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28
Nov

CHANNELLING THE GEORGIANS

STEPHEN BULL

Stephen restores Georgian houses, using traditional materials and methods. Stephen trained as a graphic designer – he and I worked for the same company, publisher Mitchell Beazley, just a year or two apart. He and his wife worked together, but found being busy professionals and good parents wasn’t working, so Stephen became a househusband.

He lives in a Georgian house, and during his now relatively unbusy days, he began reversing the clumsy alterations made during its life, restoring it to its original state. When the house was finished, neighbours were so impressed, he was asked to work on another couple of houses, and that, as they say, is how it all began.

There is no book you can read that will teach you everything you need to know. Georgian architecture was not a coherent movement, it covered a hundred years, and by far the majority of the highly variable houses were built by almost unknown developer-architects, often guided by exigencies rather than Palladian ideals. The best way to understand how a house was designed and built is to engage with it.

And this is exactly how Stephen works. I visited his latest project on Kennington Road, one of a terraced row, with the house next door boasting Charlie Chaplin once lived there. Light streams in, windows everywhere, most especially lighting the stairs, it is far brighter than a modern house. Stephen starts with the structure, adjusting floor levels, repairing stairs, straightening doors, relaying floors with boards of the right width. The issues are usually a mixture of subsidence, warping and previous fixes.

The weather in the 1700s was several degrees colder in Britain than it is now, which caused trees to grow more slowly, with tighter growth rings, making it stronger and easier to carve. Stephen sources pine and larch from Scandinavia, which have a grain close to the pine of three hundred years ago. For repairing walls, he reuses shallow flat bricks from the building itself, using lime plaster with horsehair mixed in.

My favourite feature is the window sills, which hinge down to reveal shutters that slip upwards on pulleys. Much of the woodwork in Georgian houses was by carpenters who brought space-saving practicality from other jobs building ships for the Navy.

Some things are irredeemably lost. Changing fashion made a previous owner chip away the coving, the plaster moulding that sits at the top of the wall covering the angle that joins the ceiling. Stephen has had to reimagine it entirely, as a parade of acanthus leaves and Prince of Wales’ feathers, a reference to the Prince’s ownership of the manor of Kennington. The floral wallpaper has been reprinted, by hand, from tiny scraps discovered when they stripped the walls.

The human hand is in use everywhere, tipping molten lead, chiselling slate, planing wood, giving everything an organic imperfect beauty machines cannot achieve.

28
Nov

ENDLESS UNDERTONES

VERONICA HENDRY

Like a scene from a fairy tale, Veronica presides over a scented supper club. Candles glowing, the diners eat with wooden skewers dipped in and infused with carefully picked scents, each of which makes the food taste subtly different. There is no right scent to eat with a particular food – there are five main tastes but a myriad of smells, making the whole experience an open-ended adventure.

Veronica is always expanding her repertoire. She trained as a 3D designer, moving on to spatial design, bringing aroma into her work by scenting spaces – altering the experience of a room and the associations that the sense of smell vividly conjures.

She works with extracts, oils and resins, all derived from the natural world. A pipette transmits these miniscule droplets into the carrier liquid which, as it evaporates, transmits the scent into the air. There is a complex art to the blending. Every good scent should have three notes: a top note that strikes you first, a mid note that comes after, and, finally, a base note.

Veronica makes perfumes of various strengths – eau de parfum is twice as potent as eau de toilette – but as is her way, stretches what perfume can be used for. There are practical perfumes to drip onto blotters to combat moths; spatial aromas and bath scents; ways to sweeten carpets to keep them bug free; very unusual aromatic chocolates; and a series of scents inspired by songs (Perfect Day is a bestseller). And the supper clubs: the advent of food.

Food has opened up another avenue, as Veronica has just finished training as a natural chef; a combination of a chef’s techniques with a nutritionist’s knowledge of the effects of the ingredients.

Veronica is in pursuit of creating new and powerful experiences. She began with casting and model-making, went onto more ethereal light projection, and now she’s almost left the physical world behind entirely – planning to use nothing more than molecules on our taste buds and olfactory nerves to summon up entire vivid worlds.

05
Sep

AIMING AT UBIQUITY

BILLY LLOYD

Ceramics is steeped in history. Pots and domestic objects. They go back millennia, as far as the first human settlements. I was lucky when I was young I went to a school that had did pottery, there was something about it I loved and I was interested enough to pursue it as a degree, and then very lucky again being apprenticed to Lisa Hammond MBE and then Julian Stair.

They are both very talented, but working with them I learned what I didn’t want to do. I don’t want to make art pieces. I wanted to achieve something different, more modern, and reaching a broader demographic, everyone if possible, I want to be in everyone’s homes.

After the apprenticeships, I realised there were gaps in what I knew. I could have gone back into education, but I thought the best thing was to learn out there in the world, so I went to Stoke-on-Trent and knocked on doors. All these years after Spode and Minton and Wedgewood, Stokeis still the centre for ceramics, from smaller places to big factories. Initially I was trying to repeat what I knew, trying to make thrown objects, on a wheel, which is a slow process, and there were some disappointments with factories trying to copy my pieces – so to exert more control over the results I applied for a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship (QEST) to study model and mould making. You design and make a model by hand, but then make a mould, which means the pieces can be produced in greater numbers, very close to your original, either by pouring in liquid clay, known as slip, or pressing in sheets of soft clay, known as jiggering and jolleying.

I had a meeting with the designer Robin Levien which was very important to me. Robin has designed some staggering percentage of all the ceramic basins and baths and toilets in the UK, he manages to blend spare modern design with mass production, elevating the quality of ordinary objects. I think its because of him that I see myself as an industrial designer, fully at home with the modern world and modern processes, who specialises in ceramics.

I aim at an end result that is as stripped back and simple as possible, without losing character or compromising the function. I want the things I produce to be understated, to blend into people’s everyday landscape, to be ubiquitous, to get used and bring satisfaction everyday.

05
Sep

DIGGING DEEP

ALISON COOKE

I am not by any stroke of the imagination conventional, but still I call myself a potter. I am drawn to deep history, in all senses of that word deep.

For the latest project, I have managed to get clay from 30 metres below London Bridge. It took countless calls and emails, but eventually I managed to get big pieces from the spoil of Costain’s piling machine. And then the real work begins. I have to work that stuff to extract workable clay from it. Soaking it, sifting, then sieving, until I arrive at something that is mostly clay.

And then I test it to see how it responds. Fire it to 1,250˚C. At that extreme temperature clay is on the edge of melting, and the trace elements of metals within it at that temperature do melt, or suck in air like bicarbonate of soda when you bake. It’s exciting to see what comes out, will it be flat and shiny like black glass, or coarse and bloated like a loaf of bread?

Only when I have extracted enough clay, and discovered how it behaves, do I think about bringing things to a conclusion – creating a set of pieces, forms that trying to summarise and hint at the story of the site, the extraction of the clay, the nature of the clay.

I am so interested in the idea that I am capturing the clay at this moment, this point in its journey, it’s already been so many things; hurtling through space, liquid in the earth’s core, lava blasted out of a volcano, solid rock, under the sea, in a mountain, and then fleetingly in my hands. That’s what I mean by the line of history, by deep history. The human dimension is so brief in comparison to the time without humans. Who knows what this clay has seen, what would talk about if it could talk? I suppose that is what I am trying to do, make the clay give up some of its history, encourage it to speak.

10
Apr

ON THE ROLLERCOASTER

JOAQUIM BARRETO

After graduating as an economist from the University of Adelaide, I was off to Macau. I have a Portuguese passport, and became, and am still, a permanent resident. I made great money. But in one sense, I was not sure what to do. I got married. I spent money. I worked. The big change happened like this: we went to Ko Samui, and I bought a little digital camera, another toy to play with. How was I to know that I would fall in love with photography? I loved it so much, I decided to be a photographer. And it’s been a rollercoaster since then.

I bought a Nikon F100, a serious professional camera at the time. I made preparations. The day that I left my economist job I had a portfolio, and a studio full of equipment. But, as I soon discovered, Macau had no market for photography. I was going to have to go somewhere else.

Shanghai was the first choice, I wanted to stay in Asia. It is so vibrant, you feel anything is possible. But its very hard to set up in China if you aren’t Chinese, the language and the absence of connections make it unfeasible. London was fifth choice.

There were years in London when I have felt like giving up, I felt as though I had nothing, it’s not home, I had no work, no money.

I met Alan Robertson through a friend, who offered me a share of his studio in Iliffe Yard, and he has been a big support in getting me established. I love studio work, and one of my main clients is the V&A, who need me to photograph things they sell in the shop and online. But my curse, in a way, is that I love all kinds of photography. I just bought an old Nikon F3, and I use it obsessively shooting black and white film, in the street and a wedding. But I have also just finished as a DP on a film, using a Sony F55, filming actors emerging from a Scottish Loch.

I have five websites, it seems a lot, but each one reflects an aspect of what I do. There are all about image-making and storytelling with images, but some cover images and film clients want me to make, and some show what I want to make. The biggest project right now is a feature film, I am passionate about it – it’s going to mean me putting a lot of myself in it, but I also have to rely on and listen to others, so it brings both areas together, but a film is big enough adventure for everyone to get something. I can’t wait for it to start, its going to be such a wild ride.

10
Apr

MASTER OF DARKNESS

ALAN ROBERTSON

The studio I started, it was very prim and proper. Coffee served at 10.30am, in a China cup with a saucer and spoon, and a biscuit, every day. There was no just starting as a photographer, there was a hierarchy, you had to to start at the bottom and work up. I was an assistant. I did anything that was asked of me. I remember struggling several times up the tiny steps of the Monument carrying a 10×8 plate camera, and a wooden tripod, for the photographer to get views of the City, shot with the lens set at f45.

The 1960s were more pop, in every sense. More fashion everywhere. Smaller cameras changed everything. I worked in some small darkrooms, one in Dover Street the size of a toilet. I worked for an agency which included Lewis Morley, not a big name today, but he took that shot of Christine Keeler naked with her arms resting on the chair back.

I worked at Woburn Studios for a good long time. They had huge studios, big enough for cars, even rotating room sets. They did a lot of catalogues and commercial work. When they went down, I became freelance and have been ever since, using the skills and contacts I have accumulated over the years. When we came across Iliffe Yard in the late 1980s, it was derelict. The studio was just brick walls. It has everything we need now, although there’s always something that needs updating. I think my experience with fine art has stood me in good stead, knowing how to make art look good in a print, whether its a painting or a sculpture, I’ve worked for many of the artists here.

I have dealt with a lot of famous images over the years. I was the printer behind Geoffrey Crawley’s revelation that the Cottingly Fairies were faked – I copied the original prints and then reprinted, showing enough detail to see that it was two photographs cut together. Paul McCartney once called Dezo Hoffman the world’s best photographer, I am not sure if I agree with that, but I enjoyed printing Dezo’s Beatles images, and great figures like Sinatra, Brando.

I know how to deal with a very wide variety of printing techniques, it certainly comes in useful with the National Portrait Gallery and specialist curators, who I print for now. Handling Cecil Beaton’s glass plates, or making copies of collotypes. No matter what the challenge, there is always a benefit, whatever is on that negative, that moment in time coming alive again. You put the negative in, turn the light off, and then voila: Charlie Chaplin appears in front of you.

15
Jul

REMAKING THE WORLD

DANIEL REYNOLDS

It all began with a cabinet. Daniel has always loved making things, he studied a very eclectic course at university, Expressive Arts, that sort of permitted anything. I was actually at the same university at nearly the same time, and I remember the students from this course doing everything from drawings to happenings in locked rooms to dancing acrobatically with ribbons. But what course do you pursue when you are interested in all kinds of art, you want to keep your options open as long as you can. Daniel eventually narrowed down to sculpture, and enjoyed the physical properties of wood so much that he kind of ended up becoming a furniture designer, even then he managed to include a lot of metalwork too.

Anyway back to the cabinet, it was during his career path as a furniture maker, he used porcelain for the cabinet’s feet and the handles, and having to fire porcelain again set off all kinds of sparks in him. It was so malleable and responsive, more than wood, and you can work it until it is papery thin, and it responds to light in such a varied and organic way.

So even though Daniel had not formally studied ceramics, he has chosen it as his main material because it can be made to do so many things. He can usually work out how to achieve an effect he wants, although he goes about it in a very unconventional way. You feel much about Daniel is about the energy he derives from swimming upstream. He works in a combination of ways not many other ceramicists would, he makes moulds for liquid porcelain, he throw large pots on a wheel, he use little sausages of clay, which is the most manual, the most intimate way of building a sculpture, every little piece is put there by the interaction of his eye and his fingers. Ever the experimentalist, some of his latest pieces incorporate glass, he needs not feel at all bound by categories; he is craftsman, artist, maker, whatever-he-wishes.

One very striking line of objects in the studio right now is lamps that look like melons, or irons, or coffee pots. The objects he sources in charity shops, defunct and otherwise unavailable. He picks things for the inherent beauty of their shape, and then makes moulds, and casts them in porcelain, elevating them to something fragile and aesthetic. They look remarkable gathered en masse, glowing orange and yellow, like something from a temple to Roland Barthes.

He talks about the importance of the table as a locus for the things he plans to make. How we all gather and eat together, around the table, promoting communality and affection. A table full of food and vessels is a lovely thing, he says, talking about bowls encouraging interaction, being passed around. There seems to be something significant here, the passion and dextral skill he expends to fashion his work, his hands press and shape every tiny part of what he makes, he wants that profound personal investment to yield something, admiration maybe, but most importantly he wants it to be a catalyst for love.

As well as his studio, you can see Daniel’s work at Rosebery’s Auction Rooms (part of the Dulwich Festival). And there are lights and mobiles on display in numerous London locations. His website, listed on the inside of this broadsheet, has a full list.

15
Jul

IN THE CONTINUUM

STEPHEN BARBER & SANDI HARRIS

The studio is a wooden Aladdin’s Cave. The stairway up is lined with bulbous lute moulds and bodies. Barely an inch is not used, either for tools, bubbling glue pots, books, lamps, or materials, sheets of translucent parchment and strips and blocks woods in every imaginable hue. Goodness knows where the two cats and the rabbit find to sit. For Stephen and Sandi are two of the world’s most respected lute and guitar makers. Although as Stephen points out, they also make vihuelas, archlutes, chiarroni, theorbos, orpharions, bandoras and citterns.

Their process begins with scrupulous study of instruments, masterpieces of the past, in museums and private collections. Stephen makes drawings, so accurate in their revealing of the instrument’s form, the drawings themselves become part of museum collections. They source materials that match (as far as possible) the original woods, from the growers of arcane species like the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. This is important because the woods were originally used because of their acoustic properties, there is nothing on these instruments that doesn’t contribute to their sound, no decoration that might detract from it. Although they also divert from the original model too, changing the size, or eschewing metallic-sounding rosewood for walnut.

Nothing can be rushed, making this way. Each instrument is weeks, even months of handwork, and waiting for glue to bond or lacquer to dry. Apart from a few pieces of metal, all the materials are organic; obviously the wood, but also the rabbit-skin glue, beeswax, the gut strings, the skin of the parchment. Its hard to chose any one part of the finished instruments to focus on, but I am most struck by the appearance of the fluted backs. These look amazing with the raised flutes arching over the pear-shaped lute, like the ribs of some kind of organic architecture. (Stephen and Sandi are planning to build a wooden house.) Fluting is a way of retaining strength whilst using less material and so less weight, practical but with an extraordinary aesthetic effect. Another breathtaking feature is the parchment decorated roses, set into soundboxes, like looking up at a ceiling in the Alhambra with its rhythms of domes and quarter domes and plethora of delicate decoration. Sandi cuts everything by hand, wearing enlarging glasses, but the result seems otherworldly, it is so perfect, like fairy architecture.

Their instruments are used by classical musicians like Julian Bream, but also Keith Richards, after all a guitar is a guitar. The instruments make a lot of sense as a purchase, unique, stunning to look at and touch, every millimetre handmade, with several musicians reporting theirs as the best they have ever played, and, given the longevity of instruments made the same way, likely to last half a millennium.

In their crepuscular studio time has a different meaning. They are working today in the era of iphones, but making instruments using techniques perfected four hundred years ago, to play compositions three hundred years old. You can find no conflict, no separation between the now and the then, nothing seems either old or modern, just a continuum of painstaking artistry.

27
Apr

PRACTICAL CHAOS

CAIRN YOUNG

Most people do one thing. They are a teacher, an insurance broker or a flight attendant. Cairn can’t put his finger on what he does. And roaming the workshop he shares with Ian Spencer – under the banner Yard Sale Project – and the studio upstairs, you simply can’t tell, the spaces are Aladdin’s Caves of tools, machines, wood, drawings, maquettes, half-finished wooden or steel carcasses, ceramic forms, and a cupboard, called Cubrik, that swirls open doubling its size with physical ingenuity impossible to understand.

Clements Yard, the home of Cairn’s lair, was derelict when he came across it as an industrial design student twenty years ago. He saw its potential immediately. He squatted at first, but then went on to pretty much rebuild it and its studios with a handful of compadres. Is this architecture or community building?

In making their distinctive multi-layered furniture, Cairn and Ian use a design technique they call “Chaos”. Chaos as in the scientific idea of disorder being merely a more complicated form of order. Borrowing from the way nothing in Nature is pure, or perfectly symmetrical, they fashion furniture which seems far closer to Henry Moore’s sculptures or neolithic tombs than what mass-production methods have made us used to. A myriad blocks of wood bonded like crystals, and carved into sinuous body-like shapes. The chairs are other worldly. Alien thrones.

And then there is Cairn’s cutlery for Auerhahn, showing that he can be novel within the tightest parameters. My favourite are the spoons, that twist as though they are reaching for that last drop of honey. Or his bowls for Rosenthal, with food cupped safely in the centre, they bloom outwards like flowers.

Although Nature is clearly at the heart of what he does, Cairn doesn’t baulk at unnatural finishes, chrome or polycarbonate. What he is doing though, is bending these industrial substances into forms that humanise them, eccentric, unexpected, rhythmic forms.

Quentin Newark

09
Aug

BREAKING RULES

ELISA ALALUUSUA

It’s no surprise that Elisa, with that surname, comes from somewhere exotic. A reindeer farm in Lapland: a bleak and beautiful place, full of lakes and forest, snow and the aurora borealis. By some stroke of fate, she met another Finn whilst in London, married him, and they both live here. They are somewhat torn between the stark beauty of their homeland and the cultural richness of London.
Elisa focuses on drawing and video – an odd combination. Drawing is an intimate form of art, every mark is a product of your own imagination. Video is about machinery, cameras and computers, of holding up a device and recording the world. Elisa talks of structure, some way of funnelling her creativity, and both drawing and video give her limits. She says she sees the practices as interwoven: “documenting one’s life journey”. They are both ways of recording reality; video in a literal way, drawing as a catalogue of each subtle movement. Both practices, she says, are a way to “present life as it is”.
She rarely envisages a piece in her mind, rather she sets herself constraints that she has to work within. Like drawing lines in sets of a hundred. Or counting circles as she draws and erases them. Or using time as a way of controlling the work. A memorable example of this is Elisa’s 24 hour drawing marathons, that “push mental and physical boundaries”, artworks where both time and counting coincide, in a room lined with paper, Elisa drawing intersecting circles, a staggering 16,000 of them.

As an Englishman, moderate in all things, I marvel at this endurance, embracing difficulty. Elisa says it originates from her early life on a farm, farming is an arduous activity bound by processes, in the arctic no less, where night and day merge, and severity is a way of life. But she left that behind, and came to soft London. Perhaps her work is all a re-enactment of that tension, between limits and free- dom, between rules and breaking them – “fabulously intriguing” life happening despite constraints.

Quentin Newark