Gunnel Sahlin – one of Sweden’s great glass artists and modernists

By on March 22, 2019
Pelle Bergström

April 4 – May 12 Gallery Glass, Nybrogatan 34, Stockholm

“We are so proud to be able to show a solo exhibition with new unique works by Gunnel Sahlin, one of the great style formers in Swedish art glass over the past thirty years,” says Anna Bromberg Sehlberg, gallerist at Galleri Glas in Stockholm.

Gunnel Sahlin has not exhibited in Stockholm since 2014.

“To me it is exciting and nervous to meet the audience after working so long with this on my own,” says Gunnel. “For an uninitiated, it may not seem like great changes, but in my world much has happened. The exploration of the material, colors, shapes and light is something that never ends.”

Gunnel Sahlin, born 1954, grew up in Umeå with a family of solid traditions in arts and crafts. The interest in the materials and the work of the hand was awakened at Gunnel as early as the age of ten. Even nature was from as early as she can remember a constant source of inspiration.

A third main influenza became pop art. When visiting her aunt in Djursholm outside Stockholm, Gunnel cycled to Moderna Museet on Skeppsholmen. The artist Niki de Saint Phalles giant woman in the pioneering exhibition “She” in 1966, with its challenging color and formwork, became a revelation. Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol were other artists who influenced her during this time.

As a star student at the textile line at Konstfack in Stockholm, Gunnel Sahlin came to the hot air in New York in the middle of the eighties, where she worked as an assistant to the legend Katja of Sweden, one of Sweden’s most internationally successful fashion designers, who had then turned to creating textiles for home.

Both Gunnel and her colleague from Katja of Sweden Ann Wåhlström were recruited to Kosta Boda by the glassworks owner Robert Weil in the late 80’s and became part of Kosta Boda’s design group.

Here she came to renew Swedish art glass with a more modern, more striated, color and form-strong artistic expression. For almost twenty years, she remained at the tradition-heavy glassworks. After the breakup in 2005, Gunnel came to leave the glass art for eight years when she instead devoted herself to design assignments.

“It was when I made glass for IKEA that I met the blower Micke Johansson. He said he would start his own studio cabin if I was interested in the future. I replied that it was not relevant. `You never know´ said Micke and see how it became …”.

Alone with the master glass blower Johansson in his cabin on the plot on the outskirts of Glasriket, Gunnel Sahlin has created a situation that gives new space for her creativity.

“It is very different than at Kosta where you were always exposed to a lot of other things. Here it is just me and the glass. Although I don’t physically blow myself, I am in the process every second. There will be a very calm and concentrated situation where I can really go into the material and how the colors and shapes appear and communicate”.

When Gunnel Sahlin finally resumed her artistry within the glass, she began experimenting with completely new expressions and techniques, perhaps as a way to distance herself from her background.

“It felt wrong and soon I was back in the colors, how they meet in the glass, in different layers, the opaque and the transparent. I can go further now when I have released all thought of function. Although I work with the basic forms vase and bottle but only because I like them and how they catch the light. For me, the shape is subordinate to the color. Without the function, I can experiment more freely with the scale and see my plays as sculptures. The architecture, how the objects appear in the room, has always interested me. I also never stop being inspired by nature and my garden – the colors, the flowering and the life force but also the disrepair and the putrefaction.”

Can’t you in Gunnel Sahlin’s new series of glass sculptures also trace her roots in the textile world, with a visual tone that is slightly more elegant, a little gracier, more playful, feminine and “chic” than before?

“I don’t feel at home with that kind of expression but I do not either disagree,” says Gunnel. “Maybe the glass shows something other than what I can formulate in words myself.”

Helena Olofsson, Culture & Music | Östermalm