Vale Gerry King – remembered by the glass community

The death of South Australian glass artist and educator Gerry King, has been met with a flood of global tributes.
glass sculpture of landscape. Gerry King

Unexpected sad news circulated this weekend, with the death of glass artist and educator Dr Gerry King (1945-2024). Based in Crafers, South Australia, King was a respected and much-loved maker and educator, and was involved in all aspects of contemporary Australian glass.

In response to a message by his wife Kate, condolences flooded King’s Facebook page, among them from The Glass Furnace in Istanbul, Türkiye, and colleagues from the glass communities in China, the US, Korea, Japan and Europe.

It is testament to his 50-year long career, and the respect he garnered internationally as a “diplomat” for the Australian glass sector. 

Among the tributes, King was described as ‘a pioneer of Australian contemporary glass, an amazing teacher and a true inspiration to many’, with numerous comments adding he was ‘a true gentleman’, who was ‘so generous with his time’.

King’s gallerist, Anna Grigson, Director Sabbia Gallery, told ArtsHub: ‘Gerry was a highly intelligent, generous and beautiful man whose love of the Australian landscape translated into incredible pieces of art that you completely immersed yourself in. His talent as a brilliant storyteller has been acknowledged around the world, with his glass artworks now housed in the finest collections.’

She continued: ‘Gerry offered us all an incredible sense of calmness, in his interactions, his teachings and his art.’

Glass artist Retief van Wyk was part of that international community, and posted on Facebook: ‘Gerry had such a far-reaching humane love for almost everyone, and especially the glass arts. His South African glass residency in 2013, and the subsequent publishing of the many conversations he had with the artists here, showcased the local South African talent to the world. That was Gerry. Always keen for a chat (long ones), keen for swapping ideas, promoting people and glass wherever he went. A diplomat and gentleman, a best friend to many.’

What inspired Gerry King

Simply, King found his inspiration and creative cues in nature. He had the capacity to ‘create a body of work that is at once highly crafted, but also fluid, where he has allowed for the outcome to have some serendipity in the firing process,’ explained Sabbia Gallery, which represented his work for many years.

The Gallery quoted the late Dan Klein, respected British writer and glass expert, on King’s bio page. ‘One cannot just walk past a piece by King. His work has a theatrical presence that makes one stop and stare,’ wrote Klein in 2002.

King worked across processes, moving between blown, cast and kiln-formed glass. He was especially interested in the qualities of light and colour that glass can offer, and would often embed pre-fired glass patterns within cast glass.

A great example is his iconic Memory Series, which was inspired by a trip to Iceland. Sabbia Gallery wrote: ‘He was surprised that the icebergs weren’t just pure ice, but contained rocks and soil, and thus held a trapped memory of a journey long past.’ Looking at these pieces, the viewer is moved to his ethereal place.

But water and ice had an earlier trigger point for King. Sabbia Gallery quoted him saying: ‘As a child I worked in the early morning delivering milk. On particularly hot days we would visit the ice-works to replenish the supply. The blocks of ice appeared as though magic propelled them from the factory chute, large, glistening and painfully cold to touch. Entrapped in the centre were masses of bubbles, a virtual landscape of white dots. The memory returned after a trip to Iceland where I contemplated ways of presenting the notion of natural history held within the icebergs.’

That quality of the material for expression was also anchored to his own personal connection to landscape – in particular the Adelaide Hills – which was always present in his work.

Who was Gerry King?

male artist in black shirt in glass studio looking at artworks. Gerry King.
Gerry King in his studio, 2022. Photo: Sabbia Gallery.

King’s career started with a degree in Art Teaching from SA School of Art in the late 1960s, pushing that into the studio with certificate courses in ceramics and printmaking, and extended studies at Georgian College in Canada and Alfred University, New York State (US) in the early 1970s.

Upon returning, King became a Member of the Crafts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts (1975). He completed an Advanced Dip T (Fine Art), Torrens College of Advanced Education, Canberra, in 1976, and received his Doctor of Creative Arts from the University of Wollongong in 1993.

King was Coordinator of Glass Studies at University of South Australia (1991-1992) and Head of the School of Design at the University of South Australia from January 1993 to June 1996.

He set up his own studio – Gerry King Contemporary Glass Design – in 1996 in Crafers, where he continued to make until his death.  

Perhaps his most important exhibition was Towards the Finishing Line: works from the last decade, which showcased 30 new works, alongside pivotal formative works from the National Art Glass Gallery at Wagga Wagga Art Gallery. It had followed his earlier retrospective, Into the Fourth Decade, at the Gallery in 2009-2010.

View of glass exhibition, Gerry King
‘Towards the Finishing Line: works from the last decade’, installation view at the National Art Glass Gallery, Wagga Wagga, 2022. Photo: Wagga Wagga City Council.

Travel was always a key component for King, and in 1988 he was the recipient of a Cultural Exchange Fellowship, funded by the Bank of Tokyo, and in 1995 a Cultural Exchange Grant with the Australia/Korea Foundation. He also spent time in South Africa on an artist residency.

King showed steadily across the years, and his works are held in the major collections, including National Gallery of Australia (Canberra), National Art Glass Collection (Wagga Wagga), Queensland Art Gallery (Brisbane), Art Gallery of Western Australia (Perth), National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne), Art Gallery of South Australia (Adelaide) and Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (Launceston) among others.

Internationally, his work was in the collections of: Niijima Contemporary Glass Art Collection (Japan), Glas – Museum of Glass Art (Glasmuseet Ebeltoft, Denmark), Flint Institute of Arts: The Glass Glass Collection (Flint, US), Kaplan/Ostergaard Glass Collection (Palm Springs, US), Rockford Art Museum, (Illinois, US), Marinha Grande National Museum (Portugal), The World of Glass (St Helens, Merseyside, UK), Modern Art Project (South Africa) and Sir Elton John Glass Collection (UK), among others.

King also enjoyed curating glass exhibitions, pulling together this community and knowledge. He also advocated for the sector, often writing about glass and being published in Denmark, Korea, Germany, Slovakia, the US and Australia.

He was a former President of AusGlass – the Australian Association of Glass Artists – and in 2011 was awarded an Honorary Life Member.

King died from a stroke. He was 79.

Read: Vale Richard Dunn and Bruce Armstrong

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina