“In Dubai, I find inspiration”
Rushika Bhatia

“In Dubai, I find inspiration”

Every year, the world’s most creative professionals converge in Dubai to showcase a dazzling array of cultural, culinary and artistic experiences. And while a lot of these artists receive appreciation and accolades, there are some that prefer to shy away from the limelight. That’s exactly why this time around we decided to reach out to someone who has their finger on the pulse of the market and can explore new avenues of this artistic arena. The result? The following piece by expert business commentator Marie Maagaard! In an exclusive for SME Advisor, she chronicles the fascinating journey of acclaimed Glass artist Agnethe Maagaard.

Agnethe, you are becoming a well-known glass artist in our corner of the world. Will you tell us how it all started?

My artistic adventure started with a project called “Tower to Tower” – sponsored by the European Union in 2006. The purpose was to promote arts and crafts in Western Jutland, where I was born. The exhibition took place in a nearby lighthouse and later moved to the famous Round Tower in Copenhagen. At that time I had 15 other handicraft people delivering jewels, textiles and ceramics to my gallery. I was getting tired of spending time on selling other people’s things and my own little glass objects. I never had the time to experiment and to work with what was fun. So I decided that my life is too short and I need to pursue my dream of creating unique art pieces.

Thereafter, I experimented with shapes, surfaces, structures and epic element. I started to work on pictures and hang them on the wall. The exhibition at The Round Tower was very exciting and was visited by a lot of people. At the opening, I sold my first big piece of art. The following Monday another guest called me and asked for the already sold piece, and I promised to design another from the same series. “But I have a problem”, he said. “I need to buy a table that will fit it!” But he bought the table and collected the piece.

Where from and what kind of financial support did you get?

Absolutely nothing! No support from the government, municipality, investors or others. I took a loan from the bank to buy glass materials, oven and machines and the likes. I’ve learnt to be self-sufficient from the very beginning.

Your husband was working full time and yourself 25 hours per week, you had two young children and no staff to help you. How on earth did you find the time to accomplish everything you’ve done so far?

That’s true, my husband and I had to do all the cooking and cleaning ourselves, and without him not much would have been done. He also helps by making the moulds, sandblasting and a lot of other things.

I kind of entered my “bubble” and was completely dedicated to creating my art. I was able to ignore the fluff and concentrate on creating. I do it because I can’t help it!

My family got a bit neglected. It may be difficult to understand that the creative need is so overwhelming and sometimes given first priority. For many years, we had no summer vacations because I had to stay at home and be in my shop – which had fixed opening hours. That was sometimes difficult.

Have you experienced any failures or made any mistakes during your career as an artisan?

One of the mistakes could be that I should have started many, many years ago – to pursue the dreams, but maybe I wasn’t ready then. Today, I’m 59 years and have the possibility to come out in Dubai as my family here is backing me up in exhibiting here and has helped me in all ways possible.

But this is not the first time you exhibit outside Europe. I remember when you went to the USA. Please tell us how that happened.  

When my exhibition in The Round Tower in Copenhagen had finished, I was at my gallery back home, I had great expectations that something exciting would happen! Beautiful pictures and catalogues etc. had been made, but nothing happened. Nobody knew of my existence. Therefore I contacted several galleries who, at the time, weren’t interested in my art which was a novelty to them and had not been seen before.

I searched other possibilities and read an article in the local business paper: “Danish Industries is looking to promote Danish Design in the USA.” I knew there was a market for glass art in New York and contacted Danish Industry who had written the article. I was referred to the General Consulate in New York and got connected to their sales agent. When she saw my home page, she called from New York and offered to promote my art in 20 exclusive galleries and designer shops in New York, San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago. My god, what an offer!

Two weeks later, she visited my gallery and explained that my art would be suited to the States: Large and unique, that is just USA. They have a gallery in Beverly Hills. Here the customers say: “Furnish my home and your art will match it perfectly!” In April 2010, I opened my first exhibition in Manhattan, New York, where the Danish Ambassador held the opening speech. That was great. Right now I have exhibitions in New York, Chicago and here at home!

You told us before that your art is epic – that you want to tell stories. What inspires you, and does it mean that every piece is unique?

Through Primary and Art School I have always been creative with many expressions. Form, colour, structures, surfaces, space and sculptural design still fascinate me. I mainly get inspired by the fantastic area in which I live: the ocean, the wind and the harsh landscape.

To create is just something you have to do. I awake the glass so that it comes alive and take nature with me in my mind and transfer impressions to expressions.

I work with the balance between to lead the glass and being overruled by it. One of my most important sparring partners is the light. I work with contrasts and I find it exciting to explore the sculptural universe. I always create on the basis of memories. Unconsciously inspiration comes from something I have seen, felt, or experienced, i.e. when I designed the bird Phoenix. The background to this piece was that we at the time got a message about serious illness in the family. The redemption came to me when I went to my workshop and spontaneously designed the bird Phoenix, – in our culture – a mythological, slain figure that raises up from the ashes again. I create art because I have to. It’s an urge in me, ideas that just have to come out. I forget myself, am engrossed in creating and experimenting, and I feel the stir.

You also produce commissioned work and have done so for large companies, institutions and celebrities. Does that make a difference in your creative process?

Commissioned tasks can be very challenging, especially to companies and public areas. For instance, I got the task of decorating a new assembly hall in a school. There was an eight metre long window area where they wanted a glass sculpture. What I made was up to me and I thought about the place where the piece should be. What symbolises a school? I wanted to focus on the children in my art who start a new journey and continue out in the world. I decided that the piece should be two big wings in glass since the children must fly out in the world and see if the wings will carry them. It should be hanging five metres up from the floor and fly out of the window. I wanted to involve the school’s children in the project. Therefore, eight students from various grades participated in designing the big feathers which are placed at the bottom of the wings. It was a very exciting task and wonderful to cooperate with the children.

You also created art for celebrities. You had a very special guest in September 2009. Did that have an impact on your future production?

That year our municipality celebrated its 775 years anniversary, and they commissioned a gift by me to HM Queen Margrethe II of Denmark who attended on an official visit. This was really a recognition of my art. I decided to take the logo of the municipality as my starting point which is “The Land of Hills and Waves.” The issues were water, waves, power and the wide open spaces.

At Her Majesty’s visit she was presented by various possibilities to visit, and she chose to see me in my gallery!

When the visit was completed I had an incredible feeling inside – it was a very, very great experience to me. But it wasn’t over yet. Together with 200 invited guests we had supper on the royal yacht in the evening and we had a fantastic end of an unforgettable day. Another important commissioned work was a gift from a big company to HRH Crowne Princess Mary who came to visit. I wanted to design art which Her Royal Highness could relate to – an issue in her heart. I therefore chose the Mary Foundation who supports battered women and vulnerable children. The aim is: Respect, a better life, hope, tolerance and care. The butterfly is the symbol of the Mary Foundation and I used it in the piece together with the above mentioned conceptions embedded in it. The piece is called Art for Hope and Tolerance.

And now in a few moments you perform again with new beautiful one-of-a-kind art pieces in Dubai. Why did you chose Dubai as your next stop?

Last year I visited Dubai, and the Emirate had a heavy impact on me as a human being and was a tremendous inspiration for my art. For me, Dubai is the city of dreams. The people have the vision and you can see the possibilities here, but they don’t stop there – they actually do it! They have built a unique city in the desert in such a short time. It is the city of possibilities, everything can happen and not the least, they have the courage to let it happen! There is a very high degree of tolerance as it is a melting pot of nationalities and cultures. This society is a living picture of what is much needed in today’s global reality. Dubai embraces it all. In spite of the tremendous development the people have had a unique ability to maintain their own special culture, they are faithful to their history. In particular I see it in the fantastic contrasts, for example between the old and the new town, the traditional houses vs. the skyscrapers, the souks vs. the malls and so on.

These contrasts are not quite as obvious in Denmark – do you see other differences as an artist between our countries?

Well, the international environment is an inspiration in itself. For a thousand years, Denmark has been a relatively homogenous society, and we are simply not used to this multitude of cultures. In Dubai we experienced openness and hospitality and we felt welcome everywhere. I think our country could learn a bit by this attitude. And then there are the colours! They are so different from those I have from the North Sea. The light is very special reflecting the many beautiful buildings – beige, sand, terracotta, light turquoise, mint green, grey and blue steel. New dimensions and proportions.

Do you see any similarities at all?

Certainly! Our ancestors (not that many years ago, as a matter of fact) had a very hard life with heavy work in the harsh nature and meagre sandy soil near the ocean. Frugality, reverence and respect for nature, and the power to get something to grow – I imagine the desert people have had similar conditions. But also – maybe as an effect of this – on the west coast there has always been a spirit of entrepreneurship, and even today this spirit is very much alive – similar to Dubai though maybe on a lesser scale. On the west coast people are not born to wealth, they have been forced to fight for a good life and to believe in their own talents.

Could you pin-point anything in particular into which this fascination of Dubai has materialised in your art?

After my visit last year I have worked on my impressions from this fantastic city,  the city’s landmark Burj Al Arab. As an artist I see it as a symbol of a movement forward towards new horizons and new possibilities. To the individual person I see it as life’s voyage – where does it take us? Also, Dubai Marina which I viewed from Burj Khalifa: The turquoise water, colours in green and gold. After my trip my series “Growth” has got a totally new meaning. My tribute to everything that grows has got new dimensions.

What are your visions for the future?

I definitely hope to outlive my dream about larger art decoration tasks in the fantastic buildings in Dubai, and make unique, commissioned pieces after special wishes. I would like to make special exhibitions in these unique surroundings that characterises Dubai. There are no limits as to size or format. Here, you look at the art and not the name. I wish that my unique glass art will bring the same joy and inspiration as it has given me while creating it. These contrasts are not nearly as obvious in my country.