BLOG

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

09
Dec

HIDDEN MISSION

KATTY JANNEH

Katty makes hats. In a studio she shares with two artists, shaded by a big Bay tree in Peacock Yard. Before fashion college, Katty went to evening classes, initially to study the complexity of pattern-cutting, but took a class with Rose Cory, milliner for the Queen Mother. Suddenly life was hats.

Katty is instantly likable with a smile that lights everything up. She has says her design is “anything but avant-garde”, she isn’t about to make a “hat made of meat”. She concentrates on wearable designs, hats that mix with everyday clothes.

Her portion of the studio is a blend of atelier and factory – a duality common to the artist-maker. Walls smattered with watercolour sketches and colour-coded notes. Tables like a landscape from a Tim Burton animation; hillocks of cloth samples, behind which porcupines of needles bristle. The floor is given to serious making, chock-a-block with wooden forms over which the cloth is stretched and left to fix a shape. At a glance, it is chaos. But if you look longer you can see how everything has its place in the processes of imagining hats and then physically making them.

Behind the sweetness, there is something of a missionary in Katty. Her
designs are playful versions of classic hat types – ‘classic with a twist’ is a design approach taken by some of the world’s most successful designers. Katty is making hats attractive and wearable to make us all wear them. Her deeper purpose is to furnish every-one with a hat. Every one of us. Some designers strain to do things never done before, others make things that touch every one of us.

Katty has a new website, about to launch. It shows her designs matched with this season’s popular looks, you can instantly see how the hat adds something extra, quirky, personal, literally above what the original clothes designer’s considered. When the site launches, the fashion world ought to beware, Katty has discovered a hither-to unexploited area: the top of our heads.

Quentin Newark

09
Dec

A SILVERY WARREN

CAROL MATHER

Carol’s studio is small compared to others at the Yards, the size of a bedroom. She doesn’t need much space, her work is small work, she is a silversmith. She sits at a desk, lamps angled onto her hands, a leather pouch stretched from the desk to catch the silver filings. The tools carefully laid out are those for the tiny violence of small-scale metal working; files, hammers, vices, wire pullers.

She shares the studio three days a week with Grey, a terribly handsome Whippet. Her great love is animals. Tutors at college frowned on her for not making abstract work. When she left college, first she made jewellery boxes, highly decorated. But what people liked most were the animal-themed embellishments, so she stopped making the boxes, and started making just the animals. After animals, her main source of inspiration, is late Victorian Gothic. Highly decorated, elaborate, with a big dose of medieval.

The display cupboard on her wall boasts quite a bestiary. Each piece serves a purpose; a warthog pincushion, a bear with panniers for salt and pepper. Her most recent project is miniaturisation, using computer alchemy. Carol’s pieces, already small (the size of a plum), are scanned, 3D-printed in resin, casts made, and tiny replicas cast in silver.
All those fantastic collective nouns; a streak of tigers, a knot of toads, but what are the nouns for a mixture of different animals? There on her table
is a tumble of stags, rabbits and hounds. Gathered for a hunt, or a parade.

She works steadily on commissions. Making pendants and tiny statues of people’s loved animal companions. She shows me one in progress. A pendant of a one-eyed Jack Russell, perfectly capturing his up-turned snout, long body and short powerful legs. Such life she has wrought in such tiny form. Just as alive as the Whippet dozing behind us.

Quentin Newark

09
Dec

IN CONCERT

DAVID COWLEY & BARBARA WAKEFIELD

David looks up over his glasses, and hesitates, that pause that comes when you want to impart significance. “Sculpture in clay can be all about technique and process and painting on canvas can rely too heavily on expressive freedom. What is crucial to both my sculpture and my painting is structure” It is hard, at first, to see how his paintings show this idea of structure, how they can be seen as anything other than free, they first strike you as swirling and meshing globs and slabs of colour. But when you understand that they are paintings of space, cathedrals and concert halls, and people, and the music that they are playing, you can start to pick out what might be an arch, a pillar. You realise the paintings are depictions of space, time, activity, an attempt to capture the complexity of experience.

Barbara, David’s co-inhabitor of the neatly divided ground floor studio, works with ceramics. Ranks of coloured discs, soft blue and raspberry, putty and cobalt, all to test the amount of colour the porcelain can support, are displayed in a case. Experiments in form and testing the capacities of materials are key parts of her work, this will to invent produces some genuine marvels. Little undulating bowls shaped around passion fruit. Liquid bone china poured into moulds to resemble tall paper bags, the china thin with crisp edges.

Music is essential to both of them. They go to recitals together, listening, looking harder and longer than anyone else there, sketching. And then they bring this fullness and lyricism back to their studio. It’s not just the music that these two otherwise quite distinct artists have in common. An idea derived from music pervades their work, of things working together. Things judged and balanced and orchestrated. Sometimes in sympathy, sometimes as counterpoint. As I leave, I turn, and see them, David looking through a stack of watercolours, the stiff paper scuffling, Barbara scoring a pattern into something, scratching and shuffling.
Quiet human music.

Quentin Newark