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

 

 

 

“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

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