Sunday, March 11, 2018


Blue Birmingham

A musical week, mainly, kicking off with the astonishing world-premiere performance of Gerald Barry's Organ Concerto by the CBSO, conducted by Thomas Adès. Part of the most satisfying programme of music I've encountered in a long time, kicking off with Britten's "Sinfonia da Requiem": I've struggled with Britten for a long time and just gave up even trying to understand or enjoy his music sometime in the late 1980s, so it was interesting to hear this piece again after avoiding his work for so long and finding that I really enjoyed it. Time to re-appraise.

The main event, for me, was the Gerald Barry piece, which didn't disappoint. A riotous mess of sound, infuritating, funny, cantankerous and thrilling. It is hard to explain how the piece actually worked and I wanted to hear it all over again the second it finished: it is broadly programmatic and deals with the composer's early years working as a church organist but that is all gleaned from the hilarious programme notes, which include this image:

Blue Gadoo by Tamsin Shaw.
The image appears alongside the gnomic comment,
There are always unexpected triggers in writing. For instance, I know a cat who lives in Washington Square in New York. His name is Blue Gadoo and he's a very peculiar cat. I saw a photograph of him in a book called "Sex and the Sacred in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde". By his expression, I knew he was mourning the loss of atonality. So I put his fight for atonality against tonality into the concerto.
This was followed - after an interval to allow us to recover - by Adès' "Polaris", beautifully realised with the distant brass on the very top tier of the Symphony Hall, and Stravinsky's "Symphony in Three Movements", all superbly played.

Chris Mapp - Gonimoblast - 4

Friday night brought a visit to The Lab at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, the experimental music space with sound-spacialisation technology, to hear bassist Chris Mapp's "Gonimoblast" and "Stillefelt" perform in a remarkable concert. Stillefelt Trio were up first, a gentle, meditative concert which felt like a showcase for the exquisite trumpet-playing of Percy Pursglove, not only a master of "Sketches of Spain"-era Miles Davis tone, but also of an holistic approach to extended technique. Quite wonderful.

Chris Mapp - Gonimoblast - 2

Gonimoblast are a quartet of players, including percussion, electronics and keyboards, who were augmented by a brass section of five players on trumpets and trombones and who managed to make one almighty, exciting noise, part-composed, part improvised, the brass functioning - as Mapp explains in the notes - as an "ensemble within an ensemble".

Pursuing my casual interest in marginalised crafts, I headed off to "The Crafty Cow" in Castle Bromwich to meet with Kiarna of "House of Macrame" for a lesson in... macrame! (No sniggering: The Guardian, in 2016, declared, "Macrame Is Hip Again".)

This was a tiny class - just three of us - and I really got into it. I hadn't realised quite how meditative it would be and I found myself really, really enjoying it. We started off with a simple series of knots:

By the time I had learned the "Monkey Head" knot, I was away!

Plant-holders next!
Anyone interested should get in touch with Kiarna as she is running the classes regularly.

Illuminate - Women in Music - 1

Saturday night brought another concert, this time one in keeping with the week in which International Women's Day falls: a concert of music by women composers, played by women musicians. "Illuminate" is organised by Angela Elizabeth Slater (in the red jacket in the photograph above), a composer herself.

Of the composers featured, I had only heard of two previously (three if you count Claude Arrieu, the gender of whom I had mis-attributed!) - Yfat Soul Zisso and Lilli Boulanger - and, if I am being honest, I struggle to think on many female composers... Gloria Coates, Ethel Smythe, Judith Weir, Hildegarde von Bingen: that is four off the top of my head but I could reel off literally hundreds of male composers.

The concert was fantastic - a selection of fourteen pieces by eleven composers, some contemporary, some historic - all tiny chamber works which gave the event the feel of a "tasting menu", a superb way of getting a feel for the composers. It was performed superbly by Késia Decoté (piano), Cassie Matthews (guitar), Sabina Virtosu (violin) and Gemma Mcgregor (flute/shakuhachi).

Looking forward to more in this series.

After my post two weeks ago about re-reading Don Delillo's "White Noise", I've now finished that and started on Alexander Langland's "Cræft", an investigation into the meaning of craft. I've only just started - kicking off with an account of the wisdom of Alfred the Great - but can already tell that I am going to enjoy it.

More once I've finished reading.

Some months ago, I sponsored the legendary Czech film-maker, Jan Švankmajer, to make his last film, "Insects". I've loved Švankmajer since I saw "Dimensions of Dialogue".

This film is compelling, funny and disturbing, and, as I subsequently found out, this is the pattern for all his work. His work has influenced so many film-makers, most notably the Quay brothers, and his influence can be seen in television adverts, cartoons, serious films, pop-music videos (The Cure seem to have been especially keen).  When the opportunity to help fund his "last film" came along, I seized it: yes, it is sad to know that he will not make any more films, but it is also exciting to have been able to help him realise a vision.

Last week, an email arrived in my inbox: "Insects" is finished and now available for me to view. Of course, I viewed it. Needless to say, I can't share the video here but you can see the trailer in which Švankmajer explains a little bit about the incredibly complex film, a film about a film about an amateur dramatic group rehearsing an obscure Czech play...

The film is very different from his other films in that it is also a sort of documentary about the making of one of his films. There are some genuinely horrific moments but also some hilarious ones - who would ever have imagined that vomiting up a cockroach could be funny? - and the whole thing is as demented as I could have hoped. If you get the chance to see it, do.

In addition to this access to the film before it has been generally released, I have also a signed book of the script and a collection of all his films on disc to look forward to!

I will leave you with another of his marvellous short films, "Jabberwocky" from 1973:

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Awards! Glamour! Events!

Goldsmiths' Craft And Design Awards 2017 - 1

What a week!

Kicking it all off was the annual Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards in the gilded splendour of Goldsmiths' Hall. About thirty of us, staff and students, jumped on a bus to London to collect our prizes - not that I personally won a prize, but several of my students and ex-students did.

Hosted with aplomb by Theo Fennell, the awards celebrate all that is great in the UK jewellery industry (I was delighted by the Prime Warden's comments about how we need to be able to say that without being 'brexity'). The work, of course, is fantastic, not just the work from my own colleagues and students.

Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards 2018 - 9
Work by Thomas Johnson.

Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards 2018 - 8
Enormous hand-chased silver salver by Miriam Hanid.

Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards 2018 - 12
Work by Andrew Cowley and Lukas Grewenig.

Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards 2018 - 11
Work by Claire Price.

With one of my first-year students, Hamed Arab Choobdar, taking a silver for his startling CAD design for a ring:

Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards 2018 - 2

And with students from BA Jewellery and Object, MA Jewellery and BA Jewellery and Silversmithing Design For Industry, Staff AND our one of our Artists-in-Residence winning prizes, it is hardly surprising that the School of Jewellery won the coveted "College Trophy" for the second year in a row.

Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards 2018 - 4

Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards 2018 - 6

The winners: 

Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards 2018 - 15

Although my favourite version of this photograph is the one with added Rebecca Skeels:

Goldsmiths' Craft and Design Awards 2018 - 14 - Photobomb!

On Tuesday we had the opening of the Staff exhibition in the Vittoria Street Gallery, "In The Loupe 2" - you can read about the secret box format in my previous post here. As I hinted in that post, I've been working on something very, very unlike my usual work but first, the fun!
Everyone had 30 seconds in which to open and explain the contents of their box and the contents varied from works-in-progress to pieces made especially for the show and every member of the teaching and technical staff was invited to take part.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera and so all of these were taken on my mobile. The shots of the work below were taken later.

In The Loupe 2 - "What's in the box?" - 9
Bridie Lander.

In The Loupe 2 - "What's in the box?" - 6
Anna Lorenz.

In The Loupe 2 - "What's in the box?" - 12
Keith Adcock.
And, of course, I unveiled the work I've been so secretive about since mid-January...

In The Loupe 2 - "What's in the box?" - 11

Based entirely on a page of doodles from a long meeting:

The Zoe Challenge - WIP - 1

Made in silver, enamel, CZ and stainless steel.

In The Loupe 2 - Dauvit Alexander - 3

In The Loupe 2 - Dauvit Alexander - 4

In The Loupe 2 - Dauvit Alexander - 5

I've never thought of myself as someone who works from drawings and I certainly have never taken my doodles seriously: they are sub-conscious or semi-conscious outpourings, which I have always done (I can remember doing them on the back of rolls of wallpaper when I was about 6). Every notebook I own is covered in them, so it was a bit of a surprise when Zoe Roberston suggested I turn them into work. Problem-solving the piece was fascinating and it was a pleasure to be working in more traditional fine jewellery mode again.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Katy Tromans won the top prize at this year's Artistar Jewels competition, which is part of Milan Fashion Week:

IAAF World Indoor Championships 2018 - 2

Thursday brought a visit to the Birmingham Arena for the International Association of Athletics Federations World Indoor Championships opening ceremony, with my student, Menna Jones, designer of the medals awarded at the event. I am not going to post the medals yet again - you can see them here if you are interested. The very idea of going to a sporting event leaves me cold: I might just about be persuaded to go to a rugby match or to a mountain-bike event, but athletics?

Menna was part of the opening ceremony, which was amazing. Here she is being interviewed on the big screen:

IAAF World Indoor Championships 2018 - 4

IAAF World Indoor Championships 2018 - 3

I had originally planned to go along for an hour or so, show face, support my students - the two runners-up in the competition, Rachel Bromley and Sofie Macearnuig, were also invited along - and then leave again, but it turned out rather differently. The whole thing was actually rather exciting and we ended up staying until the very end!

It was the high-jump (men's and women's) and the women's 3000 metres and there is something compelling about seeing these competitors sail elegantly over the bar or strategically hang back for a dash at the end.

IAAF World Indoor Championships 2018 - 8

IAAF World Indoor Championships 2018 - 10

Of course, I probably fail as a sports fan because I want them ALL to do well, not even caring what country they represented!

It was so good to see the medals finally being presented and worn:

IAAF World Indoor Championships 2018 - 11

Unfortunately, outside, it had been snowing...

It has been freezing hard here. I've not been on the bike and my beard froze going to work!

The poor garden is buried under an unseasonal 150mm of snow and has suffered -8 degrees C. The beans were up, the garlic was up, the artichokes were positively thriving and now this! The only thing I can see is that the artichokes are now looking very wilted indeed.

Icy Garden

SO, a weekend in the house.

Trying out some designs for next year's Goldsmiths' Hall Craft and Design awards!

Here is a stop-motion video of me making one of the drawings which were the focus of the piece in "In The Loupe 2", mentioned above:

This one starts off by drawing round a matched - but not identical - pair of smoky quartz. May lead nowhere, but it is interesting.

Lots of reading and cooking. I've nearly finished Don Delillo's "White Noise" (see last post here) and have started this terrifying guide to post-Brexit Britain:

Set in the town of Scarfolk, somewhere in the North England, somewhere between 1970 and 1979, this is part novel, part cultural critique, part artwork and wholly brilliant. My own theory is that the UK is the only place where surrealism really became entrenched in the national culture and where it is still alive and kicking as a thread running through the mainstream, an especially dark and sinister surrealism: think "Inside Number 9", "League of Gentlemen", "The Bed-sitting Room". This book fits squarely into that mould and is based on the blog "Scarfolk Council", simultaneously hilarious and deeply disturbing, I can't help but imagine that post-Brexit Britain will really be like this.

More soon!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Off With His Head

Last week kicked off amusingly with a tweet from an ex-student, Christina Leon, who found this in the Tower Of London:

Tower of London Head

Remind you of anyone? Probably there because Queen Theresa has had enough of my carping about the folly of Brexit.


I've had an interesting week in and around the Jewellery Quarter almost none of which I was able to photograph, due to commercial constraints. From taking the students on a tour of the ever-fascinating Assay Office to a tour of the incredible facilities at Thomas Fattorini, not one bit was photographed, except this:

IAAF WIC 2018 Medal Die

It's the die from which the Birmingham World Indoor Games medals were struck!

IAAF WIC 2018 - Medal Launch - 6

My student, Menna Jones, who designed these medals arranged the tour for us and I'm really grateful as I now have a much better picture of what services can be arranged through Fattorini.

This is a bit of a "placeholder" post as there is so much coming up next week, including the School of Jewellery staff exhibition, "In The Loupe 2".

In The Loupe 2 - 2

The Vittoria Street Gallery in the atrium at the School looks as if The Riddler has been at work!

We were each given a plain cardboard box and told to fill it. We could decorate the inside of the box but not the outside. I am SO excited about seeing what everyone has put in their boxes and also about revealing what I put in mine - a piece which strikes out in a radical new direction: I have genuinely no idea what people will make of it.

Another talking practice this week, this time environmental artist, Nikki Pugh.

Niki Pugh - Talking Practice - 1

Interviewed for an "in conversation" with Sian Hindle. The graphic behind is a representation of how Nikki locates and defines her practice. She is going to be based at the School of Jewellery for the next year and I look forward to the opportunity to engage with her practice.

I've never considered myself to be an artist who works through drawing but in the last couple of months, the opinion of other people has made me reconsider the role of drawing in my work. Mostly, in terms of my work, I draw to problem-solve:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ - Sketchbooks - 10

But there is another class of drawing that I have always done, a type of almost sub-conscious drawing which I do when my mind is focused on other things: drawings done in meetings, when watching films, listening to music, etc. These drawings are very different. Here is an example of a "to do" list made in a programme leaders' meeting a few days ago:

The Normal Papers - 2

After a conversation with Zoe Robertson about my sub-conscious drawings - which fed into the contents of my cardboard box, see above - she sent me a link to an exhibition at the Bath Festival Fringe called The Normal Papers, in which artists are invited to submit for a show which
"invites its audience to look more closely at incidental mark making of doodles, the simple beauty of a to-do list, colour coding, setting out of information, work plans on the back of an envelope and so on, in order to appreciate their unassuming simplicity and visual qualities."
I'm not sure that my drawings are "simple beauty" or of "unassuming simplicity"!

Some of my drawings have been accepted and will be shown in this exhibition and there will be much more on the role of drawing in my work very soon.

Anyone interested in submitting their own drawings should follow the link above. The closing date for entries is 20th March, 2018.

I spent a really nice day yesterday, wandering around the Jewellery Quarter, taking photographs, having a beard trim, meeting friends for dinner and generally not doing very much. Some of the photographs:

Rusty Fittings -  1

Pickering & Mayell - Old Signs - 1

Pigeon Loft

By far my favourite website about music is The Quietus, an independent magazine focusing on mainly music but also film and culture in general. I really enjoy the fact that they manage to get unique interviews with the most amazing musicians and that they can bring to my attention new bands and artists about whom I know nothing. Yesterday, they published an article by Robert Bright about Don Delillo's "White Noise", which I read in the early 1990s and remember really rating and enjoying. In the article, "Too Much Information: Don DeLillo’s White Noise", Bright suggests that the book is more relevant today than it was when it was written, arguing that even though the method of information has now changed, the way in which we are manipulated through it has not.

Given my excitement a few years back on re-reading Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four", I was immediately compelled to re-read the book: I'm already 40 pages into it and it is every bit as good as I remember.