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.

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

 

 

 

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.

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!