Shelley James

PhD research combined the optical and material qualities of glass with the graphic impact of print to explore the psychology of perception, building on her ongoing Residency at the Bristol Eye Hospital. This investigation of material and virtual spaces led to the development of new techniques to encapsulate lattices and patterns, integrating lighting to explore symmetries within and beyond the form through reflection, refraction and projection. Meeting the X-ray crystallographer Professor Brian Sutton provided the catalyst for an investigation of different types of symmetry and their significance in discoveries such as the structure of DNA. The Elemental Symmetries series builds on this collaboration, inspired by the history of geometry and the ongoing relevance of the Platonic solids and related forms in science and philosophy –  both as a way of understanding and predicting the properties of materials and as a metaphor for the tension between seen and unseen worlds, internal structure and external form: the cube representing earth and the cardinal directions of the mortal world and the structure of sodium chloride or salt – the first material resolved using x-ray crystallography almost exactly 100 years ago. The piercing angles of the tetrahedron, representing fire and key to the prisming effects of cut diamonds, the ‘droplet’ form of the octahedron associated with water and proteins. Finally, the floating icosahedron relating to air with its dual, the fifth form called the dodecahedron that Plato associated with the fifth element ‘aether’ which ‘God used for embroidering the constellations on the whole heaven’.

These pieces are the result of extensive research in collaboration with glass blowers, engineers and lighting specialists, leading to the development of new processes and techniques to encapsulate lattices and cut and polish precise geometric forms to generate rich patterns of reflection, refraction and projection.


Trained in textiles at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, Shelley pursued a career in corporate design for international clients including Visa International, Shell and Habitat. Deciding to explore the themes of perception and reality from a more personal perspective, she studied printmaking at the University of the West of England. developing new techniques for encapsulating prints in glass with support from the National Glass Centre in Sunderland and Arts Council England. An ongoing Residency with the Bristol Eye Hospital and PhD research at the Royal College of Art in London has led to a number of collaborative projects with scientists, exploring the intersection between material and virtual space.

Recent exhibitions of Shelley’s work include the MRC Centenary ‘From DNA to the Brain’ at Somerset House and the ‘Illusions’ exhibition at the Science Gallery in Dublin. She has been selected for the prestigious Jerwood Maker’s Award and is currently working with the Institute of Philosophy at UCL, the Royal College of Art and the university of Leeds.

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