Sunday, November 29, 2015

That Was The Week That Was...

Exhilarating and exhausting.
I'm recovering in Brighton for a long weekend with the howling winds of "Storm Clodagh" driving rain at the windows, a warm sofa and a raft of Hammer Horror films to watch and pizza from our favourite pizza restaurant, the unfortunately-named Pizzaface.

Not even December!

It all started on Monday when I travelled to Manchester to represent the School of Jewellery at the careers fair, "Design Your Future". I haven't been in Manchester since 2008 and this was such a flying visit that I didn't get much of a chance to get a feel for the place. It was the last weekend in November when I last visited, so even the Christmas market was there. Unfortunately, this time, my camera ran out of charge and I didn't get to take many photographs, hence the phone shot above.

The careers fair was what it was: the best bit about it was getting to meet with staff from other departments, such as Theatre, Film and Video, Architecture and more.

After the fair, I met up with my friend, Scott, whom I have barely seen since said visit in 2008, and we spent a lovely evening over dinner catching up.

Particularly interesting detail on this building and one of the two shots I managed to get with the camera before the battery died:

Gemstone Light

The light-fitting reminded me of my current watch-chain project.

Tuesday, I headed off to London for my talk to the Society of Jewellery Historians which was being held at the Royal Society of Antiquarians in the legendary, esteemed Royal Society building in Piccadilly. I used the morning to travel and then took the afternoon to visit my favourite London museum, The Wallace Collection. Every time I visit The Wallace, I discover something wonderful and new, this time it was some amazing miniature paintings made 3-dimensional by modelling in wax, which was then painted. I don't know how I managed to miss these previously:

Wallace Collection - 3

Wallace Collection - 4

I also found Messonier's "Polchinelle", which was interesting in terms of the "Punch and Judy" piece I'm working on:

Wallace Collection - 5

What makes these discoveries so odd for me is that the collection never changes! The whole collection is on display and it is never loaned out or added to.

The courtyard of the Royal Society currently hosts a rather magical show of work by Ai WeiWei:

At The Royal Society - 1

Trees constructed from pieces of fallen dead trees, gathered in China.

The talk to the Society of Jewellery Historians was held in the Royal Society of Antiquaries.

At The Royal Society - 2

I'm delighted to be able to say that the talk was really well-attended and well-received, with lots of discussion and questions afterwards.

At The Royal Society - 3

At The Royal Society - 5

The title of the talk was "Digital Tools and New Technologies in Contemporary Jewellery". Should anyone wish to read a copy of it, the PDF of the talk is here.

After the talk, the committee invited me for a rather excellent Italian meal at a nearby restaurant (white truffles!) before I headed off to Brighton for the night.

Next day, I headed off to Plymouth from Brighton to give a talk about my work and practice in relation to the work that I had in the ACJ touring show, "Sleight of Hand" which is currently on display in The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art.

The Gallery - Plymouth College of Art - 2

For decades, I've wanted to travel on Brunel's "Dawlish Line" along the south coast of England and finally made it. I was not disappointed:

I could have done without being stuck in a carriage full of people reading the "Daily Mail" and an obnoxious family of spoiled brats who screamed the whole journey while their vile parents loudly congratulated themselves on their excellent parenting skills and made increasingly desperate (and increasingly rude) telephone calls to their maid to get her to throw out a tin of tuna which had been opened and left in a bag somewhere in their house. One can only hope that the maid walked out, leaving said tuna in place.

Anyway, I've never been so far west since I was a very young child and my flying visit to Plymouth was most enjoyable. It is an odd city in many ways, a combination of lovely, calm, modest "Festival of Britain"-era buildings, outrageous brutalism, Elizabethan streets and the very worst of 1980s and 90s shopping-centre planning. Combined with a huge waterfront, an enormous student population and a dynamic art school, this makes for an exciting environment. It was just a pity that I didn't get the chance to spend longer there.

Plymouth Swan

Plymouth Centre

The talk at Plymouth College of Art went very well, again well-attended and with lots of questions and discussion afterwards.

Next day, I taught a workshop on Electrolytic Etching at the college:

Electrolytic Etching Workshop - 2

I then spent the rest of the afternoon talking to Maria Whetman and to renewing my acquaintanceship with Glenn Carter, whom I had met some years ago at Northlands glass studio, very nearly forgetting to visit the "Sleight of Hand" show at all!

The Gallery - Plymouth College of Art - 1

Sleight of Hand - 5

Sleight of Hand - 4

The return journey to Birmingham was utterly delightful, quite the reverse of the journey down: it was calm, friendly, cheerful and chatty and although the train was very busy, everyone seemed in the best of humours.

Back to work on Friday...

Tunnock's Teacake

And back in Brighton for a long and relaxing weekend, despite the storm.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Another packed week, kicking off with the "Chrysalis" show of works-in-progress by the final-year BA students, a fascinating glimpse into what we can expect come summer 2016.

Chrysalis - 6

This was a particularly interesting show as it was necessarily quite "sketchy", even though some very distinctive completed pieces were included. I especially liked the work of Amber Cooper-Green with its echoes of the later Hermann Junger, the organic materials giving the work a very human appeal which adds to - and in no way detracts from - the cerebral qualities of the processes and form:

Chrysalis - 1

Aelita Galevska presented one haunting pendant:

Chrysalis - 4

And I especially liked Beccy Williams' collection of enamelled vessels:

Chrysalis - 5

There were a total of about 50 makers shown, so this is only a few of my own favourites. It will be interesting to see the whole show in early summer 2016.

Chrysalis - 7

Time to pack up "JUNK", which was kind of sad. As the project progressed, I kept feeling like I would have liked to have tried another session, or to have handed the project out to my students and got them to try (the MA Students did have a go... I'll post photographs of that work next week) but it has gone.

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - The End

Don't forget that you can still see and bid on the pieces created during the show at the JUNK page on Crafthaus. There was a large body of work made by some very famous makers, so it is well worth having a look and bidding.

I've been working more on my watch-chain, fob and pocket-watch for Russ at The Dirty Pen:

DirtyPen - WIP - 13

I'm really pleased with the odd element to the left of the photograph, which is a piece of scrap I found in the "JUNK" bucket and for which I gave a donation instead of using it in the project (Jo Pond did use one in the project but I don't have a photograph of it yet and it hasn't been listed on Crafthaus). The idea of the object is that it will allow the watch to be worn on a jacket lapel instead of on the full chain on a waistcoat:

DirtyPen - WIP - 16

As Russ is a graphic artist, I have incorporated pen-nibs into the finished piece and will also be making the fob in the form of a pencil-holder:

DirtyPen - WIP - 17

You may recall The Contemporary Jewellery Exchange 2015 (blogged in several places, most recently here) in which I was paired with Jan Donaldson from Australia. By an amazing synchronicity, Jan had a residency at a puppet-making centre in France, near the Belgian border, and we arranged for her to come and visit me in Birmingham before she set off.

It was a brilliant but flying visit with a whistle-stop tour of the School of Jewellery and the utterly bizarre "Frankfurt Christmas Market" which takes up the whole of the centre of Birmingham, from the Centenary Square to the Bullring, a distance of nearly 1km!

Hohoho, Birmingham...

I'm sure that I read on the Birmingham Mail or somewhere that this market is bigger than the one that is actually in Frankfurt, but I could be wrong!

Of course, for an Australian getting ready for summer in her home-town, the sudden descent into blustery icy winds and overnight sleet was a bit of a shock for Jan and we spent most of the visit indoors.

Meeting with Jan was a big plus to having taken part in the project and Olga Raben is to be thanked for bringing us together. It has been brilliant to exchange ideas about puppets and dolls as elements of jewellery and the cross-overs between them, how these ideas fit in with my own "Theatre Pieces" (such as "A Forest") and how it can play out in the new work I'm planning based on Punch and Judy.

Jan has now moved on to France but I'm sure we'll be in touch again.

A chance conversation on Friday afternoon with my colleague, Rachael Colley, led to my attending an antiques fair in the National Exhibition Centre on Saturday to hear a talk about Whitby Jet. This tied in very nicely with taking Jan to the airport and seeing her safely off to France, then meeting Rachael in the train station which was absolutely packed with people dressed up for the ComiCon which was happening in one of the other halls.

Hammond's Whitby Jet - 2

The exhibition of jet and the talk were arranged by the Whitby Jet Shop, W. Hammond and the exhibition is a precursor to them opening the new Museum of Jet in the centre of Whitby in 2016. Before I went to this, Dingo somewhat grumpily asked "what more" I could learn about Whitby Jet and it was no surprise that I did learn quite a lot more, despite several visits to the place, having read loads of books, having seen it on television programmes and having visited the wonderful Whitby Museum.

Hammond's Whitby Jet - 7

Chris Sellors gave an excellent and insightful talk about the material, the 'gemmological' features, the history and about his plans for the museum.

Hammond's Whitby Jet - 5

Hammond's Whitby Jet - 9

An excellent afternoon. I even got to model a tobacco-pipe made from Jet, probably not a good idea given that it is flammable!

Hammond's Whitby Jet - 12

The rest of the show was pretty much about gasping at the inflated prices and laughing at bad taxidermy:

Gormless Otter

Or at paintings of women with beards:

Fat Birds With Beards

Unbelievably busy next week - Manchester tomorrow, London on Tuesday, Brighton on Tuesday night, Plymouth on Wednesday and Thursday and back to Birmingham for Friday then Brighton for a long weekend!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Punk, JUNK (and not junk)

This was the week that the School of Jewellery hosted the recycling-performance work, "JUNK: Rubbish To Gold" with teams of the most experimental and interesting jewellers coming in - from as far afield as Ohio and Germany - to re-configure the most awful tat into contemporary jewels which will be sold in an online auction to raise money for charities.

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 6

Here you can see the first batch of jewellers starting work on the materials, including Laura Brannan, Maria Hanson and Sally Collins. I was in amongst this first "sitting" and have to confess to having struggled with the materials. I couldn't find a way into the process or a way of thinking about the materials and I ended up being rather restrained, despite everything I learned all those years ago with Bob Ebendorf.

Using a silver-plated brass bangle, a broken white-metal belt, a glass element, plastic beads, latex and leather, I tapped into a seventies vibe and made this. I quite like it, but it was a struggle and at the end of the day, I felt a bit deflated, especially as some really quite lovely pieces had been made:

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 11

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 25

So it was that I began my next session with some trepidation and maybe even a bit of dread. For this session, I was due to be on with Toni Mayner, one of my colleagues and a bit of a rock-chick rebel who immediately rebelled against the JUNK teeshirts and cut off the neck and sleeves. This led to a bit of a discussion about punk aesthetics and about the collaborative nature of the project, so we decided to work together... Jivan Astfalck - the instigator of the project - had always talked about the performative nature of JUNK and, indeed, we all signed performance contracts, so Toni and I gave a performance...

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 16

While she made jewellery, I transformed her teeshirt into an Andrew Logan-ish fantasy...

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 13

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 15

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 21

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 24

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 23

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 22

Completely unwittingly, we featured heavily by being based on the very front bench where the cameras were stationed and you can see the whole thing grow from start to finish on the YouTube video:

(The video properly starts after 1'02" of black.)
During the course of the week, there were some wonderful pieces made and all of these are for sale on Crafthaus by silent auction. You don't need to join Crafthaus in order to bid.

We did find some appalling crap in the box of junk...

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 18

And some of my ex-students may be shocked by the next photograph:

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 14

Here are some of my own favourites by the makers.
Zoe Robertson:

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 33

Laura Brannan:

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 32

 and Drew Markou:

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 42

Tonight was the end-of-show party and Jivan looked justifiably pleased and relieved!

JUNK: Rubbish To Gold - 37

Although they don't feature much in this description, the project was essentially a team effort, led by Jivan: Laura Bradshaw-Heap and Rachel Darbourne deserve recognition for keeping the whole thing running smoothly throughout the week.

Tonight was also (the ridiculously early) switching-on of the Jewellery Quarter Christmas lights and that meant fireworks, which we took to be the glamorous end to JUNK!

Jewellery Quarter Christmas Lights - 3

Jewellery Quarter Christmas Lights - 1

They were playing "Slade".

In other news, the poor BA students had their first pieces overshadowed somewhat, which is a pity. For their first project, they have to make a container to a specified size and decorate it in a way which means something to them personally. The project is called "Pots of Joy" and is a lovely way to introduce the new intake to the workshops.

Box Of Joy - 6

Box Of Joy - 9

Box Of Joy - 4

Unfortunately, I have no names for who made any of these pieces.

In terms of my own workshop practice, I've taken on a commission from Russ at The Dirty Pen who is looking for a watch chain using some of his signature themes. I asked him to design me a tattoo to commemorate my move to Birmingham and he suggested we trade. It is not greatly different from my usual style - there will be fewer iron and steel elements, perhaps - and I really like Russ' use of the "gemstone" motif which I have rendered as a real gemstone for the central element of the chain:

DirtyPen - WIP - 2

DirtyPen - WIP - 5

More soon!