I'M WORKING ON A HUMAN SKULL CAST IN CLEAR CRYSTAL GLASS FOR AN ARTIST'S EXHIBITION
Cristina Esposito How did you first become involved with glass design?
Rodney Bender I come from a scientific background. My father was an industrial chemist and was always working on the next new thing. I did an apprenticeship in stained glass in Australia and came to the UK in 1978 to study at Swansea's school of stained glass. I became course director in 1995 but have always been fascinated by the relationship between designer and maker and whether true collaboration exists.
Cristina Esposito Tell me about your company, Innovative Glass Products.
Rodney Bender In 2000 I got a call from Jonathan Adams. He wanted to put glass veins through the slate walling of the Cardiff Millennium Centre. He was on about getting 500 linear metres of it. I said 'no way'. But then we had an idea - a heat process that would allow us to mass-produce the product.
Swansea wanted to patent it and encouraged me to set up a company.
Cristina Esposito That sounds like a great first commission. Has the relationship developed?
Rodney Bender I'm now working with him on a show flat in Argentina. It's a whole Kilo Lux clear float-glass feature wall with a green tint.
Cristina Esposito How do you come up with your ideas?
Rodney Bender My inspiration comes through happy accident. When you're doing something, you see something. I'm constantly tinkering.
Cristina Esposito What's the most interesting project you're working on at the moment?
Rodney Bender I'm collaborating with Jørn Utzon on a limited-edition glass bowl. He conceived the Salatbolle in the 1940s but it never went into production.
Cristina Esposito Quite a challenge, I imagine. What has he said about your interpretation?
Rodney Bender I was very nervous when I showed him the early prototype. But he is an amazing character. I saw the [Sydney] Opera House as a child so I was slightly awestruck to meet him. The bowl wasn't how he imagined but he liked that. He welcomed the irregularities as part of the process.
Cristina Esposito What other projects are you working on?
Rodney Bender I'm involved with artist Alexander Beleschenko on an installation and also a human skull cast in clear crystal glass for an exhibition by Steven Gregory.
Cristina Esposito You mentioned earlier your interest in whether true collaboration exists.
What interests you most about the designer/maker relationship?
Rodney Bender Working in collaboration is fascinating when it's an open dialogue. Glass lets you explore so many possibilities and it's always interesting. I've also worked with clients who have a set agenda. It can be intriguing when what they're going to do next is a mystery to you.
Cristina Esposito What advice would you give to budding product designers?
Rodney Bender Draw. Drawing is the most important way to get ideas out. Exploit what technology offers but let that be the tool rather than the end result: the back of the envelope job is still the way. And be open, because that's the only way to grow your knowledge.