Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bits of the mind's string, too short to use

Today, I found this essay by Joan Didion on keeping a notebook, an essay of which the editor of the hosting site says, "Though the essay was originally written nearly half a century ago, the insights at its heart apply to much of our modern record-keeping, from blogging to Twitter to Instagram."

I constantly make notes on paper - always ideas and sketches, never "journal entries" as such - many of which are never revisited in any meaningful sense. Often, a sketchbook will have bits of ideas scattered amongst actual working drawings, they will have unfinished notes at the back or halfway through turn upside-down to begin afresh: no matter, I can nearly always remember the thought-processes I was exploring. As my colleagues, friends, workmates and followers-from-afar know, I am a fairly intermittent blogger but the relationship between my blogging and my workflow is marked: I will often blog things - or at least post photographs of works-in-progress to Flickr. My reasons for this are twofold: one, I want a record of how I achieved a particular end and; two, I want to share that process with others.

Didion suggests "I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters". For my purposes, this is exactly what matters. She continues, "[...] I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed" which I can agree with, but she is right: there is a quality of self-delusion about the whole process. This is made very apparent when I consider that I have uploaded images of my sketchbooks to Flickr and that I have blogged them. To precisely what end? The works-in-progress are more comprehensible, even if merely analysed in the strictly economic sense of "marketing", but why upload images of the sketchbooks, especially as I am very clear about their purpose to me? More perplexingly, why do I get so many comments from people thanking me for sharing them?

The Mysterious Adventure of Lady Stevens - Workbooks 2

 Page from one of my notebooks.

For me, the whole issue appears to hinge around Didion's remarkably sharp observation that "We are brought up in the ethic that others, any others, all others, are by definition more interesting than ourselves", certainly true for me. For someone of my age (48), brought up in the Calvinist traditions of the West Coast of Scotland - though not, fortunately, brought up a Calvinist! - there is something quite alien about all this shameless self-promotion which is now required of us if we are to fit into the modern world. Perhaps I don't reject Facebook merely because I hate Zuckerberg and his data-raping empire but more because my Calvinism prevents me engaging in the trivialities which fill it.*

Part of my Calvinist discomfort comes from the implicit understanding that "[...] our notebooks give us away, for however dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable 'I.'" I have to confess to finding it difficult to being as open as this, to sharing even the relatively impersonal details of my sketchbooks and my works-in-progress. I am meticulous in managing my public persona, right down to setting individual privacy settings on my photographs on Flickr. Does this mean that I am being dishonest? Doesn't this undermine the whole purpose of blogging and sketchbooks?

Didion suggests at the end of her essay "we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you" and in a sense, she is right; but it seems to me that elements - selected fragments - of notebooks can be very helpful, especially in gaining an insight into the creative process or the thoughts behind any given work. She suggests that there are two types of notebook, "[...] the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees" and "[...] something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker".

I would argue that the "bits of mind's string too short to use" are, when edited carefully, the most interesting assemblages.

*Of course any actual analysis of Facebook by someone with a reading age high enough to understand Didion's comment would instantly lead them to the conclusion that they were, in fact, more interesting than most others!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ishbel and Iain

Two of my ex-students had a little Christmas preview of their new work tonight. For some very odd reason, it was held in a hi-fi shop... quite a strange location but the specialist hushed acoustics made for a really lovely feel to the show.

Ishbel Watson has been working on some new work based on Fritz Lang's "Metropolis":

Metropolis Range


New Pendants

Iain Baird has branched out from his intriguing "puzzle-pieces" - jewellery which comes apart and can then be re-built - and into much lighter and more wearable pieces (dare I say, even "commercial"?: not a criticism, in my view) which still invite the wearer to interact with the piece and play with it:

Pod Pendant

I really liked this ring design which can be taken off and folded flat. This one is made in 18ct and set with diamonds:

Collapsing Ring - 1

Collapsing Ring - 2

For my own part, I have finally finished all three of those Christmas stars for Goldsmiths' Hall!

Black Christmas - Double Repeat 3

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

oh! those crazy russians!

I wouldn't normally post a commercial link on my blog but I have to confess to having been practically salivating at this wonderful collection of FabergĂ© - and related - objects for sale. The reticulated gold picture frame is just incredible!

Not much else to report. I've had to make another two of those "Black Christmas" stars for Goldsmiths' Hall in case they sell the one on the tree! (And plan what to do with them if they don't sell...)

Black Christmas - Double Repeat - 1

Black Christmas - Double Repeat - 2

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sunday, November 18, 2012

black christmas

Finished my decoration for the tree in Goldsmiths' Hall in London, "Black Christmas - A Punk Star for Poly Styrene":

Black Christmas - Punk Star for Poly Styrene - 3

Black Christmas - Punk Star for Poly Styrene - 5

Made from used sewing-machine needles, silver and set with a huge CZ on both sides, it was inspired by the 2010 Christmas Single by Poly Styrene - of X-Ray Spex fame - which she recorded with her daughter shortly before her death in 2011. I needed to find some inspiration for a Christmas-themed piece, and Poly's dystopian take on the season suited perfectly!

And if that is a little laid-back for you, here is Poly Styrene performing my own favourite high-octane political punk-pop, "Oh Bondage, Up Yours".

Lyrics by Marianne Joan Elliott-Said a.k.a. Poly Styrene.

Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard,
But i think,
Oh Bondage Up Yours!
One, Two, Three, FOUR!

Bind me tie me,
Chain me to the wall I wanna be a slave,
To you all.

Oh bondage up yours,
Oh bondage no more,
Oh bondage up yours,
Oh bondage no more.

Chain-store chain-smoke,
I consume you all,
Chain-gang chain-mail,
I don't think at all.

Oh bondage up yours,
Oh bondage no more,
Oh bondage up yours,
Oh bondage no more.

Thrash me crash me,
Beat me till I fall,
I wanna be a victim,
For you all.

Oh bondage up yours,
Oh bondage no more,
Oh bondage up yours,
Oh bondage no more.

[Repeat first verse]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ding-dong merrily on high...

My first inkling of the impending festive season... I've been invited to make a precious decoration for the ACJ show at Goldsmiths' Hall! The Goldsmiths' Hall already have their own line of decorations. Mine will be somewhat different, using some of my beloved sewing-machine needles:

Radial Spikes

Monday, November 12, 2012

Edinburgh Weekend

Time to allow myself the luxury of a weekend in Edinburgh with nothing to do but see some friends and go to the opening of Stephen Bottomley's first retrospective.
I always sleep very well in Edinburgh: I stay with friends and the room in which I sleep overlooks a graveyard! Much needed as the changing clocks, seasons and the travel to and from the US has made my sleeping patterns somewhat messy.

Stephen Bottomley Retrospective - 1

Stephen Bottomley is well-known as the head of Jewellery and Silversmithing at the Edinburgh College of Art. A few years younger than me, he had his first retrospective at the estimable "Scottish Gallery" on Dundas Street and very excellent it is too, with a range of pieces from his twenty years' worth of quiet, calm and focused research-based jewellery, exploring the cutting edge of new technologies, be they in terms of design (CAD), production (CAM) or materials (such as heat-exchange alloys from rockets). It is hard to imagine anyone not connecting with his work: his use of subtle forms, exquisite surfaces and soft colours - often from enamels - make even the large "ruff" pieces most appealing.

Stephen Bottomley Retrospective - 2

Stephen Bottomley talking to a guest at the opening of his retrospective.

Stephen Bottomley Retrospective - 5

Stephen Bottomley Retrospective - 7

The exhibition runs until the 28th of November and is well worth seeing. You can download a copy of the catalogue here.

I met up with the irrepressible Howie Nicholsby of 21st Century Kilts - someone we are hoping to feature in "Scotland the What?" in November of next year - and spent a few hours ordering a new kilt, as well as discussing art, politics, gourmet pub pies and Alexander McQueen. Anyone visiting Edinburgh should stop by the shop and see what is going on.

Howie Nicholsby - 2

Here, he is helping me select a tweed. I decided to go with the one on the top at the front, an organic, hand-woven tweed from Mull. It looks striped but has a very subtle check. I was particularly taken with his jacket, but there wasn't enough of this tweed to make the jacket too. Best thing about the tweed is that they will never produce that particular pattern again: the colours are all natural plant materials or the colour of the wool straight from the sheep and it is lies beautifully between brown and grey.

The National Portrait Gallery was recently refurbished. A remarkable Victorian Gothic building with some stunning Arts and Crafts murals inside, I've always found this place rather dull. Apart from a few excellent pieces, the majority of the collection is worthy paintings of worthy people...

National Portrait Gallery - The Library

The library in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

National Portrait Gallery - Atrium 2

 The atrium in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Unfortunately, for all the renovation, it remains what it has always been: dull.

National Portrait Gallery - Talk

Finally, a gothic image from outside the shop of one of our other potential exhibitors in "Scotland the What?", Joey-D:

Skull Graffiti

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Last Entry from Chicago and Workshop Update

(I'm just back from a weekend in Edinburgh, which is why there was a hiatus.)


The last day in Chicago was one of pure tourism. I woke up very early and as the show opened at 11 am and my airport  shuttle was at 11.30 am, I thought that a walk around the area to see some more of the city would be in order.

Brass Doors - 1

Bronze Bell

Ironworkers amongst you might be interested to see this extraordinary cladding on what is now a "Target" shop:

Ferociously Decorative - 1

Ferociously Decorative - 3

Ferociously Decorative - 4

Ferociously Decorative - 5

Ferociously Decorative - 6

Then it was back to the hotel, the airport and home. The flight home being one of the worst I have ever been on, what with the baby with vile hipster parents who thought it acceptable to ignore it's six-hour screaming session while they listened to their iPods or played games on their iPads, looking daggers at anyone who looked at them; plus the actual fisticuffs fight between the nasty, scrawny English sportswear-chav and the enromous ghetto-fabulous American woman...


I've not been entirely inactive since I returned. Following on from a discussion at SOFA, I decided to try my hand at a true "Gypsy Setting". I'm very comfortable with flush setting, but proper gypsy setting allows for the use of larger and shaped stones. Using a large nut I found in the street in Chicago, I thought I would turn it into a ring by using a lathe to remove the threads and cut it to size, then set it with garnets, rather like the nut ring I habitually wear but larger. This is what it looked like after I cut the seats and engraved the channel round it:

Gypsy Settings

And this is it set:

Garnet And Iron Three-Stone Ring - 2

Since I made the antlers for the belt-buckle, I've been putting them on everything. I was thinking that in keeping with the spirit of rebranding "Everything Everywhere" and "EE", I might rebrand as "AA" or "Antlers on Anything"! I've completed two antler pieces:

Wooden Gemstone With Antlers, Pendant - 2

Bullet With Antlers - Pendant - 6

The wooden gem antler pendant is for my friend and colleague, Wing Mun.
More tomorrow, including the weekend in Edinburgh and Stephen Bottomley's Retrospective at the Scottish Galllery.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

SOFA Day 3 - Saturday, November 3rd

By Saturday, I had the programme sorted: I wanted to hear the talk about "Mr Imagination" at 4pm, had to meet a friend for lunch at 1pm and knew that I wanted to see a bit more of the city and the amazing architecture of the place.

A Century Of Architecture

One of the things I love about American city architecture is the way that is skips stylistically from Victorian Gothic to Art Deco, often leading to some remarkable mashups.

Gothic Details

My recent interest in Brutalism was piqued by the remarkable "Marina City" towers and I took more photographs of these than of any other building in the place!

Marina City - 3

Forebears with Brutalist Towers

The other building which I thought wonderful is the green marble-clad "Carbon and Carbide" building, which is now an hotel but which retains a grandeur and presence.

Carbon and Carbide Building - 2

It is worth going inside to the foyer to see the superb brasswork on the elevators and grilles and the ceiling patterned with the form of a brilliant-cut diamond:

Carbon and Carbide Building - 8

Carbon and Carbide Building - 7

Back to SOFA!
Apart from the talk in the afternoon - which was excellent, presented by people who had been friends of Mr Imagination's and presented with humour and humanity untainted with sentimentality - it was just a question of wandering around the rest of the show and seeing what was there. As I said yesterday, there is a lot of glass at SOFA: glass is a medium which I enjoy but in which I have no desire to work: relatively simple pieces can still thrill me. By far the most psychological work I found were these wall-pieces by Norman Mooney:

Norman Mooney

They are made from cut glass and are quite enormous. They exert a natural pull, drawing people towards them as any shiny object can do but there comes a point of closeness where a physical fear is manifest: dare I go any closer?

Norman Mooney

Perhaps because I have stood in front of them, this photograph actually brings back the slightly anxious feeling that these pieces gave me! The tension between the formal, almost mathematical beauty, the simplicity of form and colour and the fear of damage - to either the object or self - made these compelling works.

Combining glass with two of my own favourite materials, iron and silver, I loved Rik Allen's "Launch" collection of small sculptures depicting a nostalgic space-race, old movies on wet weekend television...

Rik Allen - "Launch" - 1

Rik Allen - "Launch" - 2

There was one very funny moment when a fellow jeweller noticed that I was wearing a ring with a stone set on the palm-side of the ring: he showed me the rings he was wearing, all of which had stones on the inside, then a friend of his joined us and we excitedly squawked about the joys of setting like this until the somewhat irate gallery owner shooed us away from the front of her stand!

You Need Hands... 1

You Need Hands... 2

Tucked away at the back of the show were some absolutely remarkable encaustic drawings by Matt Duffin, who makes exquisite drawings on his home-made "scraperboards". These are both compelling and slightly sinister:

Matt Duffin - 1

Matt Duffin - 2

Which leaves only my favourite piece in the show, the "Cabinet of Curiosities" by Andy Paiko, made in glass, iron, string and wood:

Andy Paiko - 1

Andy Paiko - 2

That night, I went out on another photo-walk.

Night Cityscape

Then came home to look at my souvenirs...

SOFA Souvenirs

Last day of Chicago tomorrow: no more SOFA.