Monday, August 22, 2016

Holiday Over

Back to work today and straight into preparations for the coming year, both academically - for the new and continuing students - and in terms of my own work.

The holiday was relaxing and fairly uneventful. On the back of my political fury of the last few months, I had been planning to go to Brighton's "Pride" event, something I've shunned since the early 1990s when the event ceased to be political and became no more than a corporate, money-spinning festival of hedonism and as the years have gone by, any whiff of politics has been squeezed out, leaving a crass event which has previously accepted sponsorship from companies encouraging prostitution. Anyway, I thought that this year, I would go along to show some sort of solidarity with those who have fled persecution in their countries, as a kind of mark of solidarity with those who died, were injured or traumatised in Orlando, as a middle-finger gesture to the rising right both here in the UK and in the world generally.

In the end, I didn't go. The website is resolutely politics-free. It is sponsored by a corporate finance company, several drinks manufacturers, a manufacturer of underwear... The whole thing is one enormous fiasco, designed to extract the maximum cash from a minority who have had their life(style) commodified and rendered a lucrative income stream by a clever sleight of social engineering.

While I don't hold with the Anarcho-syndicalist politics of the originators, I was delighted to see this poster a few days later:

Gay Pride Riot

I was not so happy to see that someone had attempted to rip it down, that it had already been ripped down in other parts of town, almost as if people want to airbrush this away from history, as if it is in some way raining on their sybaritic parade.

The holiday was very quiet with, as usual, a lot of time spent in churches. This year's crop included the amazing modernist masterpiece, Coventry Cathedral - which is more like an art-gallery than a church, featuring the very best work by all the main players in late 1950s British art and design - and by far the best thing Basil Spence ever did.

Coventry Cathedral - 9

Coventry Cathedral - 8

The cathedral continues this role as gallery and I was pleased to see that one of my favourite  bands, Mogwai, will be playing there very soon.

I had gone to Coventry to see for myself, the work of one of my heroes of modernism, William Mitchell (of whom I have written perviously, here). His murals for the "Three Tuns" pub in the city centre, which is now a fried-chicken restaurant, are incredible:

Three Tuns Murals - 3

Three Tuns Murals - 2

I'm pleased to report that these are now listed. Coventry is full to bursting of modernism, from the earliest, 1950s styles to the above late-bloom of brutalism.

High Modernism

Ely Cathedral - and Ely itself - present a very different face to the modernist, dynamic, multicultural Coventry. I've wanted to visit Ely Cathedral for years to see the painted ceiling and remarkable octagonal lantern, dating from the 1300s:

In Ely Cathedral - 5

In Ely Cathedral - 8

The cathedral itself is a fantastic mashup of Norman, Ornamented Gothic and Victorian architecture and the detailing of the Lady Chapel is marvellously bizarre:

In Ely Cathedral - 7

There is also a fine painted ceiling in the main nave:

In Ely Cathedral - 1

The other remarkable church we visited was Saint Peter ad Vincula in South Newington which is pleasant enough from the outside:

Saint Peter ad Vincula - 1

Inside, however, is a very different story... Featuring several wonderful Mediaeval wall-paintings, including a "Doom" over the nave:

Saint Peter ad Vincula - 20

Saint Peter ad Vincula - 8

Saint Peter ad Vincula - 10

Well worth a visit.

We also got to East Kent for one of my regular visits to Dungeness and Folkestone, albeit on different days. Dungeness was misty and cold - not my first choice for a visit, but the fog made the place really atmospheric:


Power Station and Lighthouse

Folkestone, on the other hand, was brilliantly sunny and hot and I made one of my usual trips to Cursley & Bond Gallery to see Nicola and Chris. This time, they were exhibiting work by Jimmy Cauty...

Jimmy Cauty - 2

Folkestone is changing all the time. Nothing is static and it is nearly a year since I was last there. Now the old harbour arm has opened up as a place to visit with bars and cafes. I was also there to collect an artwork from Russ, aka. The Dirty Pen.


This owl is to commemorate my move to Birmingham - when I moved here, the place was covered in giant owls, decorated by various local artists and organisations. I'm planning to have it tattooed onto my leg very soon.

Back in Birmingham again and it is on with my work for the Made in the Middle exhibition and preparing for the completion of my collaboration with Jeff Zimmer for the ACJ anniversary show, 20:20 Visions next year.

1694: An Eye For Optical Theory - WIP - 6

This is the computer model for the piece, "1694: An Eye For Optical Theory", of which I wrote last year in this post.  Today I received an exciting parcel from Jeff with his part of the contribution to it:

The recycled spectacle-glass lenses, polished and with a painted and enamelled plate behind.

More soon!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Walk Like A Man

On holiday and in Brighton!
Last week was a bit of a rush as I had to complete both a piece for the Craftspace "Made in the Middle" show but also the piece for Boris Bally's "Imagine" show, as previously mentioned, before heading down to the sea for a few weeks of relaxation.

Having completed "Walk Like A Man", I wanted it photographed and asked my colleague, Rachael Colley to help in the studio, to great effect. If you follow this blog, you will know that the original inspiration for the piece was this record and cover:

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 15

Which became:

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - 24

I've rather enjoyed the online responses to this, from Mark Fenn's "Are the Milky Bars on you" to "Bliiiiimey"!

Rachael and I had a lot of fun taking the photographs:

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - 23

I had to make an "emergency dash" into town to buy some black clothes for this and am indebted to Andy Howard for lending me his Stetson!

The first piece completed for the selling part of the "Made in the Middle" show is now finished and photographed:

I am enjoying the circularity of this work as it is all being made from elements found on the day I first came to Birmingham for my interview last year and explored the "Forward Rolling Mills" in Aston.

Forward Rolling Mills, Birmingham - 6

Short post! More next week.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

New Materials And Old

This last week has been taken up by exploring a fairly new material with the pleasingly forthright Ronda Coryell, a delightful Amercian woman who is an expert in the use of Argentium Silver, a material about which I previously wrote here.

After this last introduction to the metal, I bought some and started experimenting, making the mistake of treating it like standard Sterling Silver and, consequently, tucked it away in my box of metals to be dusted off this week and used with what I can only describe as a rapidly-growing enthusiasm.

Argentium Silver Class - 1

The material doesn't behave one bit like sterling... almost everything about it is different: it is unbelievably hot-short; it anneals in a different way; it fuses to itself so that there is no need to solder; it doesn't tarnish or firestain; it can be precipitation-hardened in a domestic oven to make robust catches and pins; it "slumps" more readily than sterling at temperature. Granted, it is about 20% more expensive than standard sterling but some of the advantages of the material mean that for some projects, it is well worth that extra expense.

For me, the two star uses for Argentium are the making of seamless tubing easily - really! - and the ability to harden it for catches. One of the projects we did with Ronda was making a box-snap:

Argentium Silver Class - 5

You will notice that I have filed the box down, ready for finishing as it has been fused and not soldered, so there is no danger of any seam appearing when it is re-heated to attach the back to the box.

Seamless tubing is made like standard, swaged and drawn tube but it is not soldered. By fusing the seam, the tubing becomes seamless. Given that pre-made sterling seamless tubing is around 200% to 600% more expensive than sheet or wire, it is well worth the price differential.

There is more technical data on Argentium here.

I've been able to get a bit of workshop time in recently and have been working more on my "Run of the Mill" collection for the "Made in the Middle" exhibition co-ordinated by Craftspace.

Run Of The Mill - WIP - 6

I should have one of the pieces for the selling collection finished this coming week.

Run Of The Mill - WIP - 4

This week saw the start of the weekend-long "Jewellery Quarter Festival" and as part of the Open Studios Programme, we decided to open the School of Jewellery for workshops on the Friday and Saturday. Sally Collins ran the Contemporary Jewellery workshop on Friday and I ran the Traditional Jewellery workshop on Saturday.

It was gratifying to see that the whole quarter was jumping and the School had around 120 visitors, most of whom were visiting for the first time.

On Friday afternoon, I had the amusing job of collecting the balloons from the irrepressible Tina Francis who is the co-ordinator of the Open Studios programme:

Squandering Helium!

The balloons were helpfully tied up outside each open studio so that the visiting public could see where there were studios down some of the strange alleys which make up the quarter. We had no such problem!

Unfortunately, the deadline for the "Imagine" show meant that I had to head home and spend the evening and most of today setting stones...

And it is nearly finished. I should get it photographed tomorrow, ready for posting.

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 18

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 20

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 21

I'll be on holiday next post!

Sunday, July 17, 2016


After the political ructions of the last few weeks, I've retreated to my workshop! Best place for me, really, but it makes for a fairly brief blog post...

The week kicked off with a visit to Walsall Academy to work with some pupils there on their CAD and Casting jewellery project. This is an impressive project, where the students have to work to a brief - which I set in September, "Beauty and the Beast" - and then make a piece of jewellery to that brief. They work by making digital models of the piece that they want to make and then directly mill a mould, into which they cast pewter.

Here is Gill Willis, the teacher who organised the project, inviting the pupils to have a look at my sketchbooks and handling collection. The results are really superb:

Walsall Academy - 1

There were prizes - the first prize is (rather annoyingly for me) shown on the far left, to the side: this pupil had not only come up with a really fresh interpretation of the brief but had included laser-cutting and engraving in his design!

A lovely project which we will be running again next year.

Sam Chilton is one of the longest-serving members of staff at the School of Jewellery and this week saw her retirement party there. She specifically requested a "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" and so we obliged, of course...

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 3

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 5

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 6

You might notice the absence of "tea" from the teacups!
Frank Cooper's daughter made the cakes:

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 2

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 8

Sam and I, surprisingly, go back a long way: I remember meeting her in the early 1990s when I was doing experiments with deliberately disrupting anodised aluminium surfaces:

Emergent Fossil: Aluminium 2

(Sam is an expert when it comes to anodising aluminium.) We then met again at the World Skills in about 1996 when we took a stand down from Glasgow and Sam was working with a group of her students who were in the competition. The brilliant thing about that is that we only just realised in the last month that we had both been at that event.

We'll all miss her, but her expertise means that I know she will be brought back in as a visiting tutor.

I've been working on my pieces for "Made in the Middle" over the last week. Although I had completed one piece some time ago, it now absolutely does not fit in with the aesthetic of the pieces I have started making over the last few days!

From my original idea of creating a range of related but discreet pieces, I made "Venus of the Garden Pond":

Venus of the Garden Pond - 8

Which is in no way related to the pieces which started to appear on the workshop table:

Made In The Middle - WIP - 1

I've been using sand-casting to replicate the corroded iron links in silver.

Made In The Middle - WIP - 3

And then re-attaching the silver links to the iron, rather as I did for "The Ancient Mariner":

The Ancient Mariner - 14

This time, however, the chain all came from an abandoned factory in Aston, Birmingham, which you may recall, with a rather lovely symmetry, I gathered on this day exactly last year, when I had my interview for the job at the School of Jewellery.

Forward Rolling Mills, Birmingham - 1

Made In The Middle - WIP - 2

There can be no denying that I work with some phenomenally talented people. One of our ex-members of staff, Richard Witek, is an incredible stone-setter and he was in this week to give a master-class in stone-setting. While I was chatting to him, he mentioned something that he thought I might want to see and I came in to find this on my office chair:

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 1

I assumed it was a hat left over from the party but was not prepared for the actual contents:

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 2

A life-size, identical copy of HM The Queen's "George IV Diadem":

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 3

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 4

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 6

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 7

Nothing more to say.

Oor Wullie (Denture Repair)

Spent the weekend in Glasgow, collecting my microwelder, returning the books I stole from the workshop (!) and seeing friends. I was so busy that I didn't even get a chance to take many photographs.