Sunday, May 29, 2016


This week has been taken up with the tough paperwork exercises of re-writing the whole curriculum at the School of Jewellery to make it more dynamic and flexible. We've taken the opportunity to make the whole thing more craft-based, which is exciting. Needless to say, we've been working on this for weeks but the submission date is next week, so that is why it was so fraught. In between all that, it has been business as usual, however.

Finished the pendant for Rachael Colley:

Just 'Cos - 3

And have been working on the pieces for the ACJ show, "Choice!" which is touring the country later in the year, "Seven Macho Bracelets", which are my take on those ubiquitous and much-derided 1970s ID bracelets of the sort that hirsute lotharios might have worn:

Seven Macho Bracelets - WIP - 3

I have a strange feeling that my 'Gothic' phase might be coming to an end and I'm moving more into a process- and material-driven way of working, being led by the material. I've been viewing my recent chain-making works as "improvisations", where I start with an element and move outwards, responding dynamically to the elements which have gone before. I've been working with these bracelets in this way. As with all improvised artworks, I have a set of self-imposed rules to contain the improvisation: these, for example, will all have toggle-clasps which have gems set in them and will have no gemstones elsewhere.

Seven Macho Bracelets - WIP - 5

The excitement this week has mainly been the setting up of the graduate shows and seeing the works that the students have been completing for these shows.

Graduate Show 2016 - Set Up - 2

This is the laying-out of all the work for the BA Jewellery and Related Products final assessment. I'll be more dealing with the work being produced by my HND students and the BA Design for Industry Students:

Pocket Knives - Kate Hadden - 2
Pocket knife by Kate Hadden in Brass, Iron and Damascus Steel; elements water-cut, hand-fabricated and hand-polished.

Ship Tea-Infuser - Emily Frearson - 1
SIlver tea-infuser by Emily Frearson, partially-finished. Designed in CAD, partially 3D printed and cast, hand-fabricated.

Cocktails - Aaron Cumbers
Brass and wood bar-set and Cocktail Shaker by Aaron Cumbers; designed in CAD, partially manufactured digitally, hand-fabricated and finished. The shaker was hand-spun around a CAD-modelled form.
I'm so excited about seeing the shows finally up!

The other big excitement this week was exploring the strongroom in the School of Jewellery. When I arrived at the school, my colleague Toni Mayner gave me a box of teaching samples:

Metal Forms

Which led me to consider ways of making these accessible to the students in a more general way, so contacted the University archivists with a view to having things photographed and digitised; we had a few samples made and things were moving along... then one of the Readers, Ann-Marie Carey, contacted me and said that she had been interested in properly archiving some of the other collections within the school, including the basement strongroom. On Wednesday, Ann-Marie and I, with a proper archivist, Marion, and various interested others, including Frank Cooper, opened the strongroom to have a look at the scale of the job facing us.
I was particularly interested in finding a trunk of 19th Century French medals which Norman Cherry had told me about with a view to having some sort of an exhibition at the next medals symposium in 2017. We didn't find those, but we found a lot of other medals - not that the French medals aren't there, but Marion, the archivist, was understandably uncomfortable with us opening any more than just a few packages until we had a proper conservation plan in place.

School Of Jewellery Archives - 1 - Sir Whitworth Wallace Medals

School Of Jewellery Archives - 4 - Centenary Medal
Medal commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the School of Jewellery, by Robert Campbell-Legg. Silver, acrylic, titanium.
Rather excitingly, we also found the die and force for this medal:

School Of Jewellery Archives - 8 - Centenary Medal

By complete chance, an ex-lecturer from the school, the amazing Les Curtis, just happened to be about to give us a bit of background to the medals and we began the oral history:

School Of Jewellery Archives - 2

We also uncovered some work by one Phil Craze:

School Of Jewellery Archives - 10

About whom I can find no information. We also uncovered a phenomenal silver and silver-gilt chess set by Michael Lloyd. As a fan of modernism, I love this set and can't wait to see them cleaned up and on display somewhere in the school. Ann-Marie was equally enthralled...

School Of Jewellery Archives - 18 - Michael Lloyd Chess Set

School Of Jewellery Archives - 15 - Michael Lloyd Chess Set

School Of Jewellery Archives - 17 - Michael Lloyd Chess Set
The Bishop
School Of Jewellery Archives - 21 - Michael Lloyd Chess Set
Gilt pawns.
School Of Jewellery Archives - 22 - Michael Lloyd Chess Set
The whole Chess-set.
These pieces are incredible, being partially spun, partially raised, chased, engraved, etched, constructed and patinated. Oddly, they reminded me very much of the James Turner artwork for NIL.

Back to the gun for Boris Bally's project this week. I picked up the sliced chambers and barrel this week:

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 13

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 14

In case you're wondering where all this is going, here's the direction:

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

Supplied courtesy of Birmigham's own "The Diskery", purveyors of 'Good Disco Music'!

The Diskery: GOOD Disco Music

The Diskery, Birmingham, UK
Image by Royd Tauro on Flickr. Click to view more.

Diskery #3
Image by Gary Corbett on Flickr. Click to view more.

In Brighton for the bank-holiday weekend!

Pink Flamingo

I'll end with some more Divine:

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Once You've Begun To Think Like A Gun

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 10

Blood on the windows and blood on the walls,
Blood on the ceiling and down in the halls,
And the papers keep downing on everything I burned,
And the people getting restless but they'll never learn.

John Cale - Gun

A while back - in February when I was in the middle of moving house - I received an email from someone whom I admire very much indeed: Boris Bally. In it, he invited me to be part of a show in which we would all be sent a deactivated weapon and would have to make a piece of work from that weapon, the IMAGINE PEACE NOW! show.

Subsequently the gun arrived and a slight panic set in.

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) WIP - 3

Firstly, I had a strange reaction to the weapon: I knew that it had come from Pittsburgh Police and I knew that it had been seized as part of their normal business of preventing crime and I couldn't quite bring myself to handle something which had potentially terrorised and had maybe even killed someone. Now, I am not 'pussy' about guns: I used to shoot game and legally owned a small 18th C. Spanish-made shotgun, but there is a big difference between the controlled and legal shooting of an animal for food and the misery or death of a human being.

Secondly, I was very, very uncomfortable about the idea of what might happen if someone saw me with this and reported it to the police here... would I find myself in the workshop, surrounded by armed officers? As the government increasingly sows fear of terrorists - which, frankly, I view as a control measure for the population, not a threat of anything like the magnitude we are being told - this was a very real concern.

Paul Evans, our head technician at the School of Jewellery was brilliant with all of this and helped me to write up a very sensible Health and Safety Risk Assessment aimed at minimising the risk. The local police in the Jewellery Quarter police station were also fantastic and inspected the weapon and paperwork to ensure it was all in order.

Next up was deciding what to do with it and I decided to revisit an idea from some time ago which will require me to work with the parts of the gun, slicing up the barrel and chambers, for which I had hoped to use the water-jet cutter in the University workshops, however, this would mean losing 0.8mm of material with every pass and a conversation with Kevin Gray at last week's opening of the Circulus show pointed the way forward: behind his workshop is a tiny engineering works with a spark-erosion wire-cutter.

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 12
The gun in pieces.
Spark-erosion is old-tech nowadays but is still very much in use.

I love finding these little places tucked away in the back lanes of the Jewellery Quarter.

These last sheets of steel have been cut with the wire-cutter. It will have no problem with my gun!

I finished a pendant for my colleaugue, Rachael Colley. She brought me the nail and I did the rest:

Just 'Cos - WIP - 1

This was also my first time working with Argentium silver, which is not without its issues for those of us who are more used to working with sterling. I did, however, get it to fuse directly to some steel...

The students are all preparing for the end of term - is that really a full academic year I've been at the School of Jewellery?! - and the graduate shows, which I am looking forward to enormously.

Preparing the exhibition space.

The week ended rather nicely with a concert in the soon-to-be-demolished Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire. The excellent Birmingham Contemporary Music Group were performing a programme which included the quite lovely "Rothko Chapel" by Morton Feldman for choir, percussion, viola and celeste.

The programme was mixed with a lot of music by one of the professors of composition at the Conservatoire, Howard Skempton - the music of whom I can take or leave - and one remarkable piece by Charlotte Bray for piano and 'cello, based on the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Perseus constellation.

I will leave you with the calming loveliness of the Feldman.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tiger Feet

I've not posted for a while, for which I apologise. It isn't that there has been nothing happening or that I've been too busy: more that when I've had a spare moment or two, I've not felt like making a post.
SO this will be a bit of a longer post than usual as I've been in Brighton again, visited Farnham, and loads of other things besides. I also completely forgot that there should have been two other things of note in the last post: I gave my talk on New Technology as part of the "Talking Practice" series at the School of Jewellery and that the planning has begun for the Jewellery Quarter Open Studios in the summer, an exciting project where lots of jewellers - as well as other creative people who have studios in the Quarter - open them to the public over a weekend. The School of Jewellery will be taking part this year, which is very exciting.

Village Life

So to Farnham for a meeting of the board of the Association For Contemporary Jewellery and which was absolutely swarming with idiots from UKIP trumpeting their ill-disguised racism and lies about the EU. This left a rather nasty taste in the mouth, especially as the local UKIP candidate - who had the temerity to speak to me - is exactly what you would expect: white, male, upper-middle class, plainly wealthy, well-spoken and with that pop-eyed, slightly twisted face that they all seem to have (think Farage, Carswell...). I believe Cameron referred to them - and this must be one of the few times I've agreed with Cameron - as "Swivel-eyed loons". Still, a swift, unrefined, postively snarling Glaswegian made him back off. I can turn it on when I need to.

Can't say I'll be hurrying back to Farnham, which is sad as there is a fantastic Jewellery and Metals course - run by the ever-cheerful Rebecca Skeels - at the University of the Creative Arts there. I wonder how much the town would be affected by the overseas students leaving in a post-EU UK?

I have finally managed to get the workshop in the house finished!

Completed Workshop - 1

And have even managed to finish a piece of work in it, using the setting bench for the first time:

Venus of the Garden Pond - 8

This piece is made from an iron key given to me by my colleague Jo Pond. She found it in her garden.

Completed Workshop - 2

I went to The Coffin Works for the first time last week to see a show of work by tapestry artist, Tina Francis. The Coffin Works is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a factory where coffins used to be made, along with the associated metalworks for the coffins. Originally Newman Brothers, the factory was turned into an artspace and museum when the company closed.

The Coffin Works - 3

Inside is fascinating, and all the stamping equipment is still working.

The Coffin Works - 4

The Coffin Works - 5

The Coffin Works - 10

There is a film about the factory here:

Upstairs, in the original office spaces, there is a gallery space which is used by artists to display work relating to the themes of the museum. Tina Francis is currently displaying her work "Seven Stages of Grief", a series of tapestries about her own response to the death of someone she was close to.

Tina Francis - Tapestry - Seven Stages of Grief - 5

Tina Francis - Tapestry - Seven Stages of Grief - 1

This is a terrible photograph of the work in situ and gives no sense of how the tapestries change from 1 - 7. I was fascinated by Tina's interest in the back of the works, which she photographs and then uses the photographs as part of the overall work:

Tina Francis - Tapestry - Seven Stages of Grief - 4

Tina is a bit of a force of nature and I'm pleased to say that she is a major part of the Jewellery Quarter Open Studios, mentioned above.

Tina Francis - Tapestry - Seven Stages of Grief - 3
Tina Francis, Left, talking to visitors to the gallery.

I brought in the eminent Peter Johns, inventor of "Argentium" silver to speak to the students about the material and to give us some background to the use of Argentium in contemporary jewellery and silverwares.

This was a fascinating lecture and it made me rather sad to think that Peter invented this stuff while he was researcher at Middlesex University attached to the BA Jewellery and Accessories course which is being closed down this year. The shortsightedness of closing down these specialist craft courses is unbelievable and one only has to look at the work Peter has done, or the work of our own Jewellery Innovations Centre in the School of Jewellery to realise that. These courses have built up over decades, gathering expertise and equipment. They are largely a product of progressive, liberal education policies of the sort which don't test four year-olds and which - rightly - see art, craft, science, play, radical philosophy and all the other rag-tag of subjects as important to the development of a rounded, creative and dynamic society. These programmes will never be re-instated. We axe them now to the detriment of society now and in the very long-term.

(Two political digressions in one blog post... dangerous ground!)

Anyway, I bought some Argentium the next day and have been experimenting with it. I'll write up my thoughts in a future post.

Madelyn Smoak came to visit last weekend and we made pickles!

We did lots of other things as well, but Madelyn is a big fan of fermented vegetables. I am a big fan of Korean KimChi - which I first tasted in San Francisco a few years back - but don't like buying it as I've not found one in this country that I really like. I've always shied away from making it as I'm scared of it going off and making me ill - very unlikely, it seems - so some guidance from Madelyn set my mind at rest and we made some. Very good it is, too: one of those jars has been eaten already!

A visit to the surreal world of Birmingham Car Boot Sale also happened:

Curated Drills

Desastres Flamenco

This week also saw the first Jewellery - Fashion Business event in the School of Jewellery, involving buyers from local and international companies and allowing students and graduates the chance to present their products. Surprisingly, this is the first collaboration between Jewellery and Fashion and it was really exciting to have it happen in the School.

Vanessa and Mahroz of HND Jewellery and Silversmithing

This week, Birmingham has been hosting the International Dance Festival. On Friday, I went to see Shun Ito's mesmeric installation in the Municipal Bank Building in town.

Shun Ito - In A Landscape - 1

Shun Ito is included in the festival as he used to be a dancer and has since moved into metalsmithing and sculpture. The event was not only these sculptures, but later on, music and dance was added to it. The music was by Ex-Easter Island Head, playing tabletop guitars and bells and was utterly fantastic; a combination of drone-minimalism and the sort of melodic structures that made the Jesus and Mary Chain so great.

Shun Ito - In A Landscape - 3

For me, it would have been enough to have sat and listened to the music and absorbed the hypnotic structures moving slowly in the ever-changing light but there was also a dance piece by Kei Miyata, who, along with a troupe of amateur dancers, performed a piece which I found dull, contrived, pretentious and annoying. That may, however, just have been me not getting it as one of my colleagues was moved to tears by the piece.

Shun Ito - In A Landscape - 2

The highlight of the evening was the comment from a member of the audience that "I will be going back to Shropshire with my chakras completely rearranged", referring to the volume of the band!

Shun Ito - In A Landscape - 5
Shun Ito in Conversation
After this, we all went over to Centenary Square for a quite different experience in the form of "The Machine Show", altogether more populist and accessible, featuring the French rock band "Rinôçérôse", Hip-Hop dancer, Salah Benlemqawanssa, Indian classical dancer, Aakash Odedra, and a host of others. Based loosely on a quote by Andy Warhol and stealing more than a little from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", it was great fun and completely lacking in the wilful obscurity and pretentiousness I found in the earlier piece.

The Machine Show - 1

The Machine Show - 2

The Machine Show - 5

The rest of the weekend has been spent in the garden!