How Simon Gallup’s Brazen Crazy Bass Sound Gave Me The Reason I Need To Start Using Bronze and Copper: The Cure Play Wembley Arena 1/12/16

I was a huge Cure fan back in the late ’80s, big black and white poster of Robert Smith on my bedroom wall, had all their albums but never went to see them live. The closest I got was going round a friends house to watch “The Cure in Orange” on video. Then 1992 and the Manic Street Preachers happened and stole me away from The Cure. Not much other than occasional listening until my live art collaborator and friend Steve Lawson messaged me on the Monday and asked if I wanted his spare ticket to see The Cure that Thursday. The instant answer was yes and once the usual child related logistics had been sorted out we were on!

Wembley is an arse to get to whether you go by train or car, a stadium and an arena plonked in the middle of an industrial estate with a maze of tiny roads with names like Engineers Way and Fifth Way or even more imaginatively Fourth Way. I managed to meet up with Steve and after some faffing about finding where the tickets actually were (it turned out we were there courtesy of Reeves Gabrels the guitarist, thank you indeed Mr Lawson!) it was straight to our seats and The Cure were on. They played for three hours of fantastic music, loads of hits, pop mixed with the darkness and they rocked way more than I remember from their studio recordings. “Friday I’m in Love” is up there with “Knights of Cydonia” for songs that instantly make me smile but for very different reasons. The Cure really are such a happy band, both defining “Goth” and not being it at all, transcending the genre you helped to carve out has to be the mark of creativity in its purest form.

Having survived Matt Bellamy’s guitar at the Hydro in Glasgow I was getting brave. The mix was towards the bass, drums and keyboards as we were sat next to the stage on the opposite side to the guitars of Robert Smith and Reeves Gabrels. What a sound Simon Gallup makes with that bass of his, truly astounding and gorgeous! When I say brazen crazy I mean in both senses of the word, bronze coloured and bold. It was prominent and folding and bronze/coppery with dark blacks and greys swirling amongst the leaves. Very different to the dark purples, reds and white distortion auras of Chris Wolstenholme of Muse’s playing that appears in my Heavy Bassine series. How an instrument is played has a huge effect on what I see and none more clearly than with bass, the low end usually being dark and liquid. With The Cure not so, extraordinary and cutting bronze like structures.

The live experience of Simon Gallup’s bass playing has given me some interesting food for thought, the drawings I’ve made since have not yet blossomed into the obsessive days of trying to work out shapes and colours that happened after Muse live, not yet. I’m still ruminating and digesting what I’ve heard. I have done some initial sketches which will give a flavour of where I’m heading with this. My Guitar Distortion series which explores the distorted and chaotic sound of Matt Bellamy’s guitar playing is in sterling silver, it is the right material for the colour of his playing, white hot, silver, cracked and twisting. Silver would not work for Reeves Gabrel’s guitar playing which is steely greys, dove greys, with shimmering hints of blues, turquoise and purples and is much more centered in the vanishing point of my synaesthesia. Similarly bronze, brass and copper or mixtures of these materials will be perfect for representing Simon Gallup’s playing in three dimensional form. I will be exploring how I will do this over the coming months. Exciting times…

 

United in Variety: Sieraad International Jewellery Art Fair at the Westergasfabreik, Amsterdam 2016 November 10-13

Fitting my entire display into twenty three kilos of checked baggage to fly to Amsterdam was more liberating than frustrating as I shed unnecessary items and went with the bare essentials to run my stand. On the other hand the choice of bag I packed it all in will require revisiting next time. “The Elephant Bag” (as it is known) saw me through two, year long stays in the USA. Now I remember why I don’t use it very often. While it is capacious it is also unwieldy especially at rush hour on the Tube and especially when they close the doors on the Jubilee line due to overcrowding. Never mind, my flight was delayed anyway not that I knew this as I sweated and cursed my load via Kennington to London City Airport.

There were twenty other jewellers coming from the UK and I met up with seven of them when I arrived for a cab ride to the Westergasfabreik, we needed the largest cab they could find at Schiphol Airport. We spent the rest of the day setting up in the industrial setting of the old gas holder.

SIERAAD 2016 was opened by the Dutch “Princess of Craft” Margarita de Bourbon de Parme who is herself a jeweller, furniture maker and textile artist which set the tone for an incredibly smart and well educated audience. It was a real pleasure to talk to so many knowledgeable buyers, whose excellent English was appreciated by me and the other non-Dutch artists there. It really was a truly international art fair, many nations were well represented from all over Europe with exhibitors coming from as far afield as Australia, USA, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Columbia, Uruguay and South Korea. The fair was by no means dominated by Dutch artists. The variety and standard of work being shown was astounding, the show was entirely dedicated to art jewellery from the precious to the deliberately non-precious with over eighty exhibitors using materials from platinum, gold and gemstones to plastic broom bristles, leather and paint.

I was so busy it was tricky to get a moment to look round the show, as a jewellery lover myself I really did not want to miss the opportunity to see so much incredible work in one place. Gallery Ra, one of the original Amsterdam galleries to dedicate its space to art jewellery was celebrating forty years of success, owner Paul Derrez had a selection of works on display from his personal collection that included some classics that I had only seen in books before now.

Of all the fantastical work there two artists stood out for me. Christoph Ziegler a German jewellery and performance artist whose inspiration comes from the humble domestic sphere and uses found objects and shining plastic broom bristles to great effect in his brooches which encapsulate grandeur and humour. He calls his performances “Möbeling” which roughly translates as “Furnituring” but it sounds way better in German!

The second artist was Russian Ksenia Vokhmentseva whose crocheted forms where a pure abstract interpretation of her emotions. She has explored her depth of feeling through shape after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. “Sometimes It Doesn’t Hurt” is a compelling body of work both dark and poignant. Unsettling but fascinating her work reminded me of how Alexander McQueen approached his self expression.

In amongst the contemporary jewellers was an exhibition of ethnic jewellery from around the world by a collaboration of Dutch Museums. Stunning antique pieces, that the work of all exhibitors had to hold their own against. They reminded us where we came from and that some functions of jewellery have never changed. SIERAAD Art Fair was a very positive experience for me, my work was well received and it enabled me to see it in an international context in amongst the work of artists from all over the world. Whether you go as a visitor or exhibitor to SIERAAD it is worth taking the time to appreciate it as a rare gathering of jewellery art.

Extreme Synaesthesia – Muse at the SSE Hydro Glasgow

 

Muse at the SSE Hydro Glasgow

Muse at the SSE Hydro Glasgow – synaesthesia not shown!

I am often asked about how my synaesthesia works, and what I experience during it, and often talk about it in the context of my creative works. I have written a little about it before but am not sure why I have fought shy of writing about its more extreme form in detail until now but I recently went to see one of my favourite bands live and what I experienced means I probably should. I went to see Muse play at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow with a friend who lives in the Scottish Borders. I say one of my favourite bands they probably are my favourite band or at least the one I spend most time listening to. Their particular sound, a sort of baroque-gothic, psychedelic space prog gives me a very vivid synaesthetic reaction. I say one of my favourite bands as my official “Favourite Band” are The Manic Street Preachers, they got there first in my teens and not even the mighty Muse can knock them off that spot.

The way I experience synaesthesia is very vivid, pleasurable and memorable. I can pay attention to it and fully focus on it or ignore it at will. The shapes, colours and movement change with the music and last only as long as the sound lasts. It is easier to see if I close my eyes but still there if they are open. It occupies a sort of infinite cube headspace and is three dimensional often going into or coming out of a vanishing point. Mostly I use recorded music to listen, watch and then do a sketch of what I have experienced in my primary sketchbook. This sketch will then be used as a direct source for my jewellery or paintings. Recently I have been increasingly turning to live music as a source of inspiration too. Both in my live art project with solo-bassist Steve Lawson and recordings of live shows as they offer something different from a studio version. Sometimes it’s the little unscripted surprises that offer up the most interesting visuals and working with a musician who does nothing but improvise there are certainly plenty of those.

I have always been rather circumspect about “tuning in” to my synaesthesia at live events (particularly loud ones) as, when I was in my early 20s I had an unpleasant experience after being at the front at a gig that I can only put down to sensory overload and not realising that the extreme noise of a rock gig mixed with the peculiar state of mind synaesthesia induces is too much if you don’t understand what is happening. Since then I have kept my attention strictly to the show in front of me and have ignored the sensory stimulus of my synaesthesia, and stood to the back. ( I should probably explain sensory overload or at least how I understand it. Not a pleasant thing it is where, the executive function in my brain gets so confused by too much input that it basically shuts down and I find it hard to organise any sort of train of thought or speech, it doesn’t last long, all I need is a cup of tea and a quiet five minutes but it pretty unpleasant loss of control)

Things are different now, I have embarked on a live art project with Steve Lawson and have performed with him in a synaesthetic drawing and improvised playing feedback loop which has proved very successful. I use my synaesthesia daily in my artistic practice, I’ve even caught myself trying to use it while attempting to transcribe basslines. I know what it is and where it comes from and what effect it has on me. So about five songs in watching Muse I decided to see what would happen if I “tuned in” and paid proper attention to my synaesthesia.

So, the drummer was was quite possibly using the roof as a kick drum, you could feel the bass vibrating in your heart and the guitar was loud and distorted. The light show is complex and broad. It is already a very physical experience. I closed my eyes to focus more easily amongst the flashing lights. It was all there moving fast with the music but I didn’t want to spend the whole concert with my eyes shut and miss the show so I opened them and let the synaesthetic shapes and movement merge with the real lighting and movement. Bass is always more like a distortion in the space-time continuum and dark so actually quite tricky to see, as a bassist myself I am always hunting for the bassline, drums get every where, a sharp silver slash in the centre of the stage, a mass of red blood cell like shapes but it was Matt Bellamy’s guitar I fell back in love with. The golden and white hot shapes, curling and flashing, filling the bowl of the auditorium weaving in and out of the lights flashing and changing as quick as they did. I found my self so mesmerised I could hardly dared breathe. Then they played “Stockholm Syndrome” a song I have always found to be especially synaestheically productive. The world turned upside-down in the most fantastical way. It is a heavy song, and fast. I’ve learned it on bass, it is tiring to play and frenetic, distorted, relentless and soaring. The music, shapes, colours and lights filled my entire consciousness and the sound was trying to fragment it, momentarily there was nothing else. This was sailing dangerously close to the edge of sensory overload. Muse finished the song but kept jamming, once I thought they were going to end, but unbearably, fantastically they continued, I almost couldn’t bear it. Then they crashed their ending and moved on to the next song, the change in rhythm broke the spell and I rode with it, I realised I was trembling. After that intense experience I enjoyed my some what odd take on the show but was surprised at that intensity. Once Knights of Cydonia (the most preposterous rock song ever written and one that always makes me smile) had finished and the last white hot sound of guitar feedback had faded I felt drained, a bit shocked at the effect it had had on me. It took me until we got outside to be able to speak coherently about the show.

For me synaesthesia has its extremes it can be gentle and ephemeral but also has a totally immersive side to the experience if I let it. I can feel my interest in using live music over recorded growing. I like the unpredictability and it reflects my love of the distorted edge of the sound. The boundary between the sound and the breakdown of that sound is where the fascinating detail both in shape and colour lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories and Thinking Hands: A Masterclass with David Poston, Milton Keynes Arts Centre, 28th November 2015

I first became aware of David Poston’s work was when I was still at art college, I took a trip to the Craft’s Council’s flagship show, Collect. His sculptural bracelets made from recycled treacle and golden syrup tins really caught my eye. I still remember them in the glass case now a colourful, positive image of what jewellery could be. This memory along with memories of seeing Peter Chang and Adam Paxon’s works for the first time are burnt into my creative retina. I have always been drawn to colourful things.

David Poston, unlike the other two is not primarily known for the use of colour in his work. It is his forged titanium pieces that are his best known works. Just not the works I know him for. This opportunity to spend a day with such a well known figure of the contemporary jewellery world was one not to be missed so I called up and booked my spot. The day was part workshop and part exhibition tour as the masterclass was running in conjunction with David’s touring exhibition “A Necklace for and Elephant and Other Stories – The working lives of David Poston”.

It has taken a while for all the information and discussion from this masterclass to sink in and percolate and for me to draw conclusions and thoughts from them. The day was one detailed and thought provoking conversation between David and the six students in the class. The morning (and much of the afternoon) was spent primarily in a show and tell discussing and critiquing our work. Topics of discussion ranging through the nature of creativity, how pieces develop, to techniques, suppliers, skills, selling work and pricing. The quality of the work participants had bought with them was very high but nonetheless they were works in transition and their authors looking for their next step, investigating their creative process. I’m not going to go over the participants work here but will list websites below so you can see their work for yourself. Needless to say looking at the work of others and discussing their process is as important as discussing your own, their learning is your learning.

After a healthy lunch supplied by MK Arts Centre we went round David’s exhibition with him and had much opportunity to ask questions and discuss the methods and techniques he uses. Primarily laser welding and forging titanium. There is only one he does not divulge and that is how he makes his little, numerous and beautifully tactile looking silver beads. They look old, like they have been dug up with an ancient horde. Their creation is a very logical process apparently, that’s all he would say. He also asked us which was our favourite piece and which one we liked least. For me it was not so much a favourite piece but the “Touching Table” where pieces were attached to bungees so that you could actually handle and try them on, feel the difference between the materials. My least favourite piece was “Does My Neck Look Big in This” a necklace made from found plastic sizing cubes, you know the ones you get on hangers in shops. Not because I particularly disliked it as a piece but perhaps because it’s story is so obvious or it didn’t quite fit with the other work in the show it seemed out of context.

David Poston is big on logical progression and problem solving, he is very much an engineer. He is also a craftsman and story teller, each one of his pieces sparks a story either about the process of making the piece or the circumstances that gave him an idea. I won’t go into detail about his many working lives – go and see his exhibition it is in Birmingham in January and The Dovecote in Edinburgh in February and March 2016, well worth a look and get the catalogue it is comprehensive and it tells many of his stories far better than I can.

The learning I took away from the day was detailed but can be distilled down to one word, integration. There was much discussion about how jewellery makes the wearer’s body feel, not just to show off skill or wealth but to invest in the wearer’s experience. An experience that can be very private if we just stop showing off for a moment. Think, how do the rings on your hand feel when they are in your pocket? A necklace under a scarf. There was much talk about the body and how jewellery interacts with it. However, on reflection we all forgot about clothes in this equation, jewellery has to interact with clothes too, and the tasks of everyday life.  An example would be this; David is (as other jewellery designers including myself are) somewhat dismissive of the pendant as a way of wearing something. At college a pendant was considered facile design, not worth doing, a thing on a string. It was only when I was wearing a cowl necked jumper that I thought, no the pendant has its place and is a successful design result when used in the right way. I am going to come out in defence of the pendant, I admit it has been done to death so you will have to try very hard to break new ground using it as a design solution. However, it has it’s place.   The theme of the day was certainly that jewellery design needs to be integrated with itself (how it opens, closes and sits) and the life of its wearer which includes the body and the way we clothe it.

We also discussed the machine tool vs the hand tool, and I’m not talking 3D printing or anything hi-tech. Even the reliable pendant motor is a machine tool. David’s position is that the hand tool is slower and therefore the brain has time to make a conscious decision every time it is used. That way every file pass is a small decision in the making of the final piece.

For a while now I have been looking for a way of creating more paintable surface area, flow and integration in my work. So a day with David Poston gave me much to consider. I decided to make a cold forged ring with only a silver bar, a hammer, anvil, mandrels and torch to anneal. This “thought process” ring was a Christmas present to self, my conscious thinking hands experiment that came directly out of this masterclass. I worked straight from the source sketch, moving the metal and making those small decisions with every hammer stroke to make a ring. While not a new direction it is an interesting new development and one I will pursue.

Student websites:

Amanda Dennison

Mary Hart

Sandra Bornemann

Milton Keynes Arts Centre

 

 

 

Seeing the Music and Hearing the Image: Some Expeditionary Art with Solo-bassist Steve Lawson

The bass guitar is a wonderful instrument, if it were not for my learning to play it none of this would ever have happened. I am synaesthetic, I have a visual reaction to sound both musical and non-musical. This inspires my artworks be they jewellery you can hang on yourself or paintings you can hang on a wall. I could have spent my creative time listening to recorded music drawing what I saw and making my art from those initial sketches. These are finished objects that remain in stasis once complete and are admired, bought and enjoyed as objects by my clients. This is a good thing, they get an object they respond to and desire and I get to move on to the next project. Therein lies the essential nature of my creativity. It likes to move, to have the next idea and solve the next problem, to create the next piece of artwork.

My synaesthesia has not always inspired my creativity, it is only over the last five or so years that I have come to realise that this does not happen to everyone and have had the confidence to use my own very subjective inner life to inform my art. I refer to this change in emphasis my Strange Attractors Project. I usually use recorded music and barely considered doing a live art version.

This is where my learning bass guitar comes in. I met the intriguing solo bassist and lateral thinker Steve Lawson via his tutorials at scottsbasslessons.com and then in person at the London Bass Guitar Show. What started as his suggestion of a blog post topic spiralled into a realisation that we needed to get together and see what would happen if I tried to draw what he played live.

We did and this is one of the results (on Soundcloud)

Steve Lawson/Poppy Porter Synaesthetic Journey pt1

There’s only one image up with the first Soundcloud track here are a couple more done on the day.

The experience was a totally new one for me. I am a results driven artist and I was suddenly plunged into working in a totally process driven art form. This really was jumping in with both feet, the synaesthesia bit is the easy part, it’s just there. The translation of those fleeting images into something concrete that you can hold up and show to someone and relate to a specific sound on the fly is hard. Luckily it is pretty immersive so I lost my nerves and just got on with it. As we went I was aware of Steve trying to provoke me, surprise me and question me through the music he was playing.

So what was happening here? How had this music/visual feedback loop set itself up so naturally and easily? What is my mind doing during synaesthesia, what is Steve’s mind doing? How is he essentially doing the reverse of what I am doing and translating visuals into sound.

I can’t speak for Steve but this is roughly what I see when I hear sounds, music, birdsong and F1 engines are a favourite noise too. It is like having eyes in another dimension, I often think of what I see as a space-scape and will often paint it against a background of stars. The “place” is three dimensional a sort of infinite but very personal box which often has a central vanishing point that sounds either start from or go to. The visuals are animated and colourful coming and going with each sound. The colours are usually light colours for high notes and dark colours for low notes, the exact colours vary and I can never find exactly the right one amongst my pencils. The pitch often determines the position too, low notes at the bottom, high at the top. The shapes I see are three dimensional, they have edges and if I am really immersed I can “fly” with them and see them from different angles the sense of movement being very strong. Sometimes I am not sure whether I am drawing an object or a movement the images are so fleeting.

I have no control over whether it happens or not, it is always there. I either tune it in or tune it out so it does not affect what I am doing. If my eyes are engaged in another task they override the synaesthesia, so does concentrating on, say, playing my bass. I’m so taken up with where my fingers are going and keeping rhythm that any synaesthesia is ignored. Having said that I have discovered myself using it if I’m trying to work out a drum pattern or where to come in on a drum pattern. Snare drums, toms, bass drum cymbals and hi-hats all look very different. In fact drums get everywhere if I let them, percussive things are very synaesthetically productive.

Distorted sounds are also excellent which is why Steve’s playing works so well for me. His extensive use of looping also helps me see a sound repeatedly which means I am more likely to be able to draw it. The hard part of the process is the catching, remembering and drawing on the fly. There is no rewind button as with recorded music. I can’t go back and look, I have to go with the strongest images.

There are two parts of my brain at work here the synaesthetic brain which is concerned with the image precisely as it sees it and my artistic brain which has the job of translating this on the fly into something that looks about right. Whatever my artistic brain puts down on the page my synaesthetic brain considers it to be very wrong. Wrong shape, wrong colour, wrong position, just wrong. There is a point at which I have to ignore my pedantic synaesthetic brain and make artistic decisions about what makes a good picture.

I’ve often wondered what all this abstraction actually means, to me it holds enormous importance. Synaesthesia comes with a sense of euphoria and certainty that what is happening holds real meaning but is this just a function of my odd neurology? Art has to connect with other human beings in one way or another. When I put all these images down on paper does it mean anything to anyone else? Are they just pretty patterns peculiar to my brain with no particular relevance? Do all synaesthetes see the same thing? Why are people so intrigued by it? Music is of course the ultimate abstract art form, it communicates in a direct way with our emotions. How does it do that? Can my visual representations of music tap into that same emotional pathway?

In reading round the subject of synaesthesia recently I came across an excellent book “Wednesday is Indigo Blue” by Richard E. Cytowic and in that book is a page on generic forms. These are shapes that always occur during synaesthesia and for people in other altered states of mind such as during a migraine or induced by drugs. These generic forms are certainly variations on what I see. Why would they be the same in all people and people who are not synaesthetic if there was not some similar function going on? There was also discussion of how both synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes associate high notes with light colours and low notes with dark colours. So what is that about? Interestingly the book goes on to argue that perhaps synaesthesia is a normal function of the brain that is merely conscious in synaesthetes and unconscious in everyone else.

For me an artwork in any discipline has to connect as without that emotional reaction an artwork has failed. That human connection and desire to move and be moved can work across centuries and formats otherwise how can I stand in front of a portrait and feel like I am sharing a joke with a long dead Belgian painted by a long dead artist or feel the wordless communication from over a century ago through an abstract painting. Why does a video recording of a live performance of Muse’s “Hysteria” make me feel excited or the writing of Hunter S. Thompson in a second hand paperback weird me out? The artwork can be anything you like but the communal, human experience of it, that is the important thing.

Steve Lawson is a solo bassist who makes beautiful music and thinks a lot about life the universe and everything – read his blog post on our collaboration

Go and immerse yourself in his music at www.stevelawson.net

Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A and Collect 2015 at the Saatchi Gallery

I expected to love my visit to these two exhibitions, to see gorgeous things and return inspired. Instead I have been left with a sense of ambivalence and uncertainty. The Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is all a blockbuster exhibition should be. Big, bold and slightly overwhelming in it’s presentation. It was truly an experience and particularly in the case of the Cabinet of Curiosities section awe inspiring. I should love Alexander McQueen’s work, it is dramatic and fantastic, colourful and unsettling. The tailoring incredible and beautiful, the use of materials and textures fabulous and I do love his work up to a point.

The opening quotes in the exhibition spoke of McQueen’s desire to empower those women he dressed, make them awe inspiring and scary. The clothes he designed were just that but what ever shape,colour, material or inspiration he used under every ensemble was the inescapable stick figure of the fashion model. Display after display there was the same homogenous female body. The male body was entirely absent, where was his menswear? The male body has seemingly been banished from his cannon of work.

There was much talk of his undeniable skill in tailoring and taking the shape of the body into account in all his designs, he was quoted as saying he designs from side, the worst side for curves to ensure an all round interesting silhouette but again he was only using one homogenous female form. For all the talk of crossing boundaries this one seemed to be one he could not even see, his work was entirely unable to break the bounds of fashion model’s tall thin body.

The only hint things are otherwise was his Voss collection where writer Michelle Olley posed as the death of fashion, which is apparently a fat woman with no clothes on. I was pretty insulted by all the assumptions surrounding that show piece. Her body was the only hint that any other kind of woman (or indeed any other kind of body) could exist outside the fashion model “norm”. Yes I know that was kind of the point and one of McQueen’s fascinations was the “other” body but in the forrest of identical mannequins it just came across as crass. I was disappointed that this was the impression the exhibition had formed on me, I wanted to be taken in and marvel at the genius we were being told he was.

I also began to get the impression I was stuck in a visual Radiohead album, relentlessly serious with no humour whatsoever. Even Shakespeare tragedies have some light relief, there was nothing light here, fashion is a very serious business and Alexander McQueen took himself and his work very seriously. I am always dubious of anything that cannot laugh at itself occasionally, it lacks something essentially human and fails to fully connect and communicate. I could not help but wonder about comparing his timeline with that of another towering figure of British fashion, Vivian Westwood. His work remains distant, trapped in an impressive bubble, billowing and gorgeous like his Pepper’s Ghost illusion of Kate Moss but ultimately untouchable and uncommunicative.

Perhaps it was my mood after visiting the Alexander McQueen exhibition or walking past those beautiful but unoccupied mansions bought as investments by rich foreigners in the streets between Kensington Gore and Sloane Square, or the recent election result but the Craft Council’s lavish presentation of contemporary craft at the Saatchi Gallery Collect 2015 was problematic too. This is a festival of the most fabulous objects presented by the worlds best contemporary craft galleries. It is billed as a place to see and buy museum quality contemporary craft. The quality of the work on show was undeniably excellent and evidence of museums purchasing was clear in little cards denoting which pieces had been bought by what museum with what funding. Private individuals making purchases were also in evidence.

Again, I wanted to be affected by what I saw, I wanted to be moved by the beautiful aesthetic of the work on show. I was but again only up to a point. Highlights for me were the Cynthia Corbett Gallery with Chris Antemann’s £82,000 worth of truly taste free, baroque Lemon Chandelier and Jo Taylor’s elegant flowing blue porcelain. There was also drawers full of Anna Heindl’s Farbkorper jewellery collection at Gallerie Sofie Lachaert. Tord Boontje’s Chairy Tales was an interesting and enjoyable exercise in narrative sitting apparatus or maybe you could call them personality perches.

However, many of the galleries seemed to be showing exactly the same things they had 2014. I walked past several of the same objects or artists who were in exactly the same places as they were last year! It was as if the show had been wheeled away last year and wheeled out again this year. The lack of context given to the works was also irritating, beautiful objects stranded in a no-mans land of arty blankness some galleries had not even marked who the pieces were by. There were several galleries new to the show and new artists marked but they were all seemed to be very small works. Given this is the Craft Council’s flagship event and that a ticket to Collect was about the same price as a ticket to the McQueen exhibition (£17) I felt they could have all tried harder to be more cutting edge and up to date. As it was the repetition from last year gave a stale and stranded sort of deja-vu feel to the whole affair. Last year I left Collect feeling motivated and inspired this year I felt it was static and disconnected. It left me questioning how all these objects had become so disconnected from the fervent creative drives that created them. They all felt like they were destined for those beautiful empty mansions I had walked by to get there. Context is everything and the way Collect is presented made me feel like craft was adrift in an impersonal space.

Perhaps I should have stopped to see the Caroline Broadhead/Angela Woodhouse dance piece “Sighted” aiming to give an experience context to craft through exploring ways of looking but the notice requesting the audience to stand for the 20 minute silent dance piece put me off, that and the silent part.

Both shows were fabulous, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them with a good friend who also loves to “enjoy the aesthetic” as she describes it. With both shows I expected to have my disbelief suspended, I expected to be taken in to the worlds of wonder that both McQueen’s work and the contemporary objects at Collect promised. I wasn’t, the scenery kept intruding and the actors were wooden.

Co-Operation: Garnish All You Need is Telstar

All You Need Is Telstar Detail

All You Need Is Telstar Detail

INTRODUCTION

Ana M. Lopez and I formed a temporary, transatlantic, creative partnership to make a piece of wearable art for the Crafthaus Co-Operation:Garnish project.  This project was intended to join a more traditional artist with a non-traditional one.  I am an Abstract Artist/Jeweller based in the United Kingdom and Ana an American Metalsmith who is fond of plastically deforming metal based in the Texas.

Our response to the theme of Co-Operation:Garnish was based on the structure of two specific songs and how they played their part in communications history. We have taken the rhythm and bassline to be the foundation and the melody and vocals to be the “garnish”. One artist worked with the foundation the other worked with the garnish. The two songs were written either to be transmitted by or in praise of the first communications satellites, thus starting a communications revolution that makes our co-operation and collaboration possible.

ABOUT US

We have very different styles of working. Ana is traditional in the sense that she is a metalsmith using a variety of traditional silversmithing materials and techniques. Her work, however, is far from traditional in form and excites curiosity through its often organic appearance. I am synesthetic, and have a visual response to music and sound that resembles a colourful, abstract animation. I take my inspiration for my jewellery and painting from the drawings I generate while listening to music. I use a variety of techniques and materials to make jewellery, usually creating or finding a form that will be painted using automotive custom painting techniques.

THE COLLABORATION

We were strangers at the beginning of the process that started just before Christmas 2014 and will not have met by the time the piece is finished in February 2015. In fact, as I made my half first, it is possible that I will never see the finished piece in person! The entire project was conducted and made possible in the time available via social media and email. The constraints of time and distance focused the making process considerably.

This transatlantic communication sparked the idea for the piece. We decided we wanted to work with music to use my synesthesia. Ana suggested using “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles which was commissioned by the BBC for the first live global television transmission
 in June 1967 and I suggested “Telstar” by The Tornadoes a 1962 instrumental piece about Telstar, the first communications satellite.

After email dialogs and starting a Facebook group to document the process and ease communication of ideas we decided to make a necklace. This would be comprised of 12 ovals, each oval would be around 4x6cm, half of the ovals will be inspired by “Telstar”. The other half of the ovals would be inspired by “All You Need is Love”

We decided to look at the structure of the music and use that to reflect the theme of “Garnish”.  I (a bassist among other things) began by laying down the groove. Creating the foundation of the piece by responding to the rhythmic structure and basslines of both songs. We agreed Ana would then look at the melody and vocals to “garnish” the foundation.

I listened, looked and drew several abstracts for each song. The main color of the basslines for both songs was purple with distinct white shapes superimposed over the top, cubes for “Telstar” and star shapes for “All You Need Is Love”. There would be twelve purple ovals, six with white cubes and six with white stars to represent each song. There was also a very sci-fi sound effect at the beginning and end of “Telstar” clearly meant to represent the satellite itself. This was a very dominant shape and I decided to include it as a central motif with the ovals coming out from it as if they were the transmissions. I airbrushed these abstract shapes on to pierced out aluminum composite panel using automotive custom painting techniques for vibrant colors, adding a little stardust for sparkle at the end. Each piece was designed to be elements that Ana could arrange in any way she wanted once she was working on the necklace.

As teleportation is a thing of the future there was an anxious wait for the UK and US postal services, Ana received the elements and respond to my groove with her own interpretations of the melody and vocals to “garnish” the foundation. Although Ana had made a variety of abstract sketches based on the impressions of both pieces of music, her elements were also considerably changed as a result of my painted imagery. Not wanting her elements to obscure too much of the white painted forms jumping off of the painted ovals, Ana strove to position her complimentary elements around the baseline-inspired pieces, creating a harmony. Ana was further inspired by my sparkle finish to include fine light-catching textures on her dimensional garnishments.

The success of the piece comes from the conscientious merging of the disparate strengths of each contributor. The merging of my colorful approach with Ana’s dimensional methods has resulted in a fun and wearable necklace. It is a fitting expression of international communication, representing the cordial and encouraging working relationship that developed between us who were strangers at the beginning of the project.

 

All You Need Is Telstar by Ana M. Lopez and Poppy Porter

All You Need Is Telstar by Ana M. Lopez and Poppy Porter

It’s Been a Good and Bad Winter for Art Jewellery – MIMA Opening Night and Lesley Craze Closing After 30th Anniversary

As Editor of Findings (the bi-annual magazine from the Association for Contemporary Jewellery) I was lucky enough to be invited up to the opening night of the new contemporary jewellery gallery at The Middlesborough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA). Contemporary jeweller Frances Julie-Whitelaw got in touch to invite me and see if I wanted a piece written on the opening for Findings. She and MIMA artist in residence Jan Hinchliffe-McCutcheon are both ACJ members and Middlesborough based artists.  It was quite an ACJ gathering as members Muriel Wilson (editor of Jewellery History Today and my predecessor at Findings)  and Norman Cherry (contemporary jeweller, author and educator) were there too.

The contemporary jewellery collection at MIMA is a nationally important one so I jumped at an excuse to visit. MIMA have created a permanent gallery space for the collection and if you want to know more about the collection there is plenty of information on their website about the history of the collection, the building of the gallery and the contents of the collection. 

I arrived at Middlesborough Station (which incidentally has a gorgeous vaulted and wood panelled ticket hall) and met up briefly with Julie before heading off to my hotel in one of the many cabs in town who never charged more than £2.50 for any journey. My impression of Middlesborough itself (in contrast to Sheffield) feels like a town that has not really found itself again after the big steel, coal and shipbuilding industries of the industrial north were taken away in the 1980s. The University dominates the town centre and the MIMA building is a striking contrast to the Victorian Town Hall Building.

The opening evening was a mixture of local government figures, university top brass and jewellery lovers. It was easy to spot the jewellery lovers, they were wearing an interesting piece of jewellery. One chap was wearing a large Adam Paxon brooch, I hazarded a guess that it might be the artist himself and introduced myself. It was him and it was a real pleasure to meet one of my jewellery heroes, we had several chats over the course of what turned out to be a very genial evening.  I love his work it holds a real fascination for me both aesthetically and technically. In a recent interview with jewellery collector Alan Firth he referred to Adam Paxon “Making the material sing…” I could not put it better myself.

There were a few congratulatory speeches and then we were free to roam the gallery and look at the jewellery. It is a stunning collection and one worth a visit. About half the collection is on display including many famous names and pieces which are now historically important from the early days of contemporary jewellery.  The Wendy Ramshaw Rooms of Dreams exhibition was also on and I’ll post the review I did for Findings here once the next issue is out.  The evening was rounded off with an excellent Turkish meal in a nearby restaurant with my fellow ACJ members.

Rather than go on at length describing the jewellery here is a gallery of my favourite pieces from the exhibition:

The second exhibition I went to see was 30 Years In The Making at the Lesley Craze Gallery in Clarkenwell, London.  This was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the gallery and had a broad spread of the artists that have exhibited there over the decades the gallery has been running.   Each artist had a piece from early in their career and one from this year (2014).  Some artists early work is very different from their current work but many you can see the glimmers of the development of their signature style.  Nora Fok for example.  Her early piece was anodised aluminium but there was a tiny thread of the nylon mono-filamnet that came to dominate her work later on.  Several artists were there themselves and it was as always good to appreciate jewellery with other makers  Tanya Clarke- Hall, Ute Decker and Jeremy May were all exhibiting and were a joy to share the exhibition with.  A big surprise was my UCA college classmate Polly Horwich (also exhibiting) who I have not seen in ages, hardly surprising as she has just completed her MA at the Royal College of Art.  I got the distinct impression that this had been an amazing but exhausting experience!  The highlight of the exhibition for me was the fascinating and layered work of Jeremy May. He reads a book then painstakingly cuts a shape that has come to him during the reading from the pages of the book and builds a ring interleaved with coloured paper.  The result is a fluid, polished and enigmatic object.  The first one he made was a gift for his wife.

It was with a real sense of sadness that I discovered by a recent Facebook post that The Lesley Craze Gallery will be closing as of 31st January 2015. After a huge contribution to the world of Contemporary Jewellery Lesley Craze decided to retire from the gallery and with such a personal drive behind it leaving the gallery had to shut.  The Lesley Craze Gallery Facebook page said the following ”

Lesley is soon to celebrate her 80th birthday and now seemed the right time to close the gallery. She will continue to support contemporary jewellery by giving lectures to students, judging, visiting exhibitions and wearing as much as she can! Though, this certainly does leave a big gallery shaped gap in London. We look forward to seeing how the industry evolves in the coming years.”

A loss indeed but it may leave space for something even more amazing in London in the future.

Here is a gallery of a few of my favourites from the Lesley Craze 30th Anniversary exhibition (all images courtesy of Lesley Craze Gallery):  Merry Christmas 2014 and looking forward to a sparkling jewellery filled 2015!

Sound, Spacescapes and Some Fairly Psychedelic Jewellery

I am synesthetic so I work with sound to create abstracts from what I “see” when I hear sounds or music.  I’ve been working with two sounds at the moment one is a song and one a recording of an F1 engine I made at one of my visits to the Festival of Speed.

I love my airbrush, it is helping me create the pieces as I imagine them with more accuracy than any other tool outside my own hands.  I’ve been experimenting with colour, form, effects and different kinds of paint both on two dimensional panels and three dimensional forms (jewellery, my bass etc).

The first and more complete series of works is derived from the bassline, guitar and synth parts from “Stockholm Syndrome” by Muse and comprises a ring, brooch, necklace and an imaginary album cover, a 12″x12″ painted panel.  The second series has started with an imaginary album cover 12″x12″ painted panel and will be derived from a BMW F1 engine.

“Heavy Bassline (Stockholm Syndrome)” focuses on the bass sound which is initially a little hard to see, baselines tend to be dark colours and fluid shapes deep in the soundscape.  It often looks a little like magnetic ferro-fluid.  The guitars are easy to see white lightning, the synth sound that appears half way through the song form “bubbles” on red vertical lines. There are other things I could have included, the drums for instance but it all gets too cluttered if I try to translate everything, and that’s not the point either.

I start by listening: repeatedly.  Drawing my brain’s synesthetic response to sound is essentially trying to draw an abstract animation set in space, which is tricky.  Luckily the same shapes will repeat themselves as I listen over and over again.  I’d compare it to trying to draw a galloping horse. Sometimes I do large fast sketches of one aspect sometimes I amalgamate several impressions into one aggregated sketch. Below is the aggregated sketch for “Stockholm Syndrome”  and the large quick sketch of the F1 engine.

Stockholm Syndrome aggregate sketch

Stockholm Syndrome aggregate sketch

BMW F1 Engine - big quick sketch

BMW F1 Engine – big quick sketch

With “Stockholm Syndrome” I started with the bassline and drew up several sketches of jewellery that I had no idea how I was going to make!

Heavy Bassline Ring sketch

Heavy Bassline Ring sketch

There followed plenty of modelling but I eventually settled on using Polymorph which is an amazing thermoplastic that is a gel at 62C so you can hand model it, but hardens to become like hard white nylon.

Sketch, model and unpainted Polymorph ring

Sketch, model and unpainted Polymorph ring

Unpainted Polymorph ring

Unpainted Polymorph ring

Sketch, necklace drawing and unpainted bassline form for necklace

Sketch, necklace drawing and unpainted bassline form for necklace

 

Unpainted Heavy Bassline Necklace form

Unpainted Heavy Bassline Necklace form

Then I airbrush painted the bassline forms layering and working back using reds, purples, pinks and black to achieve the effect I wanted. Once painted I then used an epoxy resin to create an anti-gravity drip/liquid effect so that when the piece is worn the bassline shape looks as if it is subject to some strange invisible force.

Necklace Bassline form painted and resined

Necklace Bassline form painted and resined

A little completion with tourmalines, carnelians and garnets to represent the distortion effects on the bassline.

Heavy Bassline Brooch (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

Heavy Bassline Brooch (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

Heavy Bassline Ring (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

Heavy Bassline Ring (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

 

Then for the necklace the guitar and synth parts needed adding in the form of cut and painted pieces threaded round the stones.  These were to look almost line drawn in contrast to the fluidity of the bass part so were stark black and white.

White necklace pieces in progress

White necklace pieces in progress

 

Heavy Bassline Necklace - showing carnelian and bubbles synth part

Heavy Bassline Necklace – showing carnelian and bubbles synth part

Heavy Bassline Necklace - showing guitar part arrows and garnet distortions

Heavy Bassline Necklace – showing guitar part arrows and garnet distortions

Heavy Bassline Necklace (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

Heavy Bassline Necklace (Stockholm Syndrome) 2014

 Next up is the “Imaginary Album Cover” its seems appropriate that images derived from sound should go on their own album cover so I paint onto a 12″x12″ aluminium composite panel to feel as close to a record as possible.  I may also do a few little 7″ too. I paint on both sides. the background is always a spacescape as I “see” the abstract shapes against a dark background and it feels like a big space so where better to set these weird shapes than the outer reaches of the universe?  Here is the finished Stockholm Syndrome album cover and the in progress BMW F1 cover.

Heavy Bassline Imaginary Album Cover - Stockholm Syndrome

Heavy Bassline Imaginary Album Cover – Stockholm Syndrome

BMW F1 engine imaginary album cover sketched onto masking on panel

BMW F1 engine imaginary album cover sketched onto masking on panel and ready to paint

BMW F1 Engine Spacescape

BMW F1 Engine Spacescape

On a bit of a side note, I found the below in a very old sketchbook (around 1995), I think it must be the first synesthetic drawing I ever did.  I remember doing it before I knew anything about being synesthetic.  I just had this abstract in my head and had to get it on paper.  It’s been a longer journey than I thought!  I mostly used oil pastels back then.

Sound Sketch 1995

Sound Sketch 1995

The Space Bass – Step by Step Custom Painting My Bass Guitar

When I learnt how to custom paint it was essentially to use in my jewellery, however, being a bassist I couldn’t resist painting a bass just because I could.  It was a complex design for my first go but it worked out in the end. The bass itself works fine and sounds great so I’m happy.

The first thing was to find a bass to paint, EBay obliged with £30 worth of slightly abused Fender Squire P-Bass.  It was in a bit of a state but I cleaned it up took it apart and sanded it back. I took it almost back to the wood taking off the heavy commercial lacquer as I knew the gloss coat I was going to use on the top was thick so to just paint over the lacquer would have meant none of the fittings would have gone back on properly.  I used an electric sander and ended up looking like a Smurf with all the blue paint!

 

This is the Space Bass in its original state after I bought it off Ebay

This is the Space Bass in its original state after I bought it off Ebay

 

Bass Dismantled

Bass Dismantled

 

Bass sanded back

Bass sanded back

 Once cleaned it was now ready to start the painting.  First I needed to decide on and plan the design, I used one of my sound sketches as a starting point.  It is based on a song – Muse’s Cave (Remix).  Its on YouTube here  I took the initial sketch and fitted the design on to the bass on a 1:1 scale drawing.  I knew I wanted it to be an abstract spacescape so the background was a starry sky and the Milky Way would appear on the back.

 

Original "Cave" Sound Sketch

Original “Cave” Sound Sketch

1:1 Scale Drawing of the Design

1:1 Scale Drawing of the Design

I undercoated the body of the bass white with my mini-gun, I masked up the headstock and painted that white too.  (I love my mini-gun, it’s a beautiful piece of pink anodised aluminium).

Undercoated white

Undercoated white

My lovely mini-gun :)

My lovely mini-gun :)

Now comes the complicated bit, a bass turns out to be an odd three dimensional shape so covering the whole thing in masking tape evenly was a bit of a challenge but once that was done I could sketch out the design directly on to the tape.  I worked out which order I wanted to do the painting in, what I had to keep masked, when.  Look on the image of the 1:1 design drawing above and you’ll see my notes.  I also made a titanium pick guard at this point. I wanted it as minimal as possible, just to cover the electrics.  The masking tape was cut to do the deep space blue first.

Design sketched on, pick guard fitted

Design sketched on, pick guard fitted

Masking tape cut for painting deep space blue

Masking tape cut for painting deep space blue

Once the deep blue was sprayed both sides, much masking and re-masking ensued to paint the purple hoops and green spheres.  I wanted the spheres to look vaguely earth like so they are painted in swirling green and blues built up with the airbrush and taken back with a cotton bud soaked in reducer then built up again.  I used my hand as an organic stencil which worked well.

 

 

Blue done, building up the spheres

Blue done, building up the spheres

How does a sphere catch the light?

How does a sphere catch the light?

Building up the spheres

Building up the spheres

Spheres almost complete, hoops completed

Spheres almost complete, hoops completed

 

From here I keep stripping the masking tape off each piece of the design and painting as I go, next up was the lightning flash (this is the harsher sound of the electric guitar to the mellower purple bass hoops and electronic sounds of the spheres).  The lightning flash is shaded with a bevelled edge to give it a three dimensional feel like the spheres and hoops. Then jagged line around the edge which was originally to be yellow but I decided it would look better with an icy look so toned it down with some blue.

Lightning Flash

Lightning Flash with bevelled edge

 

 

Lightning and ice flashes completed

Lightning and ice flashes completed

Now for the Milky Way.  I had already spattered stars on the front when I painted the dark blue/black background but this has to look like a specific feature of the night sky rather than just generic starry sky.  I used several images of the Milky Way as source material and amalgamated them to fit the back of the bass.  I loved painting this part best I think, the airbrush works so well for this kind of painting. Again I built up with the airbrush and worked back with a cotton bud soaked in reducer.  I also painted the headstock with a starry night sky.

 

Milky Way and Starry Headstock

Milky Way and Starry Headstock

Milky Way Complete

Milky Way Complete

Now followed a bit of touching up and wrapping the green pipes? Tethers? Snakes? (I’ve no idea what they are!)  around the top cutaway horn.  This was actually the most complicated three dimensional part of the design and too a bit of juggling to get it all to connect.  Happy with the painting now so time to gloss coat.  I lack the equipment (air fed mask and a spray booth) to use the usual gloss coat so I decided to experiment with the epoxy resin I use in my jewellery.  It is actually used as a flood coat in surfboard making so there is no reason I shouldn’t work on a bass.  It creates a thick gloss coat that is very satisfactory although if there is the slightest bit of grease it will pull away and leave a little crater!  I had to redo this coat twice to get it right!  Some further finishing and polishing with Auto-Glym resin polish and it looked great.  It then went off to an exhibition in the New Ashgate Gallery in Farnham.

Once it returned form a spell of hanging on the wall so all that remained to do was get it working. Luckily my husband is good with electronics so a bit of soldering and it was working.  I got it properly set up at my local guitar shop and we were good to go.  There’s a link to a couple of YouTube videos of my practicing La Sera’s “Love Is Gone”  & Muse’s “Nishe” on it below – I haven’t  learnt “Cave” yet so not the perfect debut for it but these’ll have to do!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDqClzh6bDE&list=UUvvQvp9fHcClr5vce_jxgvA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5WHLpIr-vI&list=UUvvQvp9fHcClr5vce_jxgvA