Interview with NADINE KEEGAN

Stained glass, from the Egyptians to the Romans, it’s been around for yonks. An ancient art form that has stayed fairly under the radar until Melbourne artist Nadine Keegan came onto the scene. However, some would argue as a stained glass artist, you probably don’t want her breaking through any glass ceilings anytime soon.

Nadine touches on contemporary subjects and infuses them into this historic method to create beautiful visual pieces that become even more phenomenal with a touch of light.

We had a yarn with Nadine to talk about 2020, (that really long year we are somehow still in) and what’s on the other side of the stained glass window.

Photo by Two-Way Media & Film 

S+W: Hi Nadine. Firstly, congratulations on making it out of lockdown in Melbourne. That second round was a tough one. What did you do to fill your days?

NADINE: Yeah it was a bit of a hard slog in the end! I was lucky to have a fair bit of work to do so I could keep myself distracted while still feeling productive and creative which helped a lot. It was a bit of a roller-coaster of trying out hobbies and habits, I jumped on a few of the lockdown trends like bread making and ukuleles, got back into gaming and tried to take it easy as much as possible.

S+W: Haha, your housemates would have enjoyed you learning the ukulele while being stuck in the house 24/7.

So working with glass seems a little scary on the hands. Do you find yourself getting a few slices here and there? And does that mean 2020 has been the most stingy and painful year? re: HAND SANITIZER

NADINE: Haha yes! Everyone’s had their individual hardships this year and that was one of mine. Silver lining though was I could tell if a hand sanitiser was dodgy if it didn’t cause me enough pain.

Although I do want to say that working with glass is not as scary as what some may think, the bad cuts usually only happen when I’m tired or hungry.

S+W: The practice of stained glass isn’t something you see on your art school course list all too often, how did you become interested in it and where did you learn how to do it?

NADINE: Yeah it’s a bit different! I have a long version and a short version to this question haha. The short version is that when I was in Mexico I fell in love with the stained glass there and because I had quit my job to travel I was looking for the next thing to do. 

The long version is that I’ve always been obsessed with alternative lifestyles and never really wanted to work 9-5 in an office doing something I didn’t love. I really liked the idea of the Arts and Crafts movement which was a rejection of the mass-made manufacturing popping off during the Industrial revolution. I knew I wanted to live like them so I had to learn a craft or a trade. Stained glass kind of ticked all the boxes ideologically, creatively and hopefully will pay off economically as well haha. I learnt via YouTube and books originally and then got a job in an amazing stained glass studio before going solo. 

Also, there’s a new TAFE course for architectural art glass at Melb Poly if anyone is interested in learning in a school environment. It’s a small industry but there’s a lot of support available. 

Photo by Matt Dwyer

S+W: I really love seeing frames of the Australian flora and fauna in your art, in fact our next range touches on the Australian bush and its feathery, furry and scaly occupants.

You’ve found ways to contemporise the stained glass practice and move away from the old days of religious subjects. Are there any other ways that you’ve been able to make the art form more modern? 

NADINE: Thanks! Yeah I feel like there’s a bit of a revolution going on in many parts of the glass world at the moment. I looked a lot at Louis Comfort Tiffany glass from the early 20th century who experimented with glass compositions and the way glass can be held together. Along with heaps of other research, I used this as a sort of starting off place to do my own experiments and developed combinations of techniques that work best for me. My style is definitely dictated by the material capabilities I’m aware of at that time. 

I like to make windows that have a combination of older leadlight techniques and glass that results from my experiments with newer glass fusing technology. I’ve really used so many silly things in these experiments, fusing real leaves and organic matter into the glass, melting different metals onto the glass, there’s a lot of things in my studio that have gone through the ‘will it fuse?’ test.

The main thing materially that I’m constantly working on is how to eliminate the use of lead (the toxic metal) in the process. It’s been used for 900 years in the craft but I envision a future where it’s not absolutely necessary. 

Photo by Two-Way Media & Film 

S+W: I see stained glass as an art form made famous by religious architecture. This makes me think it might be a bit male dominated. Like everything in this world really, sigh. What’s it like being a female stained glass artist? Or better still, a female artist?

NADINE: Yeah it’s usually the way! You know what though, the future of stained glass looks to be really promising for all genders. Traditionally it definitely was as you say, but there’s a really big and lovely community of mainly women who are making incredible things and supporting each other developing too. I do think the wild places people are taking the art form is because of the diversity of the people involved. 

S+W: Nice, I hope to see the streetwear industry start to steer harder in that direction too.

Now let’s talk Gardening Australia. They interviewed you a couple of years back for a segment on the show. So cool!!!!! Did you get to meet Costa at any stage? My friend and I once saw him at Nova Cinemas and were too star struck to say hi. 

NADINE: Hahaha I actually didn’t get to meet him! Kind of glad though because I too would have been too star struck to talk properly. 

After they played the clip of my stuff in the episode it does cut to Costa saying 

“Great work Nadine.. etc” so that makes me happy that he has said my name at one point haha. 

S+W: Dammmn, if that was me I would have taken that sound bite and made it my morning alarm. Imagine waking up to Costa's voice, "great work Nadine, great work Nadine, great work Nadine..."

Everyone always asks if I make all my clothes. To be honest, in the rare moments I’m not running around trying to get the next range out, I’ve usually got a Bundy in my hand trying to relax.

Do you ever get time to make yourself any pieces or is it always commissions and exhibitions you’re working on?

NADINE: Yeah at the moment mostly commissions! It does go in phases though and I always jump at the chance to make something just for fun. I used to put a lot of pressure on myself to constantly be evolving my ideas and practice but as long as I’m working on something I’ve realised that moments of revelation and inspiration often happen anyway. 

But every project, commission, exhibition requires research and contemplation so I’m forced to have intense periods of development and then I’ll just be a bit more chill about it for a moment afterwards. 

Photo by Two-Way Media & Film 

S+W: You recently did an amazing graphic for our friends Matt Dwyer and Jeffers over at Stepmother (@step.mother). Do you get around to doing much other art other than stained glass?

NADINE: Thanks! That was fun and they’re so great. I would love to do more t-shirts or just more collabs in general. 

I really do love all types of art and just creating and bringing things into the world. Right now, work is busy so I’m pretty much just doing that but I went to school for photography and then cinema so I love both of those. I’m also very keen to see what I come up with clay soon and even just get back into drawing more. 

S+W: Well 2020 was a bit of a dud for most of us, particularly here in Melbourne. What do you have planned for 2021?

NADINE: It sure was. I’m still trying to work out what to do next year, so much uncertainty means we just have to go with the flow of things for a bit. I’ve got some projects and an exhibition lined up which are exciting but I’m also thinking I would love to spend a chunk of time in the bush and just see what happens. 

S+W: Well I can't wait to see what else you have lined up for us.

Thanks so much Nadine and I hope for your sake we can stop using so much hand sanitiser very soon.

Keep up with Nadine's work at www.nadinekeegan.com and on Intsagram at @nadinekeegan