The many biographical entries written about Richard Whiteley in books, catalogues and journals usually start with the fact that he became an apprentice in stained glass at the age of 16. And it is a significant fact that speaks poignantly to a life-long engagement with the material.
Today Whiteley is considered one of the most influential figures in Australian art glass, as both an artist and an educator. Since 2002, he has been Associate Professor and Head of the Glass Workshop at the Australian National University, School of Art in Canberra — considered widely as one of the leading study programs for artists working in glass anywhere in the world.
Whiteley’s work focuses primarily on cast glass and his works explore voids within glass as the primary constructive agent. Drawing and model making are where the work starts. Once models for works are realised, there are several forming stages to prepare a mould so it is ready for casting.
Once the casting is out of the kiln, the sculpture is still very raw and needs to be carved and cold worked (cut, ground, polished). Whiteley considers these raw cast forms as rough blanks, and the process of carving and shaping them is important for him to build the right translucency and softness in the sculpture.
The language of architectural form informs the work, through Whiteley’s interest in the tension and ambiguity between what is man-made and what is organic. He sees parallels between bodies and buildings, and through the interplay of positive and negative space he alludes to personal and psychological space.