After living in several countries and working in different spheres in all of them, one man has returned to Paphos where he is the only person on the island producing fused glass. NAN MACKENZIE meets him
Rarely does one get the opportunity to sit down and talk with a true polymath, and Paphos born Andreas Tziamalis can certainly lay claim to this description. Here is a man whose expertise spans a wide range of subjects starting with his training in Greece as a mechanical engineer, after which he moved to Moscow for seven years where he studied philosophy, becoming fluent both in the written and spoken language. He is also a keen student of the work of classical Greek philosophers, and when he talks it is possible to pick up snippets of the ancient Socrates whose thinking was based on always being in pursuit of the truth, to call everything into question and to challenge the nature of things. A philosophy which I believe has allowed this outwardly quietly paced man to face and overcome many obstacles, one being the fact that he had zero training in creating fused glass pieces, the producer of some fine examples of which is his latest interest.
“I used to also run a shop which brought in well-designed furniture and glassware from abroad and I was thinking about setting up a studio of my own with a kiln so I could create my own pieces but, I knew that this would be a hugely expensive operation as the kilns required to fuse the type of work I wanted to create had to be big”, around two and a half metres in length to be precise and be capable of firing at 830C. Then, fate intervened when shortly afterwards “some friends in Greece told me they were going to have to sell their kiln due to health problems”. Included in the price was also all the equipment needed for making fused glass in addition to access to all suppliers of the raw materials. “I knew then that it had to be, so I managed to get a fully working studio up and running in quite a short space of time and at a good price, then it was a case of pure trial and error.
“Creating fused glass is like any specialised craft, one has to know and understand one’s materials, couple that with other requirements such as having good technical abilities plus being good at mathematics because there is a science at work here also, a practical mind is needed combined of course with an artist’s eye and feeling, and finally, bucket loads of patience as there is nothing ‘instant’ about this craft,” reflects Andreas. Unless the entire process is carried out correctly the glass can shatter during the cooling process, or, it can fracture over a time so it’s vitally important that the pieces created always have structural integrity. “There are also bonuses when making mistakes and at the beginning it was through this learning process that I actually managed to find a completely new firing technique which was for me a real eureka moment.”
It’s not just masses of technique and ability required, but also a huge amount of energy is needed for the firing and some of Andreas’ larger commission pieces can easily use up to 540e of electricity, “so I am certainly expecting a Christmas greeting from the electricity board this year”. In fused glass it is almost as if Andreas has brought together the experience of his previous roles. “I have always believed that art is the beautiful way of doing things, and science is the effective way of doing things, both have to do with a certain form of ordered complexity and with business being the economical way of doing things.
“Simply put, what I do is to take compatible pieces of glass and join them together via a fusing technique, I bring in the raw plain glass from abroad and am very fussy about the type, thickness, clarity etc as everything I purchase has to be about quality. Then, there is the special sand and colours used, so I have hundreds of bottles all sourced from Germany,” he says. It’s quite inspiring to sit there and look at all these bottles containing a veritable rainbow of coloured sand looking something like an artist’s paint palette.
I spoke to Andreas at The Place, a popular arts and crafts centre in Paphos where his work fills the space from ceiling to floor with a vast range of fused pieces ranging from unique jewellery to quite stunning centre pieces, plates, wall hangings, lamps, coloured glass door windows, fruit bowls, platters, tea light holders, kitchen splash backs and with the festive season coming up he has created a range of really sweet Santas and fused glass mini Christmas trees.
“I love making these small items as well as the big commission pieces and people may not believe that glass is so flexible as both a practical element, but also as a creative art form. One classic example would be the piece I did for a client in Nicosia, they wanted me to create a very different wash basin for their restaurant bathrooms and so I made something that was akin to a rippled curtain effect, curving the glass and so making it also look like a lovely water image. That commissioned piece took a total of five days to fire and the end result was something really very different, and happily was also very pleasing to both my client and his customers”.
If one did not know this was a man who deals every day with glass then the assumption would be he was a trainee chef or an exceedingly bad cutter of carrots, for his hands are a myriad of healed cuts, tiny lines that run up his fingers and palms and he did admit that his first aid box is in almost constant use. “I do cut myself, it is an occupational hazard and it is often unavoidable as I have to first slice the glass to shape, I suppose it’s a bit like a painter who gets blobs of paint on them when they are working so intensely, but I am sort of used to now always having a bit of plaster tied round my fingers”.
Andreas is the sole exponent in Cyprus of this highly specialised craft, this however is not a man who revels in or boasts about his abilities, he displays a rather modest manner, but when he talks about his specific current passion that’s when he becomes gloriously animated. I would describe him as an introvert who becomes totally extrovert through his work as he obviously receives great joy and fulfilment when working on his quite beautiful and vibrant pieces.
People wrongly believe fused glass is a modern technique only a few decades old but in reality it is a craft that has been around for three and a half millennia and it is thought that the ancient Egyptian artisans first discovered the way to create beads, bottles, bowls and jewellery. Other historians credit the ancient Romans as the originators of the technique but again they probably found out about it when they conquered ancient Egypt and then like the jackdaws that they were took the technique back and incorporated it into their own culture. There is also the story told by Pliny the elder, the Roman philosopher and naturalist, regarding the accidental discovery of glass by Phoenician sailors who, after being shipwrecked, set their cooking pots on blocks of natron (soda) from their cargo, then built a fire under it on the beach, and in the morning the heat of the fire had melted the sand and soda mixture and the resultant mass had cooled and hardened into glass.
When the glass pipe was invented glass blowing became the norm so that glass fusing then had to take a back seat, but it was the Americans who in the 19th century brought fusing back to the fore and artists started again to discover the huge flexibility and challenges associated with the craft.
Andreas now has his pieces in homes all over Europe, also in Australia and Asia, and when we met he was busy preparing a glorious red fused glass heart set on a glass panel ready to be sent to a client in Amsterdam. That said, the Cypriots and also the expat community have become fans of his work with many a bride being presented with a totally unique one off piece of art in what certainly beats the heck out of a set of bathroom towels and at the same time displays considerable class and imagination on the part of the giver of the gift .
I felt that when asked what century Andreas would have liked to have lived in, I fully expected his response to be the Renaissance period, but no, he quoted Stephen Fry who when asked the same question responded ‘I want to live now, this is the summation of all human development’ for this is a man who is still searching and learning, and is genuinely excited by life. This is certainly reflected in his craft, although this passion for finding out, for discovery means he is something of a loner. The thought of a wife and family, he says, “would make me happy but I am not the easiest person to live with as I enjoy solitude and being free to do what I want, so a future wife would have to be someone very special to cope with me, but who knows, maybe one day she will come along, although one could also at this moment when talking about marriage quote Socrates, one of my favourite philosophers who summed up his view of marriage in just a couple of lines: ‘By all means marry, if you get a good wife you’ll be happy, if you get a bad one you’ll become a philosopher’.”
The Place is next door to the NEXT fashion store in Paphos Old town opposite the market. Tel: 26 101955