Sunday, December 18, 2016

Goodbye to Gaynor

So, Christmas and new year approach and, like most right-thinking people (Left-thinking, I mean!), I won't be sad to put this miserable 2016 to bed. Still, it is also the time of year when people wear silly hats and bad jumpers and it was the week of the student Christmas night out, to which my colleagues, Kate and Jo were invited too:

Brasshouse HND Christmas 2016 - 2

Brasshouse HND Christmas 2016 - 3

In case you are interested, "Rudolph" on the left is actually Andrew Cowley who did so well in the recent World Skills event and which I blogged about here.

Brasshouse HND Christmas 2016 - 1

A great bunch of people.

The main event of the week was the retirement from the School of Jewellery of our Head, Gaynor Andrews. I owe Gaynor a lot: it is down to her that I am employed at the School and she was even responsible for finding me the house I am now living in in Birmingham! She always went above and beyond the job description to ensure that the School thrived and developed in new ways and she will be missed enormously.

Gaynor Andrews' Retirement - 1

Gaynor started at the school as a student in - I think - 1974 and never really left! She has been involved in the School for 40 years and during that time has worked closely with the industry, keeping absolutely up-to-date with all the newest technology and shaping the curriculum of the School to do likewise. It was a testament to her popularity and success that the atrium at the school was packed and that all the current staff and a good number of ex-staff turned up to see her off:

Gaynor Andrews' Retirement - 13

People had flown in for the evening and had travelled across the whole country to be there. As a retirement present, the current staff bought her a pen by one of her most successful alumni, Jack Row (who was also there, of course!):

Gaynor Andrews' Retirement - 10

There was also a book of her time at the School, with some very well-known faces on the front and back covers:

Gaynor Andrews' Retirement - 7

But Zoe Robertson's pages sum up Gaynor's time at the School:

Gaynor Andrews' Retirement - 5

We still don't know who is taking over her role, a difficult job at the best of time but one which Gaynor personalised and made her own.

This weekend I went to see the impressive Centrepiece show at Symphony Hall in Birmingham. Centrepiece is a collective of jewellers who are based in or around Birmingham and who have an annual selling show at Christmas. My friend and colleague, Kate Thorley, helps to organise it and the quality of the work is superb.

Centrepiece - Exhibition - 2

Centrepiece - Exhibition - 1

It was good to see interesting, wearable contemporary jewellery presented in this way.

Centrepiece - Exhibition - 3

Centrepiece - Exhibition - 4

Centrepiece - Exhibition - 5

Just in case you've not had enough of it - unlikely I know - here's a picture of a giant, ugly Santa, taken in the centre of Birmingham:

Giant Ugly Santa

It reminded me of the Sketchy Santas website, which always amuses.

Holiday time on Tuesday! Can't wait.

I may get another post in before New Year, but don't count on it. Have a great time over the festive season, however you spend it.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Tragic Emptiness of Now

Michael Gove is one of the new Illiberal Elite who are forever moaning about the Liberal Elite who, I figure, sound very much like me. There is something clammy and unwholesome, something fungal about Gove's glossy face and his flaccid nose which speaks of childhood pickings: he looks like the sort of pants-wetting loser who routinely sucked up to teachers and received regular beatings in the playground. Needless to say, as part of the Illiberal Elite, he is reactionary and this week waded into criticising the Turner Prize winner, Helen Marten, describing her as epitomising 'The tragic emptiness of now'. Which suggests to me that he's never seen Ms Marten's remarkable, human, slightly surreal, often humorous works. She is playful, light and fun.

What this suggests to me is that Gove had someone prepare this poetic soundbite for release on the morning after the judging of the Turner Prize. The reason I say 'had someone prepare' is that this beautiful sequence of words is so far from his flabby-mouthed, blundering norm that I can't believe that it came from him. In fact, what this pre-planned "criticism" of Ms Marten and the Turner Prize in general have shown is further proof of that Britain is becoming a fascist state.

I am reminded - again - of Umberto Eco's essay, 'Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt' in which he writes that for the fascist:
'[...] culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds." The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.'
(Should anyone be interested in the trivial little driveller, Gove's full pronouncement, see this article.)

Roger Hiorns - 4

I had cause to think about these words on Wednesday night when I visited the Roger Hiorns exhibition at the IKON gallery, a real curate's egg of a show. I am going to ignore most of the first-floor gallery which was filled with paintings which I will confess to not liking and probably not understanding, paintings in latex and "brain matter" that reminded me of a late-career Matisse tackling images from Grindr.

The installation pieces upstairs, however, were incredible: most certainly a testament to the 'tragic emptiness of now'. I wasn't allowed - understandably - to photograph the main exhibition upstairs but the image from the invite to the private view will give you an idea of what it was about:

A piece for "jet engine, anti-depressants and youth" in which a live model walks about the exhibits, sitting listlessly on them or appearing to sleep next to them, this is simultaneously sublime and utterly miserable: strange half-human machines bubble away in one room, an x-ray machine is upended in another, the floor is covered in powdered anti-depressant medicine and this boy wanders about dehumanised, depersonalised, an element in a work of art.

Roger Hiorns - 1

Hiorns here questions the cults of the 20th Century which have brought us to this disastrous global situation: psychoanalysis, youth, speed, travel, eternal life and the result is deeply moving.

Lighter things also happened this week, including the annual Christmas lecture at the School of Jewellery, given by Professor Richard Taylor.

School of Jewellery Christmas Lecture - 1

Professor Taylor posed the question of how it is possible for Santa to deliver all the presents to all the children of the world in one night:

School of Jewellery Christmas Lecture - 2

And then proceeded to give us a whistle-stop tour of physics:

School of Jewellery Christmas Lecture - 3

Travelling by way of Russian meteorites and the Large Hadron Collider with rather too many clips from the Dudley Moore film, "Santa Claus: The Movie" (which appears to contain a line about the quantum possibilities of the problem) he concluded that contemporary quantum physics proves that Santa CAN deliver all the presents in one night!

So relieved.

This was followed by a Christmas Karaoke for the staff and students. I am not the biggest fan of things Christmas and I loathe Karaoke, so left after the mince-pies has been eaten and the singing started. Not before catching our Head of School, Gaynor Andrews, and my colleague Sally Collins in some very silly hats:

Christmas Karaoke - 1

A musical end to the week with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group playing some works from their fantastic "Sound Investment" programme, a programme which allows members of the public to sponsor the commissioning of a new piece of music from a contemporary composer. The programme was all pieces commissioned since 2000, most notably a piece from the ever impressive Gerald Barry, "Wiener Blut".

Highlight of the evening was, however the most recent commission, the brilliant "Ceci N'est pas un Concerto" by Francisco Coll, described by the composer as "surreal" and "a fake piano concertino", it is, at least in part, a concerto for piano and soprano with a hilarious and difficult sung part. This was performed brilliantly by Elizabeth Atherton.

Francisco Coll - 2

Sunday, December 04, 2016

A Hairy Week!

That was a week so jammed with things to do that I'm still reeling. It all started on Tuesday evening when I had three different, sequential events to go to, first of these being one of the School of Jewellery's intermittent lecture series, "Talking Practice" which was given by Bharti Parmar.

Bharti Parmar - 2

Birmingham based Parmar is a force to be reckoned with, slyly humorous and fiercely intelligent, she works in a variety of media, most notably human hair. Her work touches on jewellery and the value of jewellery materials but she is not a jeweller.

Bharti Parmar - 3

Although she talked about her other work, bridging fine-art and craft - including marquetry - the main focus of her discussion and the main point of interest for me was her work on a carpet made from human hair, entitled "Shag". Shag took 9 months to make and is really rather beautiful: there is a definite sense of repulsion to the piece but at the same time, it has a ravishing luxuriance.

The use of colour across the piece is subtle and beautiful and it was a real pleasure to hear her speaking about it.

You can see Bharti Parmar's work on "Shag" here:

As she said herself, "You can find it on YouTube by searching for 'Shag Bharti Parmar'"!

I didn't get to the reception for Bharti as it was off to the Assay Office to meet with colleagues old and new for the opening of the British Society of Enamellers exhibition "Enamoured" at the Birmingham Assay Office.

Enamoured - 1

The new Assay Office in Birmingham has a beautiful reception area which has been designed specifically for exhibitions and I think that this might be the first major show that they have hosted there.

Enamoured - 2

In addition to the work by the contemporary enamellers, there are also displays of work by traditional enamellers old and current; some historic pieces along with pieces made more recently in Birmingham where there is still an industry doing very high-quality fine enamelling, such as this chain by Thomas Fattorini:

Enamoured - 4

It was interesting to see some of the pieces where the enamel has been used in a fine-art context:

Enamoured - 5

I always really like enamel and get excited by exhibitions like this, think that I must learn to enamel properly and then dismiss the idea rapidly when I remember what a hassle it all is! Hats off to enamellers!

Next up on my very own "Super-Tuesday" was the BA Jewellery and Related Products annual Christmas selling show where they make and sell work - selling rather a lot this year - in order to raise money for, I think, a trip to Munich Jewellery Week. I rushed across the city to Centrala in the somewhat derelict end of Digbeth.


Centrala is a cafe and arts venue which has a large upstairs exhibition and performance space in which the show was hosted. Unfortunately, some of the lighting had failed but the students used their 'phones as torches for a more intimate experience!

BA Jewellery Selling Show - 2016 - 5

BA Jewellery Selling Show - 2016 - 1

The quality of the work was, as usual, excellent and highly inventive. There wasn't anything this year that really spoke to me as a "must buy" but I was tempted by these remarkable fish pendants by Yuwei Yu:

BA Jewellery Selling Show - 2016 - 2

And these recycled wood pieces by Kwami Durojaiye:

BA Jewellery Selling Show - 2016 - 2

One of my own ex-students, Tilly Wright was exhibiting her work, which I forgot to photograph:

BA Jewellery Selling Show - 2016 - 4

She is working with silver and blackened wood, using rather beautiful abstracted human forms.

Wednesday was full of work meetings and then it was off to London to speak at the GIA about my practice. I walked past one of my favourite shop-fronts anywhere:

James Smith & Sons  - Umbrellas

An umbrella shop!

GIA Talk - 1

The talk went down well and I had taken a handling collection, which always goes down well if there is time after the talk.

GIA Talk - 3

Man's Struggle

Thursday brought a visit to Coventry, where I met up with Steve Snell - you may recall that his Dual Works company made a lot of furniture for my house when I moved to Birmingham. Steve works with the Automotive Design department at Coventry University and the workshops are incredible!

Coventry University Automotive Design - 3

Coventry University Automotive Design - 2

This was one of those moments where I realised that this is a real job that someone has to do and that people have to learn to do it. It was also great to hear that the employment prospects for these students are good. Something tells me that this prototype from the woodwork shop might not make it:

Coventry University Automotive Design - 4

I was reminded of this...

Coventry is a remarkable city in many ways. Unlike the Brutalist autotopia of Birmingham, the post-war bombed-out centre of the city was reconstructed with a very British modernism, a quietly confident, modest modernism on a human scale and the optimism of that architecture can still be felt. After the university visit, we went for dinner to a remarkably well-preserved vestige of that style, Drapers' Bar. I can find absolutely no information about this place but I am guessing that it is a late 1950s or early 1960s interior - or maybe a superb pastiche, but I doubt it - and is actually worth seeking out to experience.

Drapers, Coventry - 1

Drapers, Coventry - 1

The food is good too.

I was in Coventry to go to The Herbert for the Craftspace-curated "Made in the Middle" exhibition, for which I have spent the last 8 or so months making new work and for which Craftspace - Emma Daker and Deirdre Figueiredo in particular - deserve all the praise that can be heaped upon them.

Made in the Middle Private View - 2

Made in the Middle is an exhibition of around 30 makers who are based in the Midlands. I applied at the very last minute on a suggestion from my colleague Anna Lorenz and was amazed to be accepted, having only moved to the Midlands 3 months previously! The show is beautifully-balanced, exceptionally well-curated and has a really wide and varied range of work in a variety of media.

Made in the Middle Private View - 4

In addition to Anna,  other friends and colleagues were included too: Sally Collins, Zoe Robertson and John Grayson.

Made in the Middle Private View - 5
Zoe Robertson
Made in the Middle Private View - 9
Sally Collins
John's satirical political automaton demands a video:

My own work was displayed like industrial archaeology, which was really pleasing:

Made in the Middle Private View - 6

Made in the Middle Private View - 10

A visit to one of the real old-school jewellers in the Jewellery Quarter, Tom Alcott.

Tom Alcott  - 9

Tom is 83 and works in his tiny workshop in the quarter every day. He is hidden away from the throngs down a mysterious alley:

Tom Alcott  - 10

Tom is one of the people who makes the Jewellery Quarter so unique and thrilling.

Tom Alcott  - 4

Tom Alcott  - 6

Tom Alcott  - 2

I'm going to invite him into the School to comment on the HND Level 5 fine jewellery project in the early spring of next year.

As we were leaving, he suggested we have a look next door at the diamond mounter, Mr Gadd. He is older than Tom and cycles to work every day. These people are utterly inspirational (ignore the calendars!).

Tom Alcott  - 8
Pave-setting tiny diamonds without a lens or microscope. Impressive.

Today was much calmer. Went to the "Bearwood Handmade" craft fair about which I had initially been a bit dubious but this was not at all the sort of thing I had expected.

Bearwood Crafts - 1

The quality of work was really high and it was much more than just the usual beaded crap calling itself 'jewellery'. In fact, there was NO beaded crap calling itself jewellery but a couple of good jewellers working in precious materials, a blacksmith, ceramics, food products of various types, paintings, prints and textiles.

Bearwood Crafts - 2

I was really taken with Derek Lilley's altered book art.

Bearwood Crafts - 3

I bought one which could have been cut specifically for me: jewellery tools, a camera, barbering, clothes, food, a bloke with a big beard and policemen on stilts...

Bearwood Crafts - 5