Main Photo | credit Charlotte Graham
“What have you done for yourself?” It was a simple question. One that was posed to Chris Day by his wife as they discussed Chris’ life and career as a heating and plumbing engineer in the United Kingdom. Chris’ answer? “Well, you know, we’ve got a nice house and we drive nice cars — and we, you know — we’re financially stable.”
While this answer may have been enough for some, Chris’ wife continued to push him, and as she did, Chris had to admit to himself that he had done nothing truly for himself. So she suggested that he look into enrolling in university. Not to pursue a new career. But to finally do something for himself before he couldn’t. Neither Chris nor his wife could have known that that conversation was the start of a journey of self-discovery that would propel Chris and his work into the world of high-end luxury art.
Four years ago Day enrolled at Wolverton University with the hope of pursuing the arts in some capacity. He settled on pottery and ceramics while walking through the university on its opening day, hoping he could turn his artistic pursuit into a viable business. Or as he puts it:
“It wasn’t because I was yearning for it or even knew anything about glassblowing or ceramics, you know, all it was on an opening day, I went through the, through the, for the art school. And I saw the potter’s wheels and the hotshot. And I thought you know what, I’ve never done anything like this before or at the opportunity, I’d like to do it.”
But it wasn’t long before he was introduced to the iron blowpipe and that was it. Chris shifted his focus away from pottery and towards glass blowing.
It’s no secret why his glass-blown creations have received so much international attention. When you look at Day’s body of work, you will see the pure depth of emotion that is the hallmark of any great and transformative artist. Every distortion of his glass or embedded rusting metal tells a powerful story about the men and women who were caught in a cycle of hatred and violence. But more importantly, his art serves as a starting point for a new and more meaningful conversation about our collective past.
The day is a mixed race artist who straddles the line between his two identities in a country that has a long and terrible history of colonial slavery. Struggling to understand his place in that society throughout his life, Day uses his newly acquired skills to explore what it means to be biracial in the United Kingdom and confront subject matter that is often deeply disturbing, yet unknown to many — even today.
“Like the glass,” Day says, ”I have pushed my approach in how I work with glass and ceramics in both traditional and experimental methods, to create contemporary artworks that represent my passion for this part of our history. As a black glassblower, I am one of few and on a quest to find and inspire more. My main purpose, however, is to engage the audience on issues that are hard to confront on many levels, using art to help overcome some of the traumas that haunt our collective past”
In his first solo exhibition, “Blown, Bound, and Bold,” Day illustrated his artistic genius as he expertly used “unwieldy lines… ensnared glass bubbles, copper cages and the visual weight of material” to confront the sins of our past so we can build a better future.
Pieces like Emit Till and One-Size-Fits-All explore the deep emotional pain Day suffered as he learned about the fate of Emit Till, the fourteen-year-old victim of a 1955 Mississippi lynching, and George Stinney, a fourteen-year-old boy and youngest person ever sentenced to the death penalty. But they also serve to provide a means for both black and white audiences to learn, and to speak about the past in a way that can help us heal, reconcile, and look ahead to a brighter future.
What started as a journey to do something for himself has transformed into a calling to do something for others. A calling to explore the fading memories of slavery’s past; a calling to show young men and women of color that there is a place for them in the world of art, and a calling to help people of all races engage in a conversation about collective past that we must reconcile together.
Just four three years after being asked, “what have you done for yourself,” Chris Day has become the United Kingdom’s only black glassblower. But more importantly, he is being represented by one of London’s premier galleries, Vessel Gallery, and has had his work acquired by the V&A, the Chrysler Museum, and the National Museum of Scotland.
Day’s work is currently the central focus of Harewood’s All Saints’s Church Craft Spotlight series and will be running from 26 June 2021 to 31 October 2021.