Category: Uncategorised

29
Nov

AMBITIOUS ENDEAVOURS

For some years, Peacock Yard has hosted young artists who have trained at the local City & Guilds of London Art School. Their studios are arrayed with seasoning planks and beams and blocks, and various kinds of saws, benches and vices, mallets and bundles of chisels; creative havens for the intensive business of working wood.

City & Guilds, which was founded in 1854, is almost unique in teaching such an ancient art. This is the School’s description of the course most of the Peacock Yard carvers follow: “The Woodcarving & Gilding Pathway of our new BA (Hons) Historic Carving course, is a comprehensive, three-year course that will prepare you for a fulfilling career in architectural heritage as a professional woodcarver. Whether your ambition is to create new work in historic contexts or to restore sculpture and ornament, your aesthetic and historical knowledge will be as important as your manual skills.

“On this course, you’ll develop this wide range of skills and will graduate fully equipped to begin a successful career. The curriculum focuses on the wide range of skills required to become a professional wood carver. These include not only advanced carving techniques, but also drawing, modelling, frame restoration, casting, portraiture, artistic anatomy, ornament study, gilding, heraldry, design and the history of carving in architecture and sculpture. You are also introduced to repair and restoration techniques and to relevant conservation practices and ethics.”

Wilfe Gorlin

Enjoyed woodwork at school, and somehow ended up in Canada on a working visa, snowboarding during the day, and working on timber frame houses to earn money to snowboard. He got “really into” working with wood, especially when he started making his own furniture to furnish the little cabin he was living in. After his fill of snowboarding, he returned to Britain, and stumbling across the course, feeling that it offered a more “adventurous endeavour” than joinery. He is now studying on the new Post Grad Diploma course, drawing as much as he is carving.

Cassidie Alder

Studied English, tried an “office job that drove me nuts”, then bookshops. She took a joinery course, and wanted more of the same. She found work with a treehouse company, then onto McCurdy & Co, famous for building the Globe Theatre in the 1990s. Architectural woodwork gave some satisfaction, but Cass wanted more personal control. The first day at City & Guilds “she fell in love” with the craft and aesthetic impact. She has had an eclectic start to her career, wooden memorials, furniture, and decorative work for a newly built green oak frame house.

Joe Murphy

Apprenticed in carpentry and joinery. But he found joinery frustrating, describing the disappointment of having someone “just walk through” a door he had worked on for days. He wanted his work to elicit greater affect. He discovered the City & Guilds course, liking the teachers and the wide variety of skills on offer. Drawing is now of great importance to him. His work errs towards the figurative, current pieces are a newell post of intertwined animals, a dragon, and coats of arms.

Michael Leal

First became interested in wood and making through his grandfather who restored clock cases. Michael went on to study physics at university, but in studying it realised he didn’t want to spend his life immersed in it. He took a joinery course, and so loved working with his hands, he looked for a place to study more deeply. He was attracted to City & Guilds, since it teaches students to understand the principles and history of carving and yet also the practicalities of taking up a commercial career. Michael is particularly drawn to late medieval carving, when the craft reached its apogee of technical and artistic ambition. He has spent time working on restoration of Augustus Pugin’s gothic woodwork at the Houses of Parliament, and on ceilings at Mercers Company in the City of London and Peterhouse Cambridge.

 

06
Jun

THEN IS ALSO NOW

KASIA WOZNIAK

Kasia, as her name suggests, hails from Warsaw. She came to Britain fourteen years ago, learned English, studied at the London College of Communication and photography at the London College of Fashion. She first encountered wet plate collodion as a technique half way through her training, and was immediately fascinated by both the images it produces and how it slows down and intensifies the process of making a picture.

The internet has greatly speeded up our consumption of images. My daughter, for example, who at eight years of age has probably seen ten times the number of images Kasia had seen at eight in a Poland only just starting to recover from the impoverishment of every aspect of life brought about by Marxism. But how many images will my daughter remember, how many does she look at long enough for them to burn themselves onto her retinas, and absorb their mysteries? Kasia’s father was a photographer, using the heavy and indestructible cameras available behind the Iron Curtain, Prakticas and Exaktas, with Carl Zeiss Jena or Russian lenses. He processed film himself, and printed, which if you have never done it, is a kind of miracle, using aesthetics and chemicals to freeze a moment in time. He brought photographs for Kasia to pour over.

So Kasia grew up seeing her father record and aestheticise the world around him, and she studied monochrome images in her family’s photo albums, showing herself in the past, and people she knew, and people she vaguely knew. All emotion and imagination stirred by the potency of an image. She studied old cartes de visite found in junk shops, she says the image exerts “a trick of the mind”, which frees the imagination to summon up the lives of the people presenting themselves to the camera, imagining the true colours of their hair and clothes, what they thought about, how they spoke.

The method she has chosen to work with is wet plate collodion. Which involves chemicals being carefully layered onto a sheet of aluminium or glass in the darkroom (which is a portable one when Kasia works away from her studio), and then covered and placed in a frame that can be loaded into the camera back. The camera looks like one you see in a Western, a wooden box on a tripod, with a black cloth at the back, a lens with bellows. This is not a rapid way of taking photographs.

She shoots people. Split between fashion and portraits – although the fashion is undertaken as if it is portraiture. The great advantage of the process is how it encourages Kasia and the model to think about each shot, its more akin to theatre with everything in the frame thought about, like creating a tableau, far from the rapid-fire-increasingly-wild cliché of fashion photography; Austin Powers or the photographer he was parodying, David Hemmings in the movie Blow-Up.

Kasia has stayed in London because of its diversity, the world in a city. Here she finds the cultural mixtures endlessly interesting. You can see this love of collisions in her work; past clashing against present, spontaneity crashing against permanence, beauty being subsumed by the swirl of chemicals.

06
Jun

FIVE HUNDRED YEARS ON PAPER

KELVYN SMITH & ALAN KITCHING

Their ambition is nothing less than a new art school. Based on something most art students rarely encounter – discipline. Because what at first seems to be an Aladdin’s Cave of alphabets, ink pots, wooden type, drying racks, and printing presses takes discipline to operate. Their manifesto offers both a promise and a challenge to today: “as an antidote to the immediate & often dispensable nature of modern technology, the slow articulation of the technical side of letterpress allows the designer to immerse themselves in the focus on craft & revel in the simple joys of making”. They plan to pass on their knowledge, and develop student’s skills with a programme of workshops.

Alan Kitching is a well-known innovator in graphic design, he has spent fifty years first learning the craft of letterpress and wood letter printing, and then using it in ever more inventive ways. His monograph “Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress” was published two years ago. Kelvyn is an experienced teacher, and has an highly varied portfolio of work – commissioned and self-motivated – that shows he is of a like-mind with Kitching; although letterpress is beset by restrictions in how it must be set up and handled, those restrictions can melt away to yield typography of the most imaginative and unexpected kind.

After all, much of the greatest innovation in typography to date – from the playful geometry of Hendrik Werkman to the precision of Jan Tschichold – was all made using exactly the same metal and wooden type, viscous inks, and heavy iron presses in this workshop. Indeed, Johannes Gutenberg’s workshop would have looked very similar, we are channelling history here, a living connection that runs backwards through five hundred years of typography.

I have done one of these workshops, with Alan Kitching, and discovered more in a day than a decade of reading books and fiddling on computers. The first revelation was that the type is physical, you have to lift, carefully position, lock, ink, pull, to get even one letter onto a piece of paper. The process itself leads to consideration, weighing, deciding, which is simply not there with a computer. The second revelation was about aesthetics; the old typefaces, the way letters looks made of metal, the aged wood, the smells, the coarse paper, the entire process is an aesthetic overload.

The website lists the range of courses to suit every level of capability from civilian to experienced, and the fonts and equipment available, sufficient to enable infinite variation. And they have amassed a long list of visiting consultants, that reads like a who’s who of current British design; Anthony Burrill and Hamish Muir of fabled design group Octavo to name but two. Any student or young or even older designer lucky enough to come and study here is going to leave stuffed with all kinds of knowledge; a firm grasp of typographic theory, lots of practical ideas, and creative inspiration to last their lifetime.

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.