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Tripping the light fantastic

Geoff Helisma

Su Bishop is one of 60 female Clarence Valley artists whose works are on display at the Clarence River Women of Art Exhibition at the Yamba Museum until January 28.

Five of the Gulmarrad-based glass artist’s creations are also on show at the National Art Glass Gallery, Wagga Wagga. That exhibition, titled Dancing with the Flame: Australian Lampworking (October 14, 2017 to January 21, 2018), “showcases the work of glass artists from across Australia” and is described as a “unique project promoting the contemporary techniques and styles of the rich and creative tradition of lampworking”.

Her work involves using a very hot oxygen-propane flame to make glass beads, jewellery and sculptures, which are subsequently annealed in a kiln (reheated and then cooled slowly) to ensure durability and quality.

Creating her wearable art catalysed about 10 years ago. “I like big beads and couldn’t find any large turquoise beads like those I’d seen in America and then in Adelaide,” she says.
“So I bought some magazines and saw lampworking and thought, ‘Oh wow, this is different.’ – and basically went from there with a starter kit I bought in Adelaide.”

Living in Exmouth, in the remote north west of Australia at the time, there were no other similar artisans about, so Su developed “a very individual technique”, one that soon caught the eye of various galleries in WA and, subsequently, beyond.

Her creative process is quite organic, too. “A piece could take three or four weeks to make (getting the colours right),” she says. “Then I wear it to test its durability – if I get enough complements, I make some more and send pictures to galleries and they say, ‘I want this, that and this’.

“I don’t just make stuff to sell; I make it because I like making it and it looks good on people.”

Big bold beads – often hollow, which creates stunning light effects and reflections –, bold colours, quirky colour combinations and variations in texture are her hallmarks.
Her former career as a dress designer in Adelaide also played a role in Su’s designs and, more recently, since relocating to Gulmarrad two years ago, she has been making sculptural pieces using flame-worked glass – one of which won the class at last year’s Clarence River Arts Festival.

For more on Su and her creations, go to

Clarence River Women of the Arts is a celebration of 60 female Clarence River artisans across an eclectic range of genres: sculpture, glass, metal, film, photography, mixed media, writing, poetry, oils, watercolours and acrylics.

As well as these exhibits, 10 works from colonial women – including the original artwork of Lillian Chauvel, the first Australian female artist to exhibit overseas – are also on display. Chauvel and her brother Colonel Harry Chauvel, who ordered the final charge at Beersheba in October 1917, were born at Tabulam.

Other artists include Ellen Bundock, sister of Edward Ogilvie, Mary Tindal and Rose Selwyn, all of whom painted early colonial life on the Clarence from the 1830s.

The exhibition continues in the Yamba Museum’s Old Kirk building until January 28, and is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10am to 4.30pm; and on Saturday and Sunday from 2pm to 4.30pm.