Seiki Torige and the Art of Glass

Seiki Torige is smiling; he smiles a lot, maintaining that it is an essential spark to his creativity. This Japanese glass master’s hand had blown glass vases, statues, and gargantuan sculptures – some of which have weighed in excess of 1000 kilos and measured up to 40 metres in length – are coveted by collectors worldwide.

A glass-lined pathway leads to Seiki’s beachside home and studio in Gianyar Regency on the southeast coast of Bali. Ice-like pedestals, swords, a desk and chair, and a life-size go-cart, all fashioned in his trademark colour of aqua green, are just a few of the astonishing solid glass sculptures that just happen to be dotted around his garden. Dogs and cats – the living, breathing, furry variety – are equally at home here. Seiki explains, “I need to be happy in order to feel inspired, so I therefore surround myself with the people, the animals and the things that I love.” He owns a 24-metre Phinisi schooner, which he berths at Pemuteran in northwest Bali and sails regularly. He has seventeen dogs and four cats, and when he feels like sharing a bottle or two of sake with his friends, there is certainly no shortage of handmade glass drinking vessels in his kitchen!

Seiki Torige was born in Kyoto, Japan, and his curiosity for glass design led him to Italy in 1970, where he studied the art of stained glass at the ‘Lindo Glassy Studio’ in Milan. He then went on to study glass mosaic technology, and the skills that he has since acquired have all been self taught. He established his first studio in Tokyo in 1978, and moved to Bali in 1995; building not only his workshop, but also highly skilled team that he has personally trained in the techniques of blowing, laminating, spinning, fusing, chiselling, slumping and casting. Committed to creating novel and extraordinary pieces of art by utilising revolutionary designs and techniques of manufacture, he works primarily with soda glass that has been recycled from plate glass windows. The green tint is its natural colour caused by the iron content in the fine, white, Australian ‘silica’ sand, but coloured materials are now coming into play, with the recent introduction of hues such as pink, blue, orange, emerald and red. Each fragment of colour is converted into a molten mass before being shaped and transformed to create or decorate a sophisticated vase, a unique ornament, a tactile block, or an exquisite bowl.

You only have visit Seiki’s exclusive ‘Galery Esok Lusa’ in Seminyak and his new gallery, ‘Open Space’ in Sanur, to get an idea of the sheer volume and scope of his work, which ranges from cast Budha heads mounted on wooden panels, to laminated discs and giant whale tails, inspired no doubt by the artist’s passion for sailing. Architectural features, glass walls, counters, laminated pillars, tables, bars, doors and window decorations have been commissioned by restaurants, hotels, corporate offices, and public buildings across the globe. In Japan, he was responsible for the three 18-metre-high glass walls in Nagoya’s subway stations, and a water-themed, 3-metre-high, 40-metre-wide, wall decoration in the lobby of the Kanazawa Tokyo Hotel. He is currently working on the features of some lakeside apartments not far from Osaka, with interiors not dissimilar to a Bali-style resort.

In Bali, his creations – such as the glass stupa at PJs restaurant at Four Seasons Jimbaran, the translucent fibre-optics-lit glass bar at Ritz Carlton’s Martini Club, the remarkable sculptures at Ritz Carlton’s Tresna Wedding Pavilion, and the 2.4-metre-high tower at The Calyx – are instantly recognisable as his craftsmanship. Nevertheless, he is much imitated on this island where copying is common practice. “There are at least eight other glass studios, most of which are small scale home industries, operating in Bali,” he explains, “and many of the artists are copying my style and technique. It would be very easy for me not to change, but I believe that it is essential to continually stay ahead of the game.” Most of Seiki’s weekdays are spent designing, while on Saturdays he works his craft with his hands.

While his colossal pieces may command colossal price tags, the pieces that Seiki has designed and subsequently taught his workers how to hand-produce is considerably more affordable. The tableware of Bali Gelas Artistry is favoured by some of Bali’s most sumptuous private villas, together with trendy restaurants such as KuDeTa, and prestigious hotels including The Oberoi, The Legian, Maya Ubud, Como Shambhala, Bali Hyatt and Grand Hyatt.

Thirty three artisans are involved in the manufacturing process at the Gianyar workshop; a semi-open air factory and design laboratory, where the temperature in the huge kilns reaches 1000 degrees Celsius, and the cooling down process may take as long as three months! Every technique is different; slumping, for example, is where a sheet of glass is placed upon a block in an oven and left to melt, like cheese on toast! The spinning technique is accomplished with fine, 10-metre-long threads of glass. At one time Seiki experimented with a machine to create spun glass, but realised that it was more efficiently achieved by hand. Each technique is practiced within a dedicated area. The blowing team must learn to work in cohesive unity while speedily anticipating each other’s needs; slumping might be combined with chiselling; blowing is fused with a bit of everything! These fascinating processes produce chiselled rectangular and circular plates, latticed squares, leaf platters, goblets, wine glasses, champagne glasses and sake glasses, chiselled ice buckets, water jugs and chunky ashtrays, in addition to sandblasted, spun, and blown vases enhanced by swirls, shards and threads of colour.

Seiki is busy designing a new masterpiece, a 10x10-metre, single-storey glass house, with glass walls and pillars, an onxy-like black glass floor, a glass bathtub and an alang alang roof. When pressed for details, he exclaims, “The rest is a secret.” Seiki’s lips may be sealed, but he’s definitely smiling!