Fired with passion
Essay written by Dr. Elizabeth Goring published in the catalogue produced for the exhibition 'Surface & Substance'
A reflection on studio enamelling in Britain
British studio enamelling has a history that reaches back into at least the late 19th century. In his 1999 paper for the Journal of The Decorative Arts Society, Professor Stephen Pudney makes an eloquent case for the significant debt owed by enamellers in Britain to the brilliant Victorian artist and teacher Alexander Fisher.(1)
Pudney’s paper, the first to focus on this masterly pioneer, traces the extent and reach of Fisher’s influence through his teaching. In 1885 the young Fisher, then 21 years old, attended a series of twelve enamelling classes taught by Louis Dalpayrat at the National Art Training Schools in South Kensington. Fisher was the only one of the twelve students in attendance who went on to take up the technique. The outcome proved to be momentous for studio enamelling. ‘In the space of only fifteen years from the late 1880s,’ Pudney writes, ‘Alexander Fisher was almost solely responsible for a major innovation in English decorative arts: the establishment of enamel work as an important element of metalwork design, beyond its limited applications in the jewellery and watchmaking trades.’
The private tuition Fisher provided for wealthy patrons, and his involvement with the new Central School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal College of Art, are better known than his 22 years of teaching at the City and Guilds Technical College in Finsbury. Yet, as Pudney points out, among the 200 or so students who were taught enamelling by Fisher at Finsbury between 1893 and 1915 may be found some of the most important names of the Arts & Crafts movement.(2) It is largely due to Fisher that ‘Enamelling became an important part of the work of many silversmiths, from studio workers like the Dawsons, to large commercial firms like William Hutton & Sons. The revival of enamel was part of a widening of the scope of English [sic] silverwork, which has continued to this day.’(3)
Let’s fast forward to 1985: exactly a century after Alexander Fisher attended his first enamelling class, I was a young museum curator, three years into my first (and, as it happens, last) museum post at what was then called the Royal Scottish Museum. An archaeologist and jewellery historian by training, I had a particular interest in ancient goldwork, the subject of my PhD thesis. Within a year of arriving in Edinburgh I had also made my first tentative steps towards discovering the world of contemporary jewellery which has become my passion. By 1985, my twin interests had begun to come together. In April that year I began corresponding with Maureen Carswell, who had recently become the first Chairman of the newly established Society of British Enamellers (as it was then called; it later, very significantly, changed its name: see below). I was researching the remarkably early appearance of enamelling in Cyprus, in the Late Bronze Age, and she generously answered my technical queries and even initiated some experiments on my behalf. This was my ‘Fisher moment’, fusing an interest in the history of enamelling with its current practice.
Jessica Calderwood. Navel, brooch/pendant, enamel, copper, sterling silver, nugold, stainless steel, 2010. Photo: the artist
I had made my first purchases of contemporary jewellery for the national collections in Scotland in August 1983 (at Dazzle, in the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms). By the following year, I had started to acquire cutting-edge work from both the UK and abroad. By the 1980s, artist-made contemporary jewellery and metalwork had made a long journey from the Arts & Crafts tradition that Alexander Fisher would have recognised.
In jewellery and metalwork terms, a further significant cultural distance separates the world of 1985 from that of 2011, and it is worth taking a brief look back to what was happening around that time.
Those working with precious metals had, not too long before, experienced the rollercoaster ride precipitated by the attempt by the Hunt brothers to corner the world market in silver. Between September 1979 and January 1980, silver prices had risen from some $11 an ounce to around $50 an ounce – and had collapsed again to below $11 an ounce two months later. In October 1984, the IRA had bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton where the Conservative cabinet was staying for the Party Conference. In January 1985, miners’ leaders called off their bitter year-long strike. In March that year, Mikhail Gorbachev became the new General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, in the world of contemporary metalwork and jewellery, the Goldsmiths’ Company organised its second craft fair for silversmiths and jewellers in October 1984. Peter Gainsbury noted that the Fair ‘offers the retail trade and the public an opportunity to see jewellery, and more especially silverware, of types which can rarely be seen outside a very small number of galleries and specialised shops... It is a matter of regret to the Goldsmiths’ Company that the retail jewellers’ trade has up to now virtually ignored the existence of the wealth of talent of designer craftsmen, silversmiths and jewellers.’(4)
Two soon-to-be founding members of the Society of British Enamellers (SOBE), Maureen Edgar and Sarah Letts, showed at the 1984 Goldsmiths’ Fair. In 1985, the work of another SOBE founding member, Georgina Follett, was being shown in Old Romantics, an exhibition at Sharon Plant’s cutting-edge London crafts gallery, Aspects. At this time, Electrum Gallery in South Molton Street was preparing to open an exhibition of work by three innovative artist jewellers from Toronto: Kai Chan, James Evans and Louis Tortell. The invitation notes: ‘...they share common ground in their deliberate attempt to broaden the horizons of jewellery, willing to test new ground and express original ideas. They also share a preference for non-precious materials, partly becauseit allows them greater freedom in the formal realisation of their concepts...’ These materials included palm fibres, aluminium, silk and stainless steel.
In The Times of Tuesday 28 May 1985, Suzy Menkes published a full page feature article entitled ‘Extraordinary new jewels’, tracing what she described as ‘an explosion of interest in “New Jewellery’’ ’ that month. ‘A major show combining modern jewellery with avant garde fashion was put on at Goldsmiths’ Hall; an important exhibition of American jewellery opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum; a newly published book discusses the new trends in jewellery [Peter Dormer and Ralph Turner’s The New Jewelry. Trends and traditions]; last week a selling exhibition of young designers’ jewels opened at the National Theatre [Dazzle]; next weekend five metalwork students at the Royal College of Art offer their wares.’
The American jewellery exhibition was Masterworks of Contemporary American Jewelry: sources and concepts; and the SOBE’s Newsletter for 10 June 1985 noted that around a third of the exhibits were enamelled.
These exhibits included the work of Margaret Craver, described by Menkes as ‘delicate en résille enamel jewellery, the colours floating like oil drops on the surface... Beside it, is a case of 17th century jewellery, using the same technique.’ She noted the strength of enamelling techniques in the exhibition, drawing particular attention to ‘Collette’s cloisonné enamel in a mosaic overlay of rich colour and pattern; or William Harper’s striking tactile ‘charm beads’ neckpiece of champlevé and cloisonné enamel on three different metals.’
Less than two weeks later, the Sunday Times magazine published a long feature entitled ‘Baubles, Bangles and Bricks’, written by Georgina Howell, which commented rather tartly on the Dormer and Turner book. ‘You don’t wear these pieces, they wear you,’ she wrote, and went on to quote a pithy comment from Peter Dormer: ‘A jeweller’s function is to decorate. When you design something that’s difficult or impossible to wear, you had better be sure you are making a point worth making.’
The opening of the 1985 exhibition Contemporary British Enamels at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, a beacon of contemporary craft collecting from 1977, marked a particular milestone for British studio enamelling. The show, which ran from 22 June to 28 July, included the work of twelve SOBE members. Patrick Furse, Head of the Enamelling Section in the Fine Art Department of the Central School from 1962-1983 wrote somewhat bitterly in his Preface: ‘The Alchemy of the marriage of glass and metal, consummated in the fire, demands its Adepts, passionately committed to the twofold encounter with Matter and Meaning. Only then... can enamelling regain its past stature as a major art.
But so long as it is treated as a fringe activity, more so than ever in the present parlous state of art education, there is little opportunity for such Adepts to arise. And... they cannot practise without encouragement and an informed and critical audience. The present forum signals a welcome move in this direction.’(5) Frances Bugg, Craft Development Officer, agreed, though rather more succinctly. ‘Art colleges tend to restrict their enamelling activities to small scale work within jewellery and silversmithing departments. At present Central School
of Art is the only place able to offer a specialist enamels section where graduates and undergraduates can learn how to prepare and fire their panels... Nevertheless,’ she added cheerfully, ‘ enamelling is alive and well.’(6)
In 1986, the influential Oxford Gallery held an exhibition of contemporary enamelling from May to July that travelled on to the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh. The exhibition, selected by Valerie Stewart, was designed to illustrate contemporary approaches to different enamelling techniques including cloisonné, plique-à-jour and painted enamels, and included work by four SOBE members, Ros Conway, Georgina Follett, Fred Rich and Jane Short, as well as work by three non-members, Robin Banks, Kim Ellwood and Wendy Ramshaw. Kim Ellwood was the youngest exhibitor, and had graduated from Middlesex only the previous year. She was showing painterly work using matt industrial enamel on steel, and I purchased a brooch for the National Museums of Scotland collection from the show – my first acquisition of contemporary enamelling for the collection. Coincidentally, the SOBE’s Newsletter of August 1986 commented on the number of graduates choosing to use enamel in their work that year.
In October 1986 the SOBE decided to change its name from the Society of British Enamellers to the British Society of Enamellers (BSOE): this was a significant moment. The subtle but important distinction was an explicit recognition of the membership’s impressive internationalism. The succeeding years have seen the Society play an increasingly important role in both national and international exhibitions and conferences, and further broaden its already important international profile.
In May 1987, Electrum Gallery showed enamels by 24 members of the BSOE, with such success that in November 1988 a second show presented the work of 27. The exhibition poster noted that ‘almost half the participants... have their work represented in important public collections’ both in the UK and abroad.
Members of the BSOE had, for many years, been enthusiastically seizing opportunities to meet other enamellers in person in an international context. In April 1991, another major milestone was reached with the organisation of the Society’s highly successful 1st International Conference at Wadham College, Oxford. This event coincided with an energetic programme of cultural and social events for enamellers visiting from Russia. The presence of a significant number of overseas delegates at the conference was both inspirational and influential; there were around 60 enamellers from eight different countries, many of them from the USA and Eastern Europe. The conference was accompanied by Society exhibitions at the Oxford Gallery and Christ Church Gallery. The success of the whole event encouraged the organisation of further international conferences at Pembroke College, Cambridge, in April 1993 (with a linked BSOE exhibition at Cambridge Contemporary Art), and at West Dean in 1995 and 1998.
Studio enamelling in Britain had made huge progress in a very short time. The Minutes of the 8th Annual General Meeting of the BSOE, held in the V&A in 1992, noted: ‘In 1984, little was known of British enamels. In what is a comparatively short time, we have gained great ground in the acceptance of enamelling. In colleges, in the gallery system, BSOE is recognised as a body... Abroad we are now recognised as being one of the leading countries... we are now invited to exhibit in our own right in countries with a long established history of enamels.’ By 1994, BSOE exhibitions had been held at Electrum Gallery and the RIBA in London; the Peacock Gallery in Chipping Camden; the Light Infantry Museum & Art Gallery in Durham; the Oxford Gallery and Christ Church Gallery in Oxford; Facets in Dartmouth; Ruthin Craft Centre; Cambridge Contemporary Art; and overseas in Pittsburgh, PA and Ohio in the US, and Coburg in Germany.
In the second decade of the 21st century, enamel is certainly more visible.
This year, for example, Flow Gallery in London has shown Fused: Contemporary enamel, while the highly-regarded Scottish Gallery gave a first solo show to the young enameller Stacey Bentley, who had graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2008. London has, for several years now, had its own applied art gallery specialising in a contemporary approach to enamel. Studio Fusion, owned and run by Sarah Letts, Joan MacKarell, Louise O’Neill, Gudde Jane Skyrme, Elizabeth Turrell and Tamar de Vries Winter, maintains an active programme of special exhibitions by leading British and international artists and provides a central public focus for the medium.
Projects like The Enamel Experience. International Badge Exhibition curated by Elizabeth Turrell, have played an important dynamic role in linking the worldwide enamel community. This particular project, led by the pioneering Enamel Research Centre, part of the Centre for Fine PrintResearch at the University of the West of England based in Bristol, brought together the work of 23 artists from Germany, the UK and the USA, and toured to a number of international venues during 2008 and 2009. It developed out of an annual badge project initiated by the Enamel Research Centre which provided a cross- disciplinary forum for artists from a wide range of disciplines and media.
Annamaria Zanella. Bionic Heart, brooch, silver, enamel, gold, acrylic paint, 2006. Photo: Franco Storti
Stacey Bentley. Red brooch, oxidised white metal, iron, enamel, stainless steel, 2011. Photo: the artist
UWE also provided the home of ICVEA, the International Contemporary Vitreous Enamel ArchivIt is not all good news, however. It is desperately sad, and more than a little short-sighted, that UWE has recently decided to abandon its internationally renowned centre of excellence for enamelling. The loss of its highly skilled staff and specialised facilities will undoubtedly have immense impact on studio enamelling in Britain. Alexander Fisher, champion of teaching enamel techniques, would have been deeply dismayed at this withdrawal of educational support. Interestingly, this move comes at a time when general public interest in enamel has probably never been greater: enamelling classes are invariably over-subscribed.
In 2000–1, the National Museums of Scotland collaborated with Aberdeen Art Gallery and the Scottish Gallery to mount two complementary enamel exhibitions, Fired with Colour: Aspects of Enamelling in Britain, and Chance and Order. The former placed contemporary enamelling in its historical context, while the latter focused on contemporary British and international enamel jewellery with a more experimental approach.
Professor Elizabeth Moignard’s review of Fired with Colour noted,
‘One of the exhibition’s major virtues is that it demonstrates the abiding influence of the late 19th century practitioners who evidently liberated enamel from its cloisons, and painted; without them the big-scale pieces would not be there.’
So perhaps the eloquent and passionate voice of that 19th century pioneer, Alexander Fisher himself, should be allowed to have the last word here:
'All the bewildering surfaces, all the depths and lovelinesses that lie darkly in the waters of sea- caves, all the glistening lustre of gleaming gold or silver back and fin of fish, the velvet of the sea-anemone, the jewelled brilliance of sunshine on snow, the hardness greater than that of marble, the flame of sunset, indeed, the very embodiments in colour of the intensity of beauty – these are at hand waiting for expression in enamel.
I have every confidence that enamellers today, imbued with the same passion that fired him, will continue to interpret his dream.
Elizabeth Goring 2011
1 Pudsey (1999), 71. (On the same page, Pudsey reproduces a wonderful photograph, ‘Fisher at work’, from The Studio 1896)
2 Pudsey (1999), 73 and 85
3 Pudsey (1999), 81
4 Goldsmiths’ Fair booklet, Introduction by Peter Gainsbury
5 Contemporary British Enamels, 2
6 Contemporary British Enamels, 5
For a complete bibliography see Surface & Substance catalogue ISBN 978-1-905865-40-6
'Surface and Substance' curated by Jessica Turrell
Discussed by Isabelle Busnell
A touring exhibition of contemporary enamel work: Contemporary Applied Arts Gallery, London, 14 October - 12 November 2011
And Electrum Gallery, London, 7 October - 5 November 2011 + Ruthin Gallery, Clwyd, Wales, 19 November - 15 January 2012
“Surface and substance” is the title of two simultaneous exhibitions held at the moment in London about International Contemporary Enamel.
They both have been curated by Jessica Turrell and are held at the Electrum Gallery (www.electrumgallery.co.uk) and at CAA (www.caa.org.uk).
This title refers to Jessica Turell’s practice led research project “Surface and substance: a call for the fusion of skill and ideas in contemporary enamel jewellery” that I have already mentioned in my article about the contemporary enamel paradox (http://thinkingthroughthings.blogspot.com).
The exhibition’s flyer mentions: “The title, Surface and Substance, has been chosen to emphasize that while this is clearly an exhibition that focuses on the use of vitreous enamel – the surface – of equal importance is the ‘substance’ that underpins the work on display; the thinking and the research, which along with the obvious material knowledge and skill, is evident in the striking and individual pieces on show”.
While the fusion of skills and ideas clearly appeared in these exhibitions, I came back with an additional story in mind: “Surface and Substance” can also be viewed in the light of the tumultuous relationship between aesthetics and contents and contribute to the controversial debate about the value
Jorunn Veiteberg wrote a very thought provoking chapter called “The Problem of Beauty” on the issue in her book “Craft in transition” (Bergen National Academy of the arts, 2005). In this essay, she starts by reviewing the different philosophies about the concept of beauty (Plato, Hume, Kant, Beaudelaire…) and then describes the main taboos of beauty (beauty as empty aesthetics, immoral, sensual, feminine and commercial…). The last paragraph establishes a link between craft and beauty and provides some interesting insights: “Craft addresses the senses and does not assume an antithetical or hierarchical ranking between mind and body, craft and art, visible surface and deeper meaning”, she says, and she quotes the design historian Frederik Wildhagen: “without in-depth knowledge of materials one cannot achieve beauty”. In the world of contemporary art however, the word beautiful is often synonymous with superficial or vacuous: it implies that the work is purely aesthetic and lacks substance, is not really art. “It is necessary to separate aesthetics from art” said Joseph Kosuth in his 1969 manifesto… Jorunn Veiteberg then asks: “Does craft devote too much attention to aesthetics and too little to meaning? Is it a final proof that craft is hopelessly out of touch with other contemporary visual art? Or should we reject this as an artificial antithesis?
Craft in Transition book cover. Google images
She is clearly in favour of the latter but she broadens the perspective: “We all need and long for something that is beautiful. But exactly what it is, is an open question”, she says, and quoting Roland Barthes “beauty cannot really be explained… it can only say: I am what I am”, she states “beauty is much easier to detect than to define”.
Virginia Postrel in her book “The substance of style”, (Harper Perennial, 2004) seems to share this view and argues that society must accept “that aesthetic pleasure is an autonomous good, not the highest or the best but one of the many plural, sometimes conflicting, and frequently unconnected to sources of value ” and must refrain from holding “those with aesthetic preferences in low regards”.
I am pleased that Jorunn Veiteberg finishes her chapter on beauty with an optimistic outlook: according to her, beauty has a future before it and will benefit from a new theoretical turn. She even gives a possible lead to fill the concept of beauty with new meaning: “beauty is about the rhetorical tools that craft utilises in order to arouse visual joy and desire, heal spiritual wounds and worn out bodies, and about the aspect that makes a piece irresistible”.
I am convinced that beauty is a theme worth exploring and that we, craft makers, should not be ashamed of mentioning and researching it. “Nor, in craft, has beauty ever been repressed and exiled, except from speech and theory” says Jorunn Veiteberg. Indeed, beauty seems to be at the core of craft practice, and so to a much greater extend than in other visual art practices. At the same time, it doesn’t seem to be able to stand on its own and needs to be associated with a more intellectual side: one can enjoy the “surface” but we should not forget to look at the “substance” …
Enamel practices are particularly interesting in that debate as the technique naturally puts great emphasis on the surface and therefore needs a lot of energy to convince that not only the surface, the aspect and the beauty have to be admired, but the substance beneath it as well.
It is with those considerations in mind that I have approached some of the artists’ works shown in those two exhibitions and tried to understand how they cope with this challenging issue of beauty (or surface).
Ralph Bakker, Grande Florale, Necklace, gold,silver,enamel, 2010 Photo: Michael Anhalt
“I want to seduce with my jewellery, my work is seduction; and when the seduction is achieved, the seduced can never be without the object of desire” writes Ralph Bakker in the exhibition catalogue.
Having met the artist at the private view, he confirmed he was perfectly comfortable with the idea that he makes beautiful objects of desire: “you get what you see”, he told me.
Jacqueline Ryan, Pendant, 18ct gold, vitreous enamel, 1996 Photo: Jacqueline Ryan
“I am fascinated by nature’s creativity… most of my pieces are preceded by studies derived from plant life and other small organisms” states Jacqueline Ryan. In her work, the artist abstracts nature and tries to recreate the impressions she has encountered observing infinite combinations offered by the natural world. “Visually stimulating and aesthetically exciting” seems to be at the core of her practice.
Vera Siemund, Neckpiece, Enamel on copper. Silver, 2009 Photo: Vera Siemund
“Historic ornament has long been the focus of my interest […] And I love to show the beauty of decoration, stuff that is nowadays regarded as very ugly; for example wall lamps or velvet cushions, old fashioned designs as relict of a lost cosy, bourgeois interior” writes Vera Siedmund.
In her work, the artist tries to associate the qualities of ornamentation in old jewellery with a contemporary feeling like this necklace.
Marjorie Simon, Red Blossfeldt, Necklace, vitrous enamel on copper, sterling silver, 2011. Photo: Ken Yanoviak
“I am enjoying the current resurgence of interest in ornament. I look to travel in Europe and the Middle East for inspiration, whether on William Morris wallpaper or the Topkapi Palace” states Marjorie Simon in the catalogue.
The artist draws her inspiration mainly from the plant world where she finds a constant source of inspiration in forms, colours and functions.
Christine Graf, No return, brooch, copper mesh, gold, silver, enamel, stainless steel, 2011. Photo: Christine Graf
Christine Graff explains: “The surface quality - subtle nuances and texture - emphasizes the fragility and ephemeral qualities of the work. It seems as if the metal body is reduced; covered by the enamel it loses its structural qualities and in turn takes on a new visual and metaphorical identity”
Kaori Juzu says: “By forging and repoussé I feel the material and aim to transform that feeling into a form. By applying multiple layers of enamel I seek to enhance the expression not in order solely to create something different but to deepen form. […] Form and surface melt together”.
Jessica Turrell, Hollow form series, brooches, enamel on copper, oxidised siver, 2010. Photo: Jason Ingram
“I seek to create evocative objects that might stir an emotional connection and thus give pleasure […] I strive to attain a tactile delicacy and a weightiness that positively encourages touch. It is important to me that the pieces I create should reward the wearer’s close attention with an intricate and detailed surface” writes Jessica Turrell.
Kathleen Browne, Links, necklace, copper, 24ct gold, vitreous enamel, cotton, 2011. Photo: Kathleen Browne
Kathleen Brown explains that: “My current body of work is a response to a beautiful collection of 19th and early 20th century jewellery that was passing on one of the members of my family. […] These jewel images sit on the surfaces of organic “fleshy” forms I have created”…
By photographing the collection of rings and pasting it onto rough and unrefined forms, the artist seems to conceal its natural beauty into something harder to grasp.
Jamie Bennett, 10th matter of appearance, brooch, enamel, copper, silver, 2011. Photo: Jamie Bennett
“How nature is mediated by ornamentation and aestheticized continues to hold my interest. Particularly in jewellery […] interpretations of beauty seem to be intractable. My own interest in this subject has evolved and what I seek to characterize as beauty has shifted from an integrated ornamental condition to a more incidental bodily appearance” says Jamie Bennett.
Adrean Bloomard, Amphora. Necklace, silver, copper, enamel, 2010. Photo: Adrean Bloomard
Adrean Bloomard’s work is inspired by archaeological finds. He says: “I apply enamel to the surface of metal so that it appears in encrustations and clots, to give a sense of an object that has been corroded by time
Patrizia Bonati, A3, ring, 18ct gold, enamel, 2003. Photo: Patrizia Bonati
In the catalogue, Patrizia Bonati explains: “ I introduce the white enamel to my pieces as a way to “dirty” the surface, although white is a symbol of purity”.
Stephen Bottomley, Matrici, brooch, silver, enamel, plastic, 2011. Photo: Simone Nolden
“Fascinated by oriental motifs and universal mathematical shapes and symmetries, I am intrigued how pattern alters once transferred to cloth. Lines soften and geometries stretch, not only from fabric’s movement and weave but also on the passage of time” writes Stephen Bottomley.
I was intrigued by this piece where the natural beauty of the patterns has been altered and corroded by the enamel.
Annamaria Zanella, Venere, necklace, silver, gold, enamel, magnets, 2007. Photo: franco Storti
For Annamaria Zanella : “The most important aspect of the work remains the continued research on materials, the ability to create sculptural forms through oxidations causing physical holes, wounds, burns, colours, creating microsculptures in which neither the preciousness nor the beauty are the value, but the poetry and the underlying process”.
I will conclude this reflection on Surface and Substance with a work that summarises perfectly the complexity of this topic: the Soot ball series of Susie Ganch.
Susie Ganch, Soot ball series, brooches, diamond, silver, gold leaf, enamelled copper, stainless steel, 2011. Photo: Susie Ganch
Those brooches are made of enamelled copper worked in such a way that they take on the appearance of soot balls, some of them covered with gold leaf and some of them topped by a diamond. By coupling those two materials, she is making a comparison between the most prized substance (the diamond) and one of the cheapest one. One is shiny and desirable; the other is dull and unattractive. But both are made with the same material, carbon. Surface or substance? The same question applies to the brooches covered with gold leaves: they will wear away with time. “In the end the wearer will have to decide what is beautiful: what remains or what was taken away. Beneath the skin of gold is a simple ball of soot” writes Susie Ganch.
This is a perfect metaphor for this debate but as this work demonstrates, no one has to choose between surface and substance and the enamel works shown in those exhibitions represent a very interesting panorama on how craft practices deal with what Jorunn Veiteberg calls “the problem of beauty” in craft.
Isabelle Busnel October 2011
Contemporary Applied Arts: 2 Percy Street London W1T 1DD + Electrum :21 South Molton Street, Mayfair, London W1K 5QZ
opening hours: Monday - Saturday 10.00 - 6.00pm - closed on Sundays
Ruthin Gallery, Ruthin, Clwyd, Wales LL15 1BB
opening hours 10.00 - 5.30 daily
‘The Heat Is On’
Garden Gallery Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock
17 September - 15 October 2011
Reviewed by Pat Johnson
Many current exhibitions that include enamels or are entirely devoted to the medium of enamel tend to show a particular type of work, the kind of work that is produced by a selected section of contemporary enamellers. This is understandable when a certain curatorial viewpoint is being made or where the gallery showing the enamel work is concerned with producing a cohesive display.
Happily, because the size of the of the Garden Gallery at Oxfordshire Museum is sufficiently large, the BSOE was able to show work from members that covered a breadth and variety of contemporary enamelling, thus presenting a truer picture of the scope and potential of current enamelling practice.
However, because of the spectrum of enamel on display, curating and displaying an exhibition of BSOE members’ work posed challenges as well as opportunities.
'The Heat is on' private view
The major opportunity for exhibitions showing a range and variety of enamel work is that visitors to the exhibition are able to see and appreciate the broad range for artistic expression that enamelling offers. Also on display were included pieces that required great skill as well as work demonstrating more simple techniques that also produced enamel work of high merit. A further opportunity evident in a mixed BSOE exhibition is that it attracts visitors with a cross section of tastes, thus supporting the wide range of work made by BSOE members.
Turning to the challenge: one challenge is how to display a diverse collection of enamels when it is important to have a cohesive curatorial theme around which viewers to the exhibition can organise their experience of seeing and appreciating enamels.
Jane Moore, Annie Appleyard and Jill Leventon
Another challenge is dealing with an exhibition that offers enamels for sale. The enamel work on show in ‘The Heat Is On’ commanded a wide variety of prices. At one end of the spectrum were pieces that had taken much skill and time to make, constructed of precious and expensive materials.
At the opposite end of the spectrum were enamels that are quick and relatively inexpensive to produce but have a similar level of aesthetic and artistic value as that of the more expensive pieces. Visitors to the exhibition might not understand what is involved in the setting of these prices and therefore shy away from buying more expensive pieces.
Hali Baykov and Maureen Carswell
A third challenge is displaying enamel work with a broad range of aesthetics. Some pieces have very little visible enamel while a heavy coating of enamel is a feature in other works on display. Similarly some of the exhibits are restrained in colour, while for others a vibrant colour palette is essential. The challenge was to curate and display an exhibition that looked coherent.
This 2011 Woodstock ‘The Heat Is On’ exhibition managed to successfully deal with the challenges of showing different types of enamel work by skilfully grouping related pieces together in dedicated display cases thereby avoiding clashes of colour, style or intention. Visitors were able to move from one ‘atmosphere’ to another and immerse themselves in one aesthetic before proceeding to another.
The result has been a lively and stimulating exhibition. ‘The Heat Is On’ was well attended and produced a healthy of sales.It is important the BSOE continue to exhibit as a group.
In this way, not only will we extend and develop recognition of members’ work but we can continue to publicise and broaden the appreciation of enamel as an artistic medium.
Pat Johnson 31st October 2011
British Silver Week 9-13 May 2011
The British Silver Week Festival of Silver was launched in The Pangolin Fine art gallery in London’s King’s Cross the week of 9-13 May 2011.
Five days of themed exhibitions featured more than 100 of Britain’s finest contemporary silversmiths.
“Contemporary silversmithing is enjoying a renaissance in the UK. In the last three hundred years there have never been more talented working silversmiths in the UK. The teaching by the art colleges of traditional silversmithing skills combined with contemporarydesign ideas has produced a remarkable group of modern silversmiths. Silversmithing is the great, unsung craft. People are only now starting to appreciate the craftsmanship as works of art, which are often beautiful sculptures, many with a practical use too. At British Silver Week events there will be pieces on sale from as little as £200 to £100,000. This is the best opportunity to meet the widely diverse and enormously talented silversmiths currently working in the UK and enables people to view, buy and commission works of art from these great British makers.” Gordon Hamme
Pangolin Gallery, Kings Cross, London
Alongside the enamellers on day three featured silversmiths whose work was a tour de force in engraving and decorative skillls. Prominent master craftsmen such as Allan Craxford, Malcombe Appleby, and Wally Gilbert exhibited the most amazing displays, alongside some exciting young emerging makers.
Images below are taken from Day 3 of Silver Week: Decorative Silver, Engraving and Enamel which featured collections by 22 master silversmiths, chasers, engravers and enamellers.
Headlining the event was the Goldsmiths’ Company & Cartier Award winning , Fred Rich.
The event was a fabulous opprtuntiy to view several pieces ranging from his smaller cups to his magnificent vases.
Ruth Ball displayed her recent collection of small bowls and dishes which highlight patters in nature and focus on themes of seasonality.
Gilie Hoyte Byrom displayed exquisite enamel portraits. The finest details and renderings of the figures were typically awesome.
Rachel Gogerly showed a range of small works. Particularly beautiful were her dishes.
Jenny Edges sculptural tableware were fascinating, her transparent enamels perfectly fired onto the fluid anti-clastic raised forms.
Review of 'Collect' exhibition 2011 at the Saatchi Gallery London
My visit to Collect was a great chance to get a feel for the latest happenings in design and get an overview of current practice. There is so much to see in a show of this type it’s overwhelming, a real visual overload, but never the less a great experience. It’s a privilege to see the work of so many national and international makers in the prestigious surroundings of the Saattchi Gallery: a perfect venue to showcase the diversity of contemporary applied arts.
It would be impossible to review every piece and get a sense of each gallery on exhibition, so I will highlight a few of my favourites.
My local gallery, The Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool, had a strong presence as one of the first displays in the show. The emphasis of their presentation was on the work of makers who deal with radical themes. The represented artists looked towards diverse contemporary political issues including sexual politics, animal rights, warfare and current affairs, all quite intense subject matters.
The work will be further profiled in a follow on show at the gallery in Liverpool in the 'Collect(ed)' exhibition at the Display Centre. Artists featured included Stephen Bird, Michael Brennand-Wood, Stephen Dixon, Emma Rodgers and Paul Scott, much of the work on show had been newly commissioned for the Collect exhibition. The ethos of the work exhibited runs in tandem with the Liverpool “City of Radicals” theme which is a varied discourse examining and trying to identify just what - and who - is radical at the start of the 21st Century.
This approach seems refreshing to me as I think that it’s a move away from the examination of shape, colour and minimalist forms that has been a focus of late. It’s a reminder that the content of the work, why we do it and the message, is a key factor.
For more information check out: http:www.bluecoatdisplaycentre.com/exhibition&post=419 and http://www.cityofradicals.co.uk/events/view/events/596
The Bluecoat Display Centre Stand
The next gallery to make an impression was Galerie Marzee, which according to their website the largest gallery for contemporary jewellery in the world. Their display was mainly contained in large anthological style cabinets with drawers underneath that could be opened by the viewer. There was a lot of work to absorb and I confess that I didn’t take all of it in however I did enjoy the childlike experience of opening the draws to discover the work of the selected artist. I delighted in finding a collection of Ramon Puig Cuyas brooches: items I’ve much admired from the pages of books - nice to see them for real. They didn’t allow photographs but I recommend a visit to their website. http://www.marzee.nl/galerie/k-l/tramon-puig-cuyas
Steffen Dam Glass Sculpturewww.
My favourite work of the show was not enamel but the work of the glass artist, Steffen Dam, (see above) represented by Joanna Bird Pottery. My fondness for these stunning pieces is led mostly by the admiration of how he portrays his subject matter. I’m fascinated by microscopic forms - it’s a subject I want to return to in my own work and I love the play on science and art. Above all, these pieces are also just exquisite - really jaw dropping. It is said that work is a success when it works on several levels. It has to have an emotional response; it has to be something that you care about. It should stand out and have a presence and mean something. I guess be it should also be technically competent. This work has technicality in spades, but it does not overplay the work. It’s amusing to find from the catalogue that in part the inspiration for these pieces was borne out of finding the beauty in experimentation and making mistakes, as they appear flawless. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for me they were a sight to behold. I found them very covetable - they are on my lottery list for sure!
Helen Carnac Wall Piece – Lesley Craze Stand: www.lesleycrazegallery.co.uk
Working along the list of galleries Lesley Craze was a stopping point. There I spied the work of Vladimir Bohm and Helen Carnac. Helen Carnac showed her signature bowls. I was particularly drawn to her wall piece, which was a feat of mark making in pencil, paint and enamels, worked together in potent sheets of layered imagery. The value in the action of the work and its drawn elements are exemplary.
CAA also represented Vladimir’s work. His strong blackened forms and his use of red enamel I found earthy and organic. I liked the raw dynamic of his recent work and I’m also pleased to note that Vladimir’s work is included in the Goldsmiths Hall Exhibition “Mindful of Silver”.
Enamel Vessels - Naoki Takeyama: www.yufuku.net
The work of Naoki Takeyama is profiled by The Yufuku Gallery. Tokyo was another head turner. The pieces are fairly large and elegantly rendered.
It’s a bit anal to try and work out how something is made in a show like this, but I enjoyed the simplicy of how he overcame the issue of how to deal with a joint on his larger vessel by making it a feature. Conversely, in his crimped vessels I couldn’t work out a join and decided to think it better anyway that some things remain a mystery - there is a technical description in Issue 81 of Craft Art International if like me you cannot help yourself and want to try and fathom how the work is constructed.
His application of small perfectly placed foils to create the mesmerising patterns add awe to the mastery of his technique. However it is on learning the translation of the titles of the works that I was brought back to the meaning and aesthetic of the pieces. They carry such names as “Devotion”, “Ephemeral” and “A Thousand Years”, thus a reminder of the dialogue within the enamel. For me the work was also a parallel in the ideal of perfection expressed in Japanese Enamel Ware, deftly joined with a key pointer to the modernity of looks akin to “Op Art” artists such as Bridget Riley.
In terms of how enamel was used there were other indicators of very innovative practice in several gallery displays.
I was captivated by the cosmos like droplets of enamel suspended in the works of Italian Jeweller Giovanni Corvaja, displayed by the Adrian Sassoon Gallery, who also had some handsome pieces by Jacqueline Ryan. The tiny particles of fired enamel in his works cling to ultra fine wires woven and inter bound in gossamer like fashion. The random placing of colours combine with the mathematical precision in the construction of his jewels. The enamel is an adjunct to the work but also very much part of it. They are not only fine jewels, but as is the case with contemporary adornment, they are sculptures in miniature. You could imagine them working on a much larger scale.
Giovanni Corvaja - Adrian Sassoon Gallery: www.adriansassoon.com
Alternatives from Rome hosted displays by two other Italian enamellers, Giovanni Sicuro and Graziano Visintin. As is Giovanni Corvaja, both artists are graduates of the famous Pauda School, each use enamel as a surface that adds to the eloquence of their work. Their pieces are wearable conceptualised jewels in fine metals, but the enamel is employed in roughly worked technique to express rawness in the qualities of the materials used. I particularly liked one of the pieces by Visintin who artistically married 18ct gold with blackened red opaque enamel that was textured and not smooth. It was applied directly to the surface of the metal and not fired into a recess. It seemed liberating.
Brooch - Graziano Visitin - Image scanned from Alternatives Promotional card.
http://www.alternatives.ti/gallery/slide_designer/Sicuro html http://www.alternatives.itgallery/slide_designer/Visintin.html
At Gallery Ra I really enjoyed the work of Bettina Speckner. View www.galerie-ra.nl and more images of her work at http://www.bettina-speckner.com:/40983.html
The techniques listed in her photographic pieces are described as Ferrotypes or as Enamel photos, and some are noted as photo etchings in zinc. Her fine art representation of the narrative is evocative. The treasured imagery combines with collaged found elements set into the works. You are led into the pictures to try and discover meaning. They give the sense of a time past and allude to the art of memento and commemoration. I left wanting to know more about the stories behind the jewels, which reminded me again that it was important to have more than just an aesthetic agenda.
Bettina Speckman – Image scanned from Gallery Ra promotional card
Gallery Lousie Smit showed several pieces by Ralph Bakker. I was interested in the recently published book about his collection and in particular the neckpiece that promoted his solo show hosted by the gallery in March. A stunning piece, which demonstrates an observation to the “white enamel paradox” * that has been witnessed in recent contemporary enamelling exhibitions.
* Ref to Isabelle Busnell Blog http://thinkingthroughthings.blogspot.com/2011/03/contemporary-enamel-paradox.html Information about Ralph Bakker http://www.ralphbakker.nl/web/mentaliteit.php Gallery Louise Smit website http://www.louisesmit.nl
Ralph Bakker - Neckpiece – scanned image from Gallery Louise Smit promotional card
Having mentioned opaque colour renditions and the all white phenomena, it is also good to report that richness and subtly of colour was evident throughout the galleries, not just in enamel but also within the practice of other makers. Fine examples were represented by The Scottish Gallery and Bishopsland showing pieces of Jane Short's beautiful work.
“Court Cup” for The Goldsmiths Company - Jane Short - Image from Collect catalogue
As ever, you can see ‘house’ styles, influences and trends but I came away with the impression of a lively and diverse world.
My big reward visually came at the end of the show as I discovered the Project Space area, where along the full wall of the gallery I found the vivid “Chromatic Landscape” by Lubna Choudray and Ptolemy Mann - a collaborative work hung as a large scale intuitive response to colour. The impact of this piece was just fabulous. You didn’t need to intellectualise at all, merely just drink in the colours and admire the view. It was a great finale to a very thought-provoking day.
Ceramics by Lubna Choudry (pictured sitting on bench) and Textiles by Ptolemy Mann www.lbnachowdhary.co.uk www.ptolemymann.com
More images from the show can be found on my flickr page for Collect
by Ruth Ball June 2011
Isabelle Busnell - from her blog: http://thinkingthroughthings.blogspot.com
Dialogue Collective at Schmuck in Munich
On March 9th, I have posted an article about a collective of artists called Dialogue. I met them before they were heading to SCHMUCK in Munich (which is the oldest exhibition of contemporary jewellery in the world). You can find this article here in the magazine - see below.
Having interviewed them on what they were planning to do in Munich, I ended my post with the following project: “And I am really interested to see how people will react to the three different spaces in Munich. I have asked Dialogue Collective to gather as much information as possible: pictures, people’s reactions, audience feedback and we have agreed to meet again soon to debrief. Rendezvous in a few weeks…”
As promised, we met again and they gave me a full debriefing of what happened in Munich. I have selected some of their pictures (with their permission) to illustrate the interview.
IB: Did the exhibition attract a lot of people ?
DC: It was a big success: around 200 people came to see us during the 3 days and we sold more pieces than last year, which is a good sign as well. Two amongst us have been selected by a galleryto be exhibited in COLLECT in May.
IB: How did people react to the different spaces?
DC: the Shoppery was right at the entrance so people gathered there first. It was very lively, like the kitchen in a house party where people hang around. After a while, they usually went checking the Gallery space and then wandered back. They were touching pieces, picking up stuff and were trying them. They seemed to feel comfortable.
IB: how was the atmosphere in the Gallery?
DC: much quieter. People felt less inclined to touch pieces. They usually didn’t stay very long, but as they had already been in the shoppery first, they were probably less intimidated and some asked questions.
IB: how did you manage to differentiate the Shoppery and the Gallery?
DC: the Shoppery had price tags, pieces were displayed on tables sitting in paper drawn presentation boxes, we even had a fake till in cardboard and people were standing behind the tables. We think it was quite obvious. In the Gallery, the space was huge, there were no prices, no names and no explanation. Only one member of our team was staying there in case some visitors had questions.
The Shoppery might be compared to the gift shop in a gallery or museum where people can buy souvenirs and postcards. Images of the Shoppery:
Images of the gallery:
IB: what about the games?
DC: they were really successful. The choice of games was very good. We had them all the time during the 3 days and some people came back to play again. There was a kind of competition between some of the visitors as well. We had a sawing game (particularly liked by the jewellers), a throwing game, a chest game (a guy stayed 20 minutes to win it), a matchbox game (silver matches were randomly added to some boxes and people could win them) and plenty others. At the private view, we had to throw people out at 11PM!
IB: don’t you think those games were distracting people from looking at the works?
DC: No it wasn’t, on the contrary it builds up a rapport with people that wouldn’t have happened otherwise: this is what Dialogue is all about. It was actually great fun: everyone enjoyed it, like a party, allowing more interaction with people.
If you go to SCHMUCK in Munich this year don’t miss the Dialogue Collective exhibition (for those who are not familiar with SCHMUCK, it is the oldest exhibition of contemporary jewellery work in the world and it takes place since 1959 every year during the Munich International Trade Fair in March).
The exhibition is called DIALOGUE X and will be housed in a working foundry.
Photos from the Dialogue Collective blog
The press release states that Dialogue Collective is “a group of artists with a passion for Jewellery and Silversmithing in the broadest sense of these two disciplines. The Dialogue Collective consists of makers with a direct connection to London Metropolitan University aka The Cass, and invited guests. The remit is to develop new ways to create and show Jewellery and Silversmithing through making and discussion, bringing contemporary jewellery to new audiences”.(Dialogue Collective: http://www.dialoguecollective.co.uk)
It sounded promising but I wanted to know more: I had the opportunity to take part in one of their meetings and asked some basic questions: why a collective? How do they function? How do they develop new ways of making, thinking, showing?
I was greeted with a glass of wine and some nibbles and the first thing I noticed was that those artists seem to have a genuine pleasure to work together. They insist on the fact they like to be in a group where people mix socially and where everybody knows each other’s work quite intimately. “It is like carrying on the excitement we had in college” says one of them.
The connection is the London Metropolitan University, though everyone can bring friends. But a condition is to be like-minded and “not too commercial” as this group aims to be innovative and to support artists that are stepping out of the usual jewellery and silversmithing’s comfort zone. They usually meet every week and one of them noticed, “Working on a bench on your own can be very solitary. Every time I go to a Dialogue meeting I come out feeling very positive”. What I found very refreshing with this collective is that they don’t take themselves too seriously: they are aware that Dialogue won’t bring them immediate fame and money but there is real group dynamics in the way they support each other’s projects and in the way they try to develop new ways to create and show their work.
Dialogue Collective at work. Photo Isabelle Busnel
They usually work with set briefs. One of their previous exhibitions has been inspired by Delia Smith’s classic book “Complete Cookery Course”, and last year each member received a different secret present in the post as a starting point for their inspiration. For Munich 2011, each artist was given a brown bag of ten random directions.
Their starting point on the map was Charing Cross and they all arrived at ten different locations in central London individually following their own ten directions. The final location for each was the starting point for the members’ own interpretation of their finished pieces for this show.I then asked some of the group’s members how this “Treasure Hunt” did inspire their work. Interestingly, they all responded in very different ways. Two of them focussed on the feelings they had throughout their journey. One felt paranoid as he had the impression that he behaved strangely and that everybody was staring at him: his work includes CCTV features, hidden people… Another one felt uncomfortable during the journey and was happy to end by the river: her work is about the pleasure to end up in a pleasant environment.
Some artists in the collective are storytellers and their work is about their journey. One of them ended up where she started and felt like “Hansel and Gretel” lost in the forest: her work will deal with the “circle as life” metaphor and will feature lamps, shades and bulbs going on and off. The other artist noticed everything that happened during her journey and her imaginative character “The Flying Fish Commando” will tell this story thanks to objects created for the exhibition.
Another artist ended up in front of a free mason building and the outcome is a “range of exotically weird, bizarre creatures that move with articulated precision constructed with Masonic exactitude”. The last interviewed member collected discarded objects she found on her way and transformed them into pieces of jewellery, giving them another life.Obviously this “treasure hunt” was a very efficient way of arousing the members’ creativity and I was wondering how important those briefs are for the group. It appeared that they all like working with them as they feel certain nostalgia for the briefs they had to follow when they were in college. In real life, you are on your own and you have to set your own brief and it might be sometimes frustrating. And as their works are all very different, briefs are also a way of connecting them and making things more interesting by responding to a common theme in many different ways.
Works inspired by the Treasure Hunt. Photos Isabelle Busnel
I was convinced that group dynamics and set briefs are very interesting and challenging ways to stimulate creativity but I was then curious to learn on how the collective Dialogue actually tries to develop new ways “to show jewellery and silversmithing and to bring them to new audience”.One of their favourite themes seems to be the over-discussed / never-answered debate about: is it Craft or is it Art? But again they don’t take it too seriously. They are convinced there is no wall between the two but if acknowledged, things will become boring, as everything will be “grey”. As one needs black and white, they prefer to think there is a wall that they can climb or jump over…. I felt again a certain kind of nostalgia in this argument reminding me my time as a student when you could debate all night in the hope to change the world…What seems to interest them is not to formulate answers but to debate about this “wall” and to test its limits. Therefore they seem to use different strategies: in their previous project Dialogue 9, they set a Pop Up jewellery shop showcasing “jewellery by members of the collective alongside an invited group of London based designers, all set the challenge to design and produce pieces of jewellery to retail for £20. Timed to coincide with London Jewellery Week, the event showed work by established makers alongside that of new designers and was focused on introducing contemporary jewellery to a wider audience”.
The experiment was a great success and Dialogue was very pleased with people’s reactions: set in Columbia Road, the shop attracted a varied audience, interesting feedbacks and they sold many pieces.
In Munich, they will display their work in a working foundry. They have already used this space for their 2010 SCHMUCK exhibition Dialogue 9. I have been there once in 2009 and I must confess the place is amazing and unique: the place is full of tools, dust and is lit with some spare bulbs coming from a very high ceiling.
SCHMUCK 2010. The Foundry. Photos from the Dialogue Collective Website
Dialogue Collective will separate this intangible environment in 3 different spaces: “Shoppery”, “Xhibition” and a space for games.
Shoppery is a contraction of “shop” and “gallery” and has been thought as a hybrid space to play with the differences between a shop and a gallery. Each artist will display 2 collections: one for the Shoppery and one for the Xhibition. The first will feature repetition, price tags and less space where the second one will bear the usual codes of a gallery space. Is it Art or is it Craft? What is a shop and what is a gallery? Those are amongst the questions the collective wants to address to the public through those displays and people’s reactions will be invaluable clues.The third space will be dedicated to games and this raised my scepticism: why games? Do they need games to attract people? Are games related to the exhibited pieces? Won’t it be confusing?According to the Collective, for Art to work, it needs 3 components: the makers, the audience and the facilitators (shop, gallery, critics etc). And they consider games as a way of engaging the audience, of “facilitating” the contact between visitors and artworks. People will come to the foundry, maybe slightly intimidated, they will play simple games (like throwing paper planes in a bucket) and they will then feel at ease, ready to wander again through the different displays. And maybe they will see things they didn’t see the first time. That’s the whole idea. Again, it is not pretentious, just fun, easy and down to earth.
I am really interested to see how people will react to the three different spaces in Munich. I have asked Dialogue Collective to gather as much information as possible: pictures, people’s reactions, audience feedback and we have agreed to meet again soon to debrief. Rendezvous in a few weeks…
by Isabelle Busnell
Dialogue Collective website: http://www.dialiguecollective.co.uk
Fused exhibition at Flow gallery
Curated by Melissa Rigby
1 – 5 Needham Road
London W11 2RP
It is rare to have the opportunity to view an exhibition devoted entirely to contemporary enamelling so this show curated by Melissa Rigby at gallery Flow 9 March – 28 May 2011 is not to be missed.
The exhibition Fused is the result of Melissa’s interest in non-traditional enamel techniques and in particular the way international artists are using this ancient and enduring medium to produce work in a contemporary context.
In curating this exhibition her aim is to encourage the use of enamel as a medium and to show the work of a selected group of established artists from across the world alongside that of those relatively new to enamelling.
The exhibition includes the work of 13 contributors three of whom are recent British graduates: Kirsty Brown and Lydia Feast graduated from Birmingham University, Stacey Bentley graduated from Edinburgh College.
Helen Carnac, maker, curator and educator opened Fused exhibition with a talk about her work: how her work is rooted in the use of metal and how mark making is at the heart of that work.
The discovery of enamel and more precisely wet process enamel was a revelation for her enabling endless opportunities to translate her mark making onto metal objects.
Her bowls in spun steel are enameled in such away as to leave areas of the steel devoid of enamel and exposed to the elements. The exposed steel changes colour to a rich brown, this rusting responds organically to the changes in the humidity of different environments and adds a bold contrasting colour to the predominantly monochrome surface of her bowls.
Helen runs the project ‘Making a Slow Revolution’ which aims to provide a forum for discussing contemporary making. You can find out more about this and her work from her website http://helencarnac.wordpress.com
She travels extensively talking about the project and as an educator – she is next in Berlin teaching.
In her talk she told about her process of working, her discovery of enamel and how enamel became a medium of choice: opening up worlds of creative opportunity, enabling her to conjoin drawing with her love of metal.
Much of the enamel work on exhibition in the gallery is simply laid out on a large table.
This means that pieces can be picked up and looked at closely. Inevitably there is much turning over of the work to examine fixtures and fittings and the myriad of ways in which makers handle the issue of how pieces are attached to the body or in some cases the wall. Helen collaborates with furniture maker David Gates. He constructs, from wood, structures that are an integral part of her enamel wall pieces.
Unlike many exhibitions devoted to enamelling the majority of the work in this show uses little overt colour: White predominates.
However look closely and there is subtlety in those colours – e.g. in the work of Karin Johansson’s white laminated enameled circles become repeated component parts of a necklace. The density and thickness of the enamel changes and with that the white colour hues.
For some enamellers who came of age in the era of traditional enamelling this might appear as enamelling undertaken by the unskilled. However, is it not akin to the enameller who enamels on copper and who in the creative design process work with the ‘imperfections’ that come from what some might call the problem of copper oxide?
Isabelle Busnell has written an interesting discourse on the subject of white. To read this see the end of this article for a link to her blog and website.
Enamel as a medium is undergoing a renaissance, it has become the material of choice for many makers who do not necessarily define themselves as enamellers but consider the medium adds a unique quality to their work.
I enjoyed the irony implicit in the surface pattern decoration of the white enamelled copper bowls and cups produced by the German maker Astrid Keller. A tracery of lines are created giving the impression of old and cracked enamel surfaces – a play on the scourge of enamel objects – their fragility. The ‘damaged’ surfaces of her enameled vessels reference the history of well loved and well used objects.
Astrid works across a number of disciplines, exploring and exploiting a range of materials to produce her work. She makes bowls from paper that also can be seen at Flow.
Hiroki Iwata’s work is always a pleasure to see, ever evolving it never fails to surprise, this time with a series of brooches, some wall mounted, made from silver, enamel and aluminum foil.
The work evidences a sophisticated yet subtle aesthetic. Look closely at the surface treatment of his pieces to see the innovative way in which he continues to develop his enamel techniques. He has used metal foil in previous work, in these pieces he exploits the intrinsic qualities of aluminum foil which fused with the enamel produces beautiful, textured enamel surfaces.
Photographs don’t do the work justice. Hiroki is inspired by nature, to quote him ‘an irreplaceable treasure’. His highly desirable work combines a symbiotic development of forms combined with enamel techniques.
Melissa Rigby curator of Fused exhibited work that differed significantly from much of the other jewellery on show in that the work could easily be categorised as sitting within the bracket of mainstream contemporary jewellery.
Her process of enamelling has evolved significantly in the last couple of years and evidences her innovative, newly developed enamel techniques which encompass gold foil overlaying enamel resulting in a tracery of delicately embossed lines and textures.
Melissa's work is probably some of the most ‘accessible’ jewellery in the show, her jewellery is eminently wearable and the overall effect subtle and understated.
Not all work in the show is monochrome; Evangeline Long’s work evidenced a spectrum of beautiful warm colours in her wonderful and intriguing shed constructions. Her pieces are reminiscent of farm buildings constructed from corrugated iron, glimpsed on walks through the countryside, sometimes dilapidated sometimes evidencing varying stages of surface patination caused by exposure to the natural environment.
Another exception to the predominance of monochrome colours are Bettina Dittlman’s deceptively simple and very wearable pendants in bold, bright, zingy colours which explore the use of enamel textures and subtle surface changes. Her pieces inspired by Christmas decorations picked up in a Berlin flea market look good on the body but also make a striking and effective wall piece.
There is much more to see in this fascinating exhibition: the work of Kye-Yeon Son with her frosty white brooch structures and that of Kirsten Haydon with her depiction of bleached out photographic landscapes is to mention just two more of the artists showing.
However as with most exhibitions the most effective way to gain an understanding of the work: the breadth of enamel processes and techniques plus the personal aesthetics and creative imagination of the artists is to see the exhibition for yourself – you will not be disappointed.
To have had the opportunity in one week to view a spectrum of enamel work has been fascinating.
At Goldsmiths’ Hall the Crafts and Design Council awards exhibition celebrated traditional skills in a broad range of jewellery and silversmithing craft disciplines including enamelling.
Fused exhibition at gallery Flow is concerned with enamel as a contemporary medium. However I would argue that the two, traditional and contemporary, are not entirely exclusive of each other. There are overlaps: I could easily see some of the work currently on show at gallery Flow as potential contenders within selected categories of the Craft and Design Council awards.
The awards are an annual event and members could consider entering non traditional work not only in the enamelling categories but in categories that are not entirely defined by a craft discipline – there are a few.
I would recommend reading the thought provoking blog, mentioned above, written by enameller Isabelle Busnell with her musings on the colour white. http://thinkingthroughthings.blogspot.com/2011/03/contemporary-enamel-paradox.html
by Ruth Rushby March 2010
Melissa Rigby asked two Central St. Martins students of Criticism, Communication, Curation: Arts & Design to review the work of graduating students using enamel at the 2009 degree shows in London. This is their article.
'Sifting through droves of young jewellers, it seems that enamelling is an undersized but firmly placed skill set.'
Its June 2009, the new crops of graduates huddle in their well-lit rooms, surrounded by the triumphs of their hard work. Jewellery departments glitter with gold and silver, precious stones fragment intricate specimens; bright colour it seems is largely out this season, with the notable exception of Alice Cicolini. A Central Saint Martins Masters graduate, who, in partnership with the Jaipuri enamel craftsman, Kamal Meenakar produces intricate and beautifully crafted enamel on gold pieces.
Working with one of the last Meenakari master craftsmen practicing a 200 year old tradition, Cicolini’s designs take inspiration from the architecture of the Silk Route, and the Indian adornment rituals of the Solah Shringar. The Jewellery, presented in a box set of individual components, can take the form of one elaborate focal point, or be worn singly as individual pieces, offering the wearer a practice of private rituals. To Cicolini it is crucial that their collaboration carries a shared belief in the designs, which entails a dynamic of her ideas challenging Meenakars craft traditions and his knowledge and practice informing her approach to her designs.
Irreverant Pendant designed by Alice Cicolini, crafted by Kamal Meenakar, 23.5ct gold, enamel, leather cord.
Continuing the search for the next face of enameling, The New Designers Show in Islington provides an ideal place for talent spotting. Edinburgh College of Art - under the directions of Stephen Bottomley, an Enamelling specialist - has produced a strong contingent of innovative designers in the field.
Petite Cherie Ring by Jennifer Brown. Silver, 18ct gold, enamel, silk, 25 x 30 x 15mm
Jennifer Brown has produced exciting results experimenting with over-firing a necklace to bring out the colour of the copper oxides underneath, and hand sifted enamel onto 200 jump-rings for a ring. With a fixation for detail and hidden anomalies, Brown enjoys the ‘painterly quality’ enamel can achieve. Working with liquid enamel originally developed for industrial purposes, allows her to find new potentials for enamelled surfaces on 3D pieces.
Panelled Neckpiece by Kirsty Sumerling. Silver, 9ct gold, copper, brass, enamel, 800 x 250 x 100mm
For Kirsty Sumerling it has mainly been the possibilities in surface texture that encouraged her to use enamel in her designs. Experimenting with irregular and rough surfaces inspired by the fragility of peeling paint and water damaged surfaces of derelict buildings, like Brown she predominantly works with liquid enamel. Inspired by states of disrepair, Sumerling contrasts linear and industrial components of her designs with layered and fragmented enamelled surfaces, playing with ideas of context and new use. Dipping her pieces directly, Sumerling favours a process where her visions merge with elements of unpredictability, giving each piece its own unique surface, never directly replicable.
Joanna Hill uses both liquid and powder enamelling in her pieces. She works intricately with colour, texture and pattern through rubbing back to hidden layers of enamel and etched metal, drawing onto the surfaces with soft-leaded pencils, and stenciling powdered enamel on top. This process complements her fascination with the secretive ornamentation of Moorish architecture and art-craft. Enamel allows her to play with concealing and revealing hidden elements, in surfaces, and light movements.
Mexuar Sconce Neckpiece 2009 by Joanna Hill. 18 ct gold, silver, copper, enamel, 35mm x 40mm x 40mm
Sifting through droves of young jewellers, it seems that enameling is an undersized but firmly placed skill set. Designers are experimenting and developing unique techniques and collaborations to produce intriguing and playful pieces, and where untainted precious metals may be the dominant look, bursts of colour and interesting surfaces give enameled pieces a fighting chance within a sea of glitter and gold.
Peter W.D Allison and Pernille Maria Bärnheim, July 2009