Friday, October 31, 2014

Hallowe'en Post


Last day of October and spooky hallowe'en is here again. I've never much bothered with the festival as I'm not much of a horror fan but this year I've been paying a bit more attention and have been finding it quite funny, especially the non-gendered gingerbread person biscuits which one of the fashion students had iced to look like skeletons:

Skeleton Non-Gendered Ginger Biscuit Figure

These were on sale as a charity fund-raiser.

I've been really busy since I got back from Texas, what with visits from my stone-dealer, Marcia, from whom I bought a host of unusual (and usual) gems for use in future works:

"Cupcake" Amethysts - 2

Quite apart from the marvellous colour of these amethysts - a stone I rarely use - the cut is amazing. They remind me of those "iced gems" biscuits:

Colorful Ice Gems

I know that a lot of the people complain that they buy stones which they don't then use, I am always using stones in my work, so know that they will be used very quickly. The stone boxes are even catalogued in a database so that I can keep track of them!

Cataloguing Gemstones - 1


Some good labradorite in free-form semi-faceted cabochons.

In the workshop, I finished off the "Ancient Mariner" choker, which I am very pleased with. It is amazingly comfortable to wear, despite the bulk:

The Ancient Mariner - 10

I'm really enjoying these heavy-duty, corroded industrial chains with "charms" hanging from them and then improvising around the chain, rather than working things out in advance.

The Ancient Mariner - 11

The Ancient Mariner - 12

I've also been completing a couple of commercial commissions this week, including a batch of "Werewolf Protection" pendants, which are made from brass cartridge cases found by the father of one of my students and given to me by him, sterling silver (alas! not from a crucifix!) and some black spinels:

Werewolf Protection - Repeat - 2

And a production run of cufflinks for Dundee-based "The Dapper Gent":

Dapper Gent Cufflinks - 1

Also on the bench this week, "Jewelled Antler", another piece of corroded industrial chain, this time dug up on my friend and colleague's allotment!

Jewelled Antler - WIP - 8

This will be finished next week.

I keep finding bits of paper with doodles and notes on them and no idea of what I was thinking about when I made them. This is one of the stranger ones which I found in a shoulder-bag last weekend:

Unknown Sketch

I am not always pleased to see surprises in my sketchbooks and this one was also found this week:

Winehouse Horror

Poor Amy, looking especially demented!

Cruise clothing is a Glasgow institution and I was very pleased to be invited by Mary McGowne to attend their AW14 fashion show. It is so funny to see how things have changed: twenty years ago, I would never have even considered going to such an event.

Cruise AW 14 Fashion Show - 2

It was a particularly good evening, meeting with Sheri and Claire of "Betty and Bee" and I even bought a Paul Smith embroidered shirt.

I also, finally, got to see one of my heroes, the wonderful John Cooper Clarke. I will spare you the details of how this punk poet was the final straw between me and my father - almost anyone who knows me has heard the story - and simply say that he was better than I could ever have imagined.

(Unfortunately, I was not allowed my camera, so this is from my phone.)
What was most surprising was that he had two poetic supports, both of whom were superb - Mike Garry and Luke Wright - and it reminded me how much I enjoy live poetry. Much more so than reading it myself.

John Cooper Clarke, for all he poses as a curmudgeon, is charming, charismatic, intelligent, socially-critical and very, very funny, a truly working-class English eccentric and, best of all, knows that people like him but somehow seems bemused that they do.

Here is a video of the man himself performing my own favourite piece of vitriolic social criticism, "Beasely Street" - it gives nothing of his charm but is a masterful piece of poetry:

There are various versions of this, including one with music by "The Invisible Girls" and the lyrics vary depending on the version. For my overseas readers who are perhaps not familiar with the Manchester (Salford) accent, here they are:
Far from crazy pavements -
the taste of silver spoons
A clinical arrangement
on a dirty afternoon
Where the faecal germs of Mr Freud
are rendered obsolete
The legal term is null and void
In the case of Beasley Street 
In the cheap seats where murder breeds
Somebody is out of breath
Sleep is a luxury they don't need
- a sneak preview of death
Belladonna is your flower
Manslaughter your meat
Spend a year in a couple of hours
On the edge of Beasley Street

Where the action isn't
That's where it is
State your position
Vacancies exist
In an X-certificate exercise
Ex-servicemen excrete
Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies
In a box on Beasley Street 
From the boarding houses and the bedsits
Full of accidents and fleas
Somebody gets it
Where the missing persons freeze
Wearing dead men's overcoats
You can't see their feet
A riff joint shuts - opens up
Right down on Beasley Street 
Cars collide, colours clash
disaster movie stuff
For a man with a Fu Manchu moustache
Revenge is not enough
There's a dead canary on a swivel seat
There's a rainbow in the road
Meanwhile on Beasley Street 
Silence is the code
Hot beneath the collar
an inspector calls
Where the perishing stink of squalor
impregnates the walls
the rats have all got rickets
they spit through broken teeth
The name of the game is not cricket
Caught out on Beasley Street 
The hipster and his hired hat
Drive a borrowed car
Yellow socks and a pink cravat
Nothing La-di-dah
OAP, mother to be
Watch the three-piece suite
When shit-stoppered drains
and crocodile skis
are seen on Beasley Street 
The kingdom of the blind
a one-eyed man is king
Beauty problems are redefined
the doorbells do not ring
A lightbulb bursts like a blister
the only form of heat
here a fellow sells his sister
down the river on Beasley Street 
The boys are on the wagon
The girls are on the shelf
Their common problem is
that they're not someone else
The dirt blows out
The dust blows in
You can't keep it neat
It's a fully furnished dustbin,
Sixteen Beasley Street 
Vince the ageing savage
Betrays no kind of life
but the smell of yesterday's cabbage
and the ghost of last year's wife
through a constant haze
of deodorant sprays
he says retreat
Alsations dog the dirty days
down the middle of Beasley Street 
People turn to poison
Quick as lager turns to piss
Sweethearts are physically sick
every time they kiss.
It's a sociologist's paradise
each day repeats
On easy, cheesy, greasy, queasy
beastly Beasley Street 
Eyes dead as vicious fish
Look around for laughs
If I could have just one wish
I would be a photograph
on a permanent Monday morning
Get lost or fall asleep
When the yellow cats are yawning
Around the back of Beasley Street.

I've been reading a fascinating book which I bought in the Oxfam bookshop in Brighton last time I was there, Matthew Sweet's "Shepperton Babylon", a wonderful collection of interviews and anecdotes about the British Film industry from the very beginning, through near-collapse to reinvention.

Highly recommended, especially for the critical look at the much-disparaged "Ealing Comedies".

I also bought myself a copy of the new Vivienne Westwood autobiography to learn all about the cantankerous Dame's own view of things!

Fashion Treat

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Texas Roadhouse

I've just got back from almost a week in the Lone Star State which I was visiting on the invitation of my friends and colleagues, James Thurman and Umut Demirguc Thurman. What a trip!

Based in Denton, Dallas, the main reason for my visit was to speak to the students at the University of North Texas and to work with them on a couple of practical workshops. Before I go any further, I have to say that I had been "warned" by several people about going to Texas. One person wrote, "You have to remember that it is a big modern city, but it is still the Deep South". My experience proved that the Deep South of Dallas is mannerly, respectful and charming.

I arrived on Sunday to 23 degrees and blazing sun, having left Heathrow at 16 degrees and rain. James and Umut met me at the airport - Dallas Fort Worth, I should say, is easily the best US entry I've experienced. It took about 15 minutes to get from the plane to the car and the staff were helpful and friendly - and took me to dinner and my hotel. This visit was my first to a place where the car is essential. In a way, Chicago, San Francisco, Erie, New York and Pittsburgh have spoiled me to the ways of most of the US in that it is not only possible but preferable to use public transport or to go about on foot in those places. Not so "the Metroplex", the name for the hybridised city which encompasses Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth, the suburbs of which are still considered suburbs even 50km from what would be considered the "city centre". Consequently, everyone drives.

Denton Suburb View
View from the hotel!
Denton itself, the place where I was staying, is more manageable (though having no hotels in the town, I was staying on a kind of 'strip mall' on the outskirts... necessitating a car!) and it is possible to cycle and walk about there, largely on account of the presence of the University of North Texas, the place where I had been invited by James to speak as part of the Core Talk series and demonstrate some processes.

Not having anything planned for the Monday, James and Umut organised "Cowboy Day"!

Texan Cowboy

Complete with longhorn cattle:

Texas Longhorn - 2

One of the most interesting parts of the day was a visit to a shop which made cowboy boots! Not just any cowboy boots, but the most bewildering array of cowboy boots at M.L. Leddy's...

M. L. Leddy's - Some Boots

Although none of these are to my taste - or pocket: some of these were $2000 a pair! - the quality of the craft skills used in making them was phenomenal, many of them being ornately tooled and I had the pleasure later in the week to meet someone who had trained making these.

M. L. Leddy's - Buffalo Head

We then spent the afternoon looking around Denton's several junk-shops where I found a variety of rust nails, keys and strange porcelain figures and James and Umut found a new friend who appears to have a genetic malfunction where his nose should be...

James, Umut and Friend

Umut found a working "Paragon" enamelling kiln for $75, so it was an afternoon well spent.

Tuesday morning brought some work to be done and I gave a demonstration of soldering steel and making a piece by my "improvisational" process.

Demonstration at UNT - 2

Demonstration at UNT - 1

Demonstration at UNT - 4

After the workshop, I visited the UNT fashion collection, which is phenomenal.

UNT Fashion Collection - 2

UNT Fashion Collection - 3

On Tuesday afternoon, we headed off to downtown Dallas to the Dallas Museum of Art to take a look at the Art Smith exhibition. I've always loved the 1950s and 60s American studio jewellers but it is not easy to get to see the work in galleries in this country and - from the point of view of a jeweller - it is important to be able to see how the pieces are constructed, the quality of finish and the scale and proportion. The show is small but brilliant and I especially liked the display of work outside the show, exhibiting examples of work by jewellers who were involved with him or who were influenced by him.

Art Smith

There is a remarkable collection of silverwares in the DMA - including this incredible iron vase with silver decoration:

Iron Vase

Wednesday morning started very early with breakfast at "The Old West", which is a very old-school Texan restaurant where, for about £7, you can have a breakfast which means you don't need to eat again for the whole day. It was brilliant!

Breakfast At "The Old West"

The omelette at the front is stuffed with cheese, mushrooms and spinach and is served with a kind of rosti and a bagel. James and Umut have similar but they wisely decided to split theirs. Unfortunately, I couldn't return to bed after this as I was then speaking to the MFA students about their work before speaking to the general design students.

Presentation - UNT

The afternoon was free to wander about Denton before going out for a very light dinner of soup and noodles!

On Thursday, I ran a crit with the BFA students who had been given a week to come up with a forged iron handle for a handle-less vessel, a project which I thought was brilliant and possibly one to do with my own students. Umut told me that they were very worried that an external advisor was coming in to see the work but it didn't really show. They all seemed very confident. What made me laugh internally was fact that about half of them had left it until the last moment. What is it with students?!

UNT Metals Class - 2

Thursday night was interesting for James and Umut as well as for me. They had set me up to teach my electro-etching workshop at a place called Oil and Cotton. Neither of them had been there before but I think it is pretty sure that they will be back (and me too, when I am back in Texas).

Oil and Cotton

It is a great space, full of interesting and unpretentious work, offering community arts classes and supplies as well as hosting residencies. There was a print-maker in residence when I was there.

Etching Workshop - 1

And that was my time in Texas over...
There is no more to report, save that my luggage went missing during the stop-over in Washington and that I had the most horrible flight I have ever had in my life on the way back, followed by static traffic on the M25 going back to Brighton, but it was all worth it and I can't thank James and Umut enough for their hospitality and generosity. I hope to be able to reciprocate sometime soon.

I did manage to find some amazing materials while in Denton, including some number nails, which I have wanted for ages:

Metals From Texas

The little pellets on the right were given to me by James and Umut, who found them at a derelict steel mill in Pittsburgh. It seems that the iron was pelletised before it was put into the blast furnaces. These are really exciting little things and I am thinking about pairing them with pearls.

Iron Pellets

Not much more to report except to say that I received my copy of "Soused" by Scott Walker and Sunn 0))), a musical collaboration I've been desperate to hear since it was mentioned in passing on the radio in June. Needless to say, I am not disappointed. From actual shock at the first line Scott Walker sings, this is incredible music.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Gordon Millar, Dorothy Hogg and Melanie Eddy

What a whirlwind of a week!
It all kicked off on Saturday night with a visit to my favourite Scottish city, Dundee, where Gordon Millar was hosting another of his hugely exciting "Gathering" events, this being "Gathering V", the fifth he has organised.

The Gathering V - Dundee - 6

Gordon Millar, organiser of the "Scot Street Style" events.

As I've said before, these are "networking" events but they are also much more than that. They are meeting points for a very certain type of creative person from the worlds of fashion, photography, jewellery and design.

The Gathering V - Dundee - 16

I also took what I think is one of my best photographs:

The Gathering V - Dundee - 3

Sheri Scott, AKA "Betty" from Betty and Bee, fashion blogger and creative consultant.

Met lots of amazing people, from coffee-shop owners to a lady from Uganda sporting remarkable rings!

The Gathering V - Dundee - 9

The wonderful Islay Spalding was there with her friend Louise Forbes, showing off their new range of recycled wood "Man Pins":

The Gathering V - Dundee - 17

And giving away free samples to everyone who might stock them in their shop. An impressive and startling marketing approach, I think!

The Gathering V - Dundee - 22

It was also good to catch up with Jane Gowans, showing some of her most recent work, which was great to see as she is not only about to give birth but has also become a bit of a star of the jewellery world in the UK recently.

The Gathering V - Dundee - 10

I was exhausted at the end of the night!

Gordon now has plans to release a book of all the collaborations which have come of his project - indeed, my Harris Tweed/Bird of Prey/Jewellery/Scotland on Sunday photoshoot would not have come about if it had not been for the very first event he organised about a year ago in Edinburgh and he has started a Kickstarter campaign to try and lower the publishing costs. Loads of people, myself included, are offering rewards, so if you fancy getting a commissioned piece from me, have a look at the link!

Men of Style - 1

Edinburgh is awash with interesting jewellery this month and I strongly advise visiting both the Dorothy Hogg Retrospective at The Scottish Gallery and the GEM exhibition at The Dovecot Studios.

The Dorothy Hogg Retrospective is wonderful. I have always liked whatever work I have seen by her in the past, but I had never seen her earliest works and this exhibition pulls together everything from her work at the Royal College through to her most recent "Touch" series of digital works. What comes through in this is that although the forms of her work may change, her spirit - and these works are all about her spirit - comes strongly through them all.

Dorothy Hogg Retrospective - 7

What impresses me most about her work is the incredible mastery of the skills of the bench jeweller which she effortlessly displays with tapered forms, invisible joins, segments and joints, all exquisitely finished. (Shown above is a section of one of her "Artery Series" necklaces. There are far better images on The Scottish Gallery's website.)

The show is satisfying and also very touching. I hadn't realised before today that her father and grandfather had both been bench jewellers in Troon and the cabinets contain some of the tools from the shops and photographs of them:

Dorothy Hogg Retrospective - 6

Dorothy has been a major force in shaping Scottish Jewellery and in promoting it; one of the lovely touches about this show is that not only are her own pieces for sale - indeed, I bought a brooch - but there is also a cabinet of work by some of her better-known students and colleagues, including Grainne Morton, Grant McCaig and Stephen Bottomley.

Dorothy Hogg Retrospective - 3

Perhaps it is slightly perverse, but my favourite part of the show was definitely the metal "sketches" which were in one of the cases:

Dorothy Hogg Retrospective - 2

You can download the superb catalogue - complete with two essays and all new photographs of the work - here. The essay by Elizabeth Goring about the lyricism of Dorothy's work exactly gets to the point of the pieces and Dorothy's own essay about her journey as a jeweller is fascinating.

Many thanks to the curator of the show, Christina Jansen, for being so incredibly enthusiastic about the work and taking the time to speak to me about it.

GEM at the Dovecote is an odd beast, small but true to PT Barnum's famous dictum, it does leave you wanting more. Put together by Jeweller, Melanie Eddy in conjunction with The British Council and "Turquoise Mountain", an Afghan gem-trading company, this showcases work by both British and Afghan jewellers, working with gemstones from Afghanistan.

GEM At The Dovecot - 2

The show is beautifully presented and there are short films running which show the work being made as well as displays of the range of gems which come from the country.

GEM At The Dovecot - 3

I would love to see more of this work and the work of the others but perhaps the most important part of this exhibition is not the jewellery but the fact that it shows Afghanistan engaging with the outside world. I am very happy that it has chosen jewellery as a way to start this process.

My own workshop has been incredibly busy. Further to my talk at Cursley and Bond two weeks ago, I've been rushing to update their stock, so have been creating pieces using only the metal objects I found on the beach at Dungeness, just along the coast from Folkestone.

The Dungeness Works - 16

The Dungeness Works - 11

I'm really pleased with this bracelet made from a chunky piece of ship's chain:

The Dungeness Works - 18

Which led me to think about making a choker from it!

The Ancient Mariner - WIP - 4

The choker won't be finished for a week or so as I am off to Dallas, Texas, this weekend to meet up with James and Umut Thurman.