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Delighted to be bringing glass into digital era

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Jahday Ford blows glass (Photograph supplied)

Restrictions are invisible to Jahday Ford — he thrives without boundaries.

The 23-year-old moved to Manchester, England, in 2011 with his mother to develop his burgeoning football career.

It’s a decision he’s thankful for because it helped him realise his calling as an artist.

“You may not end up doing what you originally set out to do — she drilled that into me,” he said of his mother, Valerie Payne.

His first major exhibition launched at Manchester Craft & Design Centre last week. Breathe is a collaboration with digital designer Joseph Hillary; the pair broke from handblowing convention to create digitally manipulated glass sculptures.

“You have these masters of glasswork who have been working for ten to 20 years and create amazing works, but I noticed a lot of these traditional works all had something in common,” Mr Ford said.

“Why not provide a different way to look at glass, something that stands up figuratively or concept-wise?”

The friends merged digital design with traditional techniques to create the series of rippled sculptures. Mr Hillary recorded his friend breathing through the glass-blowing iron itself, before turning the sound waves into wooden moulds for Mr Ford to blow hot glass through.

The results are striking, orchestrated yet organic.

Mr Ford said he has seen endless possibility as a maker. In Bermuda, his mother first taught him to draw and paint abstract forms. In art classes at CedarBridge Academy he was enchanted by clay.

“I was shocked at what you can get in such a simple material,” he said. “You can make unbelievable creations from something you can find on the ground.

“Even though we weren’t always exposed to international artists when we went through the education system in Bermuda, it didn’t really matter because it still had a lot going on.

“Going to Dockyard to look at the glassworks had an impact; working in clay at CedarBridge had another impact. Gradually, it built something.”

His love for sculpture was reaffirmed when he took his BTEC diploma at Manchester College, a two-year mixed-media course.

“I knew I wanted to make things that were three-dimensional. I fell in love with things that people could hold or interact with,” he said.

“Clay, plastic, wood metal ... I worked with digital programming, which was really important in my development, Photoshop, screen-printing — it was an amazing course. They opened us up to what is possible in art and craft.”

Last year he graduated with a degree in three-dimensional design from Manchester School of Art.

“They allow you to find your own niche and find your own way of working. We had woodworking inductions, medal inductions, digital processors, laser-cutting and finally glass. It really opened up my eyes.”

He soon found his own style and quickly learnt which materials were compatible.

“That’s when the objects I made in glass really started to talk and develop,” he said.

“That really grew my practice throughout university of really pushing glass as a material beyond just the decorative. Looking at how you can explore glass in a digital sense or how you can create textures and glass that you can’t really do by hand.”

He said he likes the collaborative side of the work.

“A lot of people are afraid to work with people they don’t really know, but you never know what may come from it. You never know how much it can improve or enlighten your way of working,” he said.

“The project flourished naturally. Joe and I knew we could really succeed in making the digital craft evolve and we knew it wouldn’t stop there.

“Within all of that there’s constant challenge — the challenge to adapt or the challenge to change the way you perceive something.

“It really improved my skill set and my methods.”

A challenge was what led him to Britain.

After visiting at 14 to play at Bolton Wanderers’ academy, he and his mother made the decision to disrupt his education and move permanently. He then played as a semi-professional at the FC United of Manchester academy.

“It was life-changing. That had a huge impact on the way I developed as an artist because you have to instantly adapt yourself.

“It didn’t work out but I was super happy and proud of what it showed me. It’s what drove me to come out here in the first place so I have no regrets.”

He laughed: “The weather was the hardest bit.”

Jahday Ford’s exhibit at Manchester Craft & Design Centre runs until May 12. His work is also on exhibit at Lincoln’s National Centre for Craft & Design until March 11. Jahdayfordglass.com

Jahday Ford, right, with friend and collaborator Joseph Hillary (Photograph supplied)
Examples of early work (Photograph supplied)
Part of the Breathe exhibition (Photograph supplied)
Part of the Breathe exhibition (Photograph supplied)
Part of the Breathe exhibition (Photograph supplied)
Part of the Breathe exhibition (Photograph supplied)
Masque — early work by Jahday Ford (Photograph supplied)
Part of the Breathe exhibition (Photograph supplied)