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.

“Icons of Formula 1″ and “Over Easy Rider”: First Custom Painted Jewellery

New skills are always inspiring, particularly when you know where you want to go with them and just require a bit of practice and experimentation to get there. My last post covered the course with Simon Murray and learning airbrushing and custom painting. Since then I’ve been busy applying my new found knowledge to a few projects.

 The first is the Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s exhibition “ICONS: Jewellery for the the Famous and Infamous” up at the National Centre for Craft and Design, Sleaford. The second I’ll cover in another post.

 I had two ideas for this exhibition one was successful the other was not but I completed both pieces. The successful idea was “Icons of Formula 1” a necklace of miniature custom painted helmets signifying the greatest drivers in F1. Racing drivers often adopt a distinctive helmet design so they can be recognised on track, these designs become iconic in their own right and in many cases stand for the driver with no further explanation needed. My favourites are the graphic bi-coloured helmets from the 70s and 80s like those of Prost and Villeneuve.

 The challenges for this piece were ones of scale and simplification and I had to adapt the designs to fit a spherical fake pearl bead rather than an asymmetrical helmet.

 The design was finished off with what will become my signature “R” clip clasp. In titanium and silver. Heat treated to give the impression it has been used near a hot engine. I like this utilitarian looking clasp, it echoes clasps used in motor-racing and has been a while in development. This is the first iteration of it’s design. No doubt it will change and improve in the future.

Icons of Formula 1 Necklace

Icons of Formula 1 Necklace, Poppy Porter 2014 – clockwise from top: Graham and Damon Hill, Moss, Lauda, Mansell, Senna, Vettel, Schumacher, Prost, Alonso, Fangio, Hamilton, Gilles Vilneuve.
Photo:Ray Spence

 The second piece is the one that did not make it into the exhibition (feedback indicated I had not presented the idea clearly enough – there’s a lesson there).  “Over Easy Rider” references the iconic 60′s film “Easy Rider” and imperial Faberge eggs. An odd combination but one that is inspired by a custom paining technique that resembles the guilloche enamel that was used extensively on Faberge eggs. Plus it makes a good pun, I love a good pun in a title!

 I’ve painted the egg on one side with stars and stripes like Henry Fonda’s “Captain America” Chopper, the other is painted with hot rod flames like that of Dennis Hopper in the film except these are done in the guillochet enamel style. The neck piece then references Dennis Hopper’s tasselled suede jacket with wooden beads to add colour and complete the 60′s counter-culture feel of the piece. I’m going to be wearing this piece when I go up to visit the exhibition and symposium in June.