Sculptor Ben Young Illuminates the Underpinnings of Islands

Escape, Ben Young

“I spy something blue.” So reads the punchline to one of those lonely island gag cartoons in The New Yorker, where two castaways sit back to back on an island barely big enough for themselves and a lone palm.

On first glance, the austere combinations of concrete and plate glass on display at Kirra Galleries might remind us of these sorts of lonely island cliches. The difference is in the depths — isolated rock faces and quasi-volcanic outcrops push up from opaque cubes, which seem to simultaneously imprison and define the land masses within.

Whatever associations poured concrete might hold with brutalism melt away under the soft embrace of cut glass.

Deserted, Ben young
Deserted, Ben young

Originally a New Zealander with a background in boatbuilding, artist Ben Young began glass cutting as a hobby inspired by his father’s humble garage-shop art projects. Combined with a boatmaker’s propensity for 3D modeling and meticulous handcrafting, Young began developing sculptures inspired by his experiences with the sea through boating and surfing at a young age.

It’s only recently, however, that his work has begun to build an international reputation — with major galleries shows and media attention.

Solitude, Ben Young
Solitude, Ben Young

The artist himself, meanwhile, remains humble. In interviews, Young describes an aversion to fancy trappings of the glass sculpture field like modeling software and expensive materials. Instead, visitors to his Sydney workshop will find regular window glass, piles of pencil drawings, and old-fashioned tools. Even the bronze elements adorning the landscapes are hand-carved.

New Lands 'II', Ben Young
New Lands ‘II’, Ben Young

Individual pieces take anywhere from weeks to months to complete. The intensity of Young’s craftsmanship is as rare as it is appealing in the age of 3D printing. From pouring the molds to cutting the glass the process is, in a word, meditative. “I do a lot of thinking before I even start to draw or cut,” explains Young in his artist statement.

Clearly, the wait is worth it.

—Words by VAGA Editors