where decoration is concerned he invented a new method, using carpenters glue in place of stencils, which gave him greater freedom to control the patterns. He used the paste to create a myriad unusual patterns. Here, too, there is an effective contrast between the roughness of the sandblasted surfaces and the transparent glass.

Vallien saw his sand-blasted glass artefacts, not as beautiful objects, but as freestanding works of art. The idea was a controversial one in the sixties, when the borderline between art and handicraft was a subject of fervent/hot debate. Vallien presented his argument, clearly and concisely in Design magazine, 1965, and attracted maximum attention:

"Manual skill should never be an end in itself. On the contrary, I try to distance myself from it, as it can hinder creativity. If one is too technically driven, it can become a fixation. All you achieve is virtuosity. A technical skill, devoid of emotion; merely a display of manual skill. This can lead to a mannered style. Personally, I often draw with my left hand as a means of avoiding the skill that my right hand has developed. A kind of aesthetic romanticism attaches to Swedish art-handicraft, especially in ceramics; there's a certain type of ceramist who is in love with his medium; - a beautiful material to be worked, glazed and fired. For many that's enough. They've forgotten the emotional content: all it is is a demonstration of the medium. You can compare it to gathering stones on the beach - which in themselves are amazingly beautiful. Though selecting them can also be an art. I do feel that there's a tendency - a desire to get away from a romanticising of the medium, and to give a conscious value to the objects."

Vallien took a crucial step towards glass as art when he began experimenting with sand-casting, a technique that was relatively unknown to the glass industry. (The Swedish artist/ceramicist, Anders Liljefors, made use of the technique for his stoneware sculptures). BV was interested in trying out the technique at Åfors. And with that a new era in the art of glass with novel sculptural possibilities was initiated. At the same time the road to technical resolution was an arduous one. Sandcasting is a carefully prepared piece of teamwork. The dampened red sand is placed in metal boxes a day in advance. Firstly a wooden mould is pressed into the sand and in the cavity so formed, Bertil prepares the surface with powdered paint, and the various figures that are to be enclosed by/in the molten glass*. When it is time for casting the team of artisans work rapidly with optimal concentration. The heat from the many ladles of molten glass that are poured into the cavity is ferocious . The sculpture is fired with Calor gas to prevent the warm glass from get fixed. The actual casting is over in a few minutes and now the most critical part of the process awaits, the cooling process.
For a long time there was a problem with uneven temperature in the cooling oven. A third of the products were cracked after the three weeks in the oven. Now things have improved a lot, thanks to computerized temperature control.

Vallien made his first sandcastings in 1963. The first sculptures from the sixties have a primitive appearance. "The Glassman" (1964) and "Clean force" (1965), are among the earliest examples. The technique was then in its infancy. The fifty centimetres high Pure Energy resembles/is an ancient tree or human being, flexing his muscles. The rough surface and simple shape of the piece associates to prehistoric times. A series of mobile sculptures, made in 1967 are some of BV's most fascinating pieces. The Goddess N is an unknown quantity - her chariot descends, laden with secrets and mystic power.

It was not long before BV made a breakthrough and was critically acclaimed. Sweden now had a new fixed star alongside Erik Högberg. The manifold newspaper-cuttings from the 60s bear witness to an artistic personality with a great mass medial impact. A word that often appears in the articles is "overwhelming": Beside the traditional descriptions of exhibitions there are contributions from Bertil - as the foremost spokesman for art glass in the debate on art and art-handicraft. At the end of the sixties his statements became increasingly more critical. From 1967 onwards the prevailing view of fine art and handcraft began to crack. Bertil delivered a couple of sound blows/smacks in the face to Form, Swedish Modern and the aesthetes. One by way of "Young Glass", a joint exhibition with Finnish colleague Oiva Toikka, at NK, 1967; the other with his book 'Handicraft in the 60s', 1968, in which he made known his viewpoints.
The two countries in which Vallien attracted most attention were the US and Australia. One New York newspaper described him as a "Swedish Rebel", with a penchant for "ugly beauty". In Australia he was known as "The Glass Man" (in conjunction with an exhibition there in 1968).

It is symptomatic that Bertil participated in the exhibition "Feel It", 1968, which was shown at the National Museum of Fine Art, Stockholm and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York. Together with Olle Adrin, Erik Höglund, architects Gustaf Clason and Eric Sörling and composers Leo Nilsson and Ralph Lundsten, he produced an exhibition that emphasised the sensual as opposed to the functional. The exhibition space was composed in the way a person with impaired sight would perceive it. Bertil's contribution to the show was a mirrorscape. The exhibition reflected his own ideas on art: of communication between perceiver and work, and an experience of function and content, without limitation.

The 1960s signified a breakthrough for freer expression in the field of Swedish glass. While Vallien was in the centrestage, there was no going back to the old traditional style. With the sandcasting technique he had found an innovative platform for his free sculptural work. During the following decades he would deepen/broaden the artistic


BV in his studio, 1965.










Sand - blasted bowls, mid 60s.










Sand - blasted vase.











A still life with artglass around 1964. Photo: Ola Terje.

 

 

 

Sand - blasted and engraved bottles. Photo: Arne Wolf.

 

 

 

Bertil does some preparation on vase.

 

 

 

 

Bottles, 1967. Photo: Sten Robért.

 

 

 

Clean force, sand - casted sculpture from 1965. Photo: Ola Terje.

 

 

 

Godness N, sand - casted sculpture from 1967.

 

 

 

Toys for Prince, 1967. Photo: Per Larsson.

 

 

 

 

Tall vase, 1968. Photo: Sten Robért.


 

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