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

 

 

 

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!

“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.

Down to the Waterline – “Stain-Less” in Sheffield

They like their fountains in Sheffield.  The first thing that greets you on leaving the railway station is a wonderful cascade of water.  I walked across the city centre to my hotel and the peace gardens had fabulous fountains and children leaping around them, it seemed every courtyard was running water for the newly warming Springtime.

Fountains outside Sheffield Station

Fountains outside Sheffield Station

This watery theme was appropriate as the reason I was in Sheffield was to attend the opening of The Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s 2013 members exhibition “Stain-Less” at the Sheffield Institute for Arts Gallery as part of Sheffield’s annual Galvanise Festival of Contemporary Metalwork.  2013 is the centenary of the invention of stainless steel and you will have read about my designs for the show in my previous post.  My two pieces were now complete and installed in the gallery, and I was excited to see the company my work was in.

The other exhibiting members of the ACJ had produced some fabulous work using just about every interpretation of “Stain-Less” from the deadly serious work of Maria Hanson “How Many Years Without Bloodstain?” reflecting on the few years between 1913 and 2013 that the UK has not had armed forces engaged in conflict to the light hearted “Ultimate Stainless Tie” by Jodie Hook.    There was work by Dauvit Alexander “Empire State Human” highlighting the moment when Sheffield lost it’s steel industry, pieces by Chris Boland, Gill Forsbrook, Nicola Turnbull and Zoe Robertson focusing on the internal chemical make up of stainless steel or its production and work by Rachel Colley and Grace Page extolling the stain removal properties of soap.

My two pieces were based on the Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake.  Experience – The Lily is the sharper looking of the two and incorporates some stainless steel dinner knives, a familiar domestic form of the metal.  Innocence – Bubbling Brook mimics the innocent action of swishing your hand in a stream.  The ink inlays refer to Blake’s pen dipped in the water staining it to write “…songs that every child may joy to hear.”

Song of Experience - The Lily

Song of Experience – The Lily

Song of Experience - The Lily

Song of Experience – The Lily

Song Of Innocence - Bubbling Brook

Song Of Innocence – Bubbling Brook

Song Of Innocence - Bubbling Brook

Song Of Innocence – Bubbling Brook

Of course half the fun of going to an event like this is not just the pieces on display but the people you meet and the jewellery they wear.  There were several ACJ members there; our chairman Terry Hunt who was wearing an interesting brooch depicting an x-ray of the stainless steel pins and plates mending the show photographer’s broken ankle, Annette Petch, Tam Saville, Chris Boland (whose “Flux Rings” were amongst my favourites at the show), new board member Jo Garner and outgoing editior of Findings Muriel Wilson who was wearing Maria Hanson’s “Order and Chaos” 1997 armpiece and a lovely little Ute Decker Brooch.  The Lord Mayor of Sheffield and the Master Cutler where also resplendent in their gold chains of office.

Visitors enjoying the exhibition

Visitors enjoying the exhibition

The exhibition runs until 31st May, details here but if you can’t make it the catalogue is available from the ACJ by contacting enquiries@acj.org.uk

Stepping Up as the New Editor of Findings

I am looking forward with equal measures of trepidation and enthusiasm to becoming the next editor of Findings Magazine.  Findings is the bi-annual journal of the Association for Contemporary Jewellery and I will be responsible for ensuring that the quality of content overseen by the outgoing editor Muriel Wilson is maintained.  Findings is the ACJ magazine for members. It reviews shows, technical innovations, materials and subjects of interest to makers, collectors, galleries and museums.

Last Friday Goldsmiths Hall saw a celebration of Muriel’s contribution to Findings since it’s inception fifteen years ago. I am learning fast from her during the change over not only the amount of work needed to put the magazine together but the subtle skills required to persuade people to write features, articles and reviews.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for all her hard work as editor and assistance during the handover.

This new challenge is a wonderful opportunity to widen my knowledge of the world of contemporary jewellery and get to know so many creative people.  I will be looking for ideas for content so if you have an idea for an article or feature do get in touch! info@poppyporter.co.uk

 

Selected for the Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s 2013 Stain-less exhibition

The Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s 2013 exhibition will be on the theme of Stain-less.  It will be held in Sheffield later in the year as part of the City’s Galvanize festival and  part of the centenary of the invention of stainless steel.   The email came through this week that I’ve made it through the rigorous selection panel and have been selected as an exhibitor.

I submitted two proposals interpreting the theme of Stain-less, sister pieces based on two passages from William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience”.  I’m hoping this is not foolhardy given the time I now have to make them before the deadline!  The two passages I have chosen both refer to staining, I am intending the pieces to be somewhat ambiguous and explore questions as to what should be considered “a stain”.

From “Songs of Innocence”

“And I made a rural pen, And I stain’d the water clear, And I wrote my happy songs, Every child may joy to hear.”

From “Songs of Experience”

While the Lilly white shall in Love delight, nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.”

Stain-less Proposal 1

Stain-less Proposal 1 – “Songs of Innocence – The Water Clear”

Stainless Proposal 2

Stainless Proposal 2 -”Songs of Experience – The Lilly”

Unexpected Pleasures – The Design Museum 05 December 2012– 03 March 2013

Is this the right room? Oh yes, I think so – a bit hard to tell.  On entering Unexpected Pleasures the visitor is confronted with an array of beautifully designed and clearly very expensive but otherwise blank table cabinets.  They are black and round with three massive domed bolts holding the glass down (they are real I couldn’t resist a tiny unscrew of one!).  Inside sorted into collections of about six pieces per cabinet is the jewellery displayed on black foam.  I found myself peering down these wells trying to decipher what I was looking at and when looking at any piece that was also coloured black (there are several) I was reminded of Douglas Adam’s spaceship with “weird black controls, which are labeled in black on a black background, a small black light lights up in black to let you know you’ve done it…”.  The lighting was not helping matters either.  I felt the display did not show the jewellery off to is best which is a shame. For example Steinhaufen by Karl Fritsch, 2004 so prominently displayed in a glorious colour image on the Design Museum website was tucked away in a cabinet so it was hard to tell what colour it was or even that it was a ring.   I suspect the design of the cabinets was intended to make the visitor feel as if they were discovering those promised “Unexpected Pleasures”.

The exhibition was in four sections, smaller works in table cabinets at the front, a room-like historical section in the middle, behind that large neckpieces, then the “Worn Out” photography section at the back, a slide show of images people wearing jewellery and a video wall which seemed to be people wearing contemporary jewellery at a party (the wine was flowing at least!) which attempted to address the conundrum of displaying jewellery without being worn.

The range of contemporary jewellery was excellent in an important exhibition that is the first of its kind at the Design Museum.  As an introduction to artist made jewellery it really tried hard. The pieces were collected together in loose themes and came from artists all over the world, were there enough from the UK? Does that matter in an international art form?  There was also a section on the earliest emergence of contemporary art jewellery in the 1940s – 1960s.

The lack of human context so apparent in the front of the gallery suddenly changed once you had circumnavigated the “historical room”.  Here at eye level was an array of big necklaces from famous names such as Marjorie Schick, David Watkins, Caroline Broadhead and Lucy Sarneel.  Behind them was a wall of images showing pieces being worn or photography by jewellery artists that were purely two-dimensional works.  Maisie Broadhead’s “Keep Them Sweet” is a gorgeous image but a problematic one in the context of this exhibition, its claim on being jewellery was a sweetie necklace used as a prop.

A personal tradition before leaving an exhibition I like to select the piece I would most like to take home with me.  This time it is Sari Liimatta’s “Phoenix” 2010.  A piece that, for me, embodies what artist made jewellery should; interesting technique, arresting beauty, expressing an intense emotion, with an undeniable ambiguity, exquisite craftsmanship and most importantly wearable.

I bought the exhibition catalogue which you can buy online here it is a little pricey at £35  but is a lovely hardback book with essays and lush images.  As usual I found some other great books in the shop On Jewellery – a compendium of international art jewellery by Liesbth den Besten and Collect Contemporary Jewellery by Joanna Hardy a guide intended for the novice collector but useful for a maker from the other side of the fence too.

“Unexpected Pleasures” was an excellent start if somewhat disappointing in its display, I hope the Design Museum will continue to champion contemporary jewellery and help raise its profile with the general public.

I took a few shots at the exhibition as visual notes for writing this review included below to give a flavour of the display, however, if you want fabulous images of what was at the exhibition I’d get the catalogue if I were you these were just shot on my iPhone!

The full review will appear in ACJ Findings Magazine spring 2013 edition.

 

Camilla Prasch Mega 1/7 2009

Camilla Prasch Mega 1/7 2009

Cabinet at Unexpected Pleasures 2013

Cabinet at Unexpected Pleasures 2013

Peter Chang Bracelet 2007/08

Peter Chang Bracelet 2007/08