With her elegant stained glass, Justine McGrath connects with her family and overcomes her past
Using dangerous materials to create her work empowers McGrath after struggling with self-harm as a teenager
Justine McGrath's stained glass work bridges the past and present — her own past as well as the world's. "I'm a big fan of old things," she says. "I've always been attracted to antiques and old buildings and old churches. Stained glass is kind of born out of that."
For McGrath, her art practice is deeply connected to her family. Her mother taught her how to work with stained glass after taking a course and has been a creative inspiration all throughout her life. "My mom has always been the creative one in the family. I remember being small and playing drawing games with her where she would draw a horse and then we would try and judge whose is better. This became an ongoing thing in our life where we would find inspiration off each other."
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Going back a generation, McGrath's stained glass work connects her to her mother's father, who was a welder. "I find it special that soldering and working with metal has been passed down through three generations."
Making stained glass requires working with some dangerous materials, requiring care. "There's lots of concentration that's involved," McGrath says. "I'm often using very sharp or very hot items. So it takes a lot of focus. Probably the scariest part of the practice is cutting the glass. You don't actually cut the glass — you use a tool that scores the glass and then you break it. So precision is pretty important."
Working with these materials that are sharp and hot...I think back on myself as a youth...they would be very triggering, but now I can handle sharp things and I can handle hot things and I don't feel even an ounce of that.- Justine McGrath
Working with these potentially dangerous materials is an especially empowering experience for McGrath because of her own personal past. "I struggled a lot with my mental health as a teenager and for five or six years I habitually self-harmed, which is something that I was thankfully able to get past and is something I haven't done in...10 years now."
"Working with these materials that are sharp and hot...I think back on myself as a youth...they would be very triggering, but now I can handle sharp things and I can handle hot things and I don't feel even an ounce of that."
If you're in Toronto, you can see her glasswork alongside her mother's this August at Likely General. In this show, McGrath's work on display will be from a project where she examines the different archetypes of the self with wearable stained glass masks.