Melissa schleps around London

I went to a few galleries in the last week. On Saturday I checked out the V&A for a few hours and then went to Argenta, (on a list of places to visit I was given to visit) which was a bit of a bust, so I didn’t go in. Electrum was good; I’m told that it becoming a part of Contemporary Applied Arts has meant some recent changes and a refit, given it was my first visit it looked like a standard jewellery gallery with white acrylic-box covered plinths and some wall installations. Interesting, mostly British work, with some heavyweights like Wendy Ramshaw in there too.

On Tuesday I finally made it to Lesley Craze gallery – I’d missed it on Saturday due to train lines having works and such. This is a very big space, with quite distinctive glass vitrines and a space for a small show to one side also. Work from everywhere, including Felicity Peters from Australia. (I wrote down who was showing but left it in the UK, so I’ll update with the ‘show’ info)

I next went to Gallery So, but it wasn’t open on Tuesdays so I didn’t get in. From peeking in the window it seemed to be a graphic based show. Next I stopped by at Studio Fusion which specialises in enamel works and which is owned cooperatively by a group of artists, which includes Elizabeth Turrell. I made a quick call past the Tate Modern to see Ai Weiwei‘s work in the main hall, which after all the controversy around the dust it was inducing, is no longer able to be walked on. (This is a great shame, as I think the work is less affecting because of it, but more on that another time.)

Finally, I went out to see the Fused exhibition at Flow Gallery, which was absolutely amazing. I think that was the pick of the bunch, and as always I almost didn’t make it so I was especially happy that I went. I really liked Helen Carnac’s work (which you can see on her blog) as well as Bettina Dittlmann‘s. There were others that impressed also, but again, notes are back in Bristol, and I’m in Munich.

More on that soon. (I know, I seem to have  perpetual Munich teaser running through the blog. I will share soon, promise!)


Day 9 – recycling

Melissa goes to Birmingham, and back into the studio at UWE in Bristol, and reports back.

After a poke through a local ’emporium of curiosities’ on the weekend I went into the studio today with some tins and a bun tray to enamel. The plan had been to use my usual method of making a drawing, sawing it out of the tin and then enameling them as parts for jewellery works, but when the computer ran out of juice, and I forgot to bring the UK connector for my power cable, the plan was simplified. Just enamel the tins!

We had Kirsten Haydon in for a visit today too which was great – she joined Anamika in enamelling some reclaimed tin cans. It’s a very interesting material with the lines already in the tin. I’ll have to eat more tinned food, or stalk the canteen…

As promised on Friday I did the tour of the amazing jewellery school in Birmingham, with the wonderful Bridie Lander. It is a huge building, filled top to bottom with jewellers of many different stripes and a few clock-makers thrown in for good measure. They have some amazing old equipment, and all the good current stuff too. And they are packed – so many MA students as well as the equivalent of TAFE and the BA programme as well, and more streams that I’ve already forgotten.

I then did the tour of the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. As Bridie said, before sending me off with her recommendation to take the tour of the old Smith and Pepper workshop, it’s like the Mary Celeste. Smith and Pepper were manufacturing jewellers, a reasonably large outfit too, whose operations were deserted because there were no heirs to take over the reins when the last of the Smiths died in his early eighties. The Mary Celeste reference comes from the state of the workshop and offices themselves, as they look as if the workers left the premises on a Friday, and then forgot to turn up again the following Monday. Thus the whole place seems geared for the company to continue operations, despite the fact that the operations look older than a 1981 vintage.

As I said, it was a going concern until the last of the Smith family of jewellers, who owned the business, died, yet one can only wonder at its profitability given the archaic technology still in situ. The age of most of the equipment it houses is the kind that would have been used even before the beginning of the 20th Century, except for the electric driven machinery of course. But even that is dangerously archaic. Of course, jewellery manufacture in comparison to most industries hasn’t changed that much in the last several hundred years, but man, no drill press?

The saving of the facility in its ‘present’ state was due to the fact that the council owned the building, so somehow they laid claim, or made a claim, for the whole shebang, and sought to turn it into a museum. Sections of it still work too – there are demonstrations of old school hole-drilling, sawing (not very old school, actually) and soldering using a fixed arm gas torch with a blow-pipe. And rather than use bricks or a soldering mat for annealing, the guide held a handle at the base of a length twisted wire, atop of which was affixed a mesh ‘pillow’ on which the piece of metal sat. This, presumably, combated the fact that one had to have a hand free for the blow-pipe, and in any case there’s no movement in the plumbed-into-the-bench gas outlet.

There was also a demo of the fly press, and the silence being interrupted by the racket of the buffing wheels (nothing, thankfully, was buffed). There was also a die formed medal completed using a drop-press. After demonstrating this, we were told that a fellow guide (to the woman who operated our tour,) had lost some fingertips around a year ago while operating this machine. It was hard to make out exactly what she meant when saying this, as her delivery was of a quite idiosyncratic nature, but but seems as though this machine is a common finger-killer.

I’d have thought that should such an accident have happened so recently, they would have stopped demonstrating the press entirely. It’s amazing that several areas within the workshop tour are open to the public, as, even in its museum-state with sections blocked off, there are still a few hazards about that a working studio would have to deal with.

Back to the museum – one floor houses a small yet interesting selection of contemporary works, along with many historical jewellery examples, using all manner of materials. The curatorial direction is materials driven, which is a useful angle from which to look at wearable works as a whole when introducing them to the general public. The other floor mostly focuses on silversmithing, and given their location in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, this makes complete sense.

After completing the museum and the tour, to top off my visit I had a stroll around the Quarter. I then headed back to town, noting, sadly, that the nearby Pen Museum had closed for the day.


Next time…


Day 8 – result!

Melissa shows a finished work, from Bristol. It’s fully demountable though…

I was a little heavy handed with the last layer of clear enamel… I should have watered it down a little more.

The plan is to add two more linking strands of cable (at present there are only two, but there are holes drilled for four), just to firm it up a little. And to fray the ends of the cable, to which I’ll add some enamel to the frayed parts to clamp the layers into place. This will have to happen when I have access to a torch, so I can fire just the end parts.

Tomorrow I’m not in the studio, I’ll be going to Birmingham to catch up with Bridie Lander at the School of Jewellery within the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design at Birmingham City University. We met at Inhorgenta in Munich a couple of weekends ago. Which reminds me… More on Munich soon!

Day 7 – slow going

Melissa is in Bristol, slowly amassing the layers for a new work. Emphasis on the ‘slowly’.

Yesterday’s work in progress has two more layers added. I fired a third, but it was not the next one in line so I couldn’t add it to the work. I was hoping to fire 4 layers today, but I only made it to three…

Today I listened as Elizabeth told Carol (an MA student who is currently working in the studio) about the Playing with Fire exhibition that recently toured here, for which she contributed to the touring notes, and a catalogue essay.

If you go here you can scroll down you can see that under Recent Touring Exhibitions there is  listed Playing with Fire – Contemporary UK Enamel. At the end of this section there is a link to two PDF’s that contain a bunch of information on the history and practice of enamelling, including pictures to do with various enamel processes. There is a particularly beautiful example of a transfer print on the work Treecups by Tamar De Vries Winter on the last page of the Education Panels.

Makes me think I should get back to the screen print room to print me a transfer!


Day 5 – samples

Melissa fires a few test rounds… In the kiln, of course.

I decided on two courses of action to improve on Friday’s performance. Fire layers with less enamel on them, and individually.

This way I get to play around with each layer, treating each as as a separate work, yet as a part of the structure that makes up the whole vessel.

Copper woven in and around the hoops with a coating of white enamel.

Copper black from being fired, and pasted down with enamel.

Day Four…

Melissa fires an object work at enamelling school. The object fires back…

The enamel deities feel it’s time to remind me that I am but a mere novice…

I fired the vessel, but the vessel fired back.

It then got sandblasted. The school’s sandblaster is fierce, but no match for steel cable enamelled into .5mm holes. More work on it today.

Another attempt; a proof of concept of sorts. Will be adding to this (very thin) base layer.


Day Three – Result!

Day three of working in Bristol with wet process enamel. Finally, some work to be proud of!

Not only does the enamel stay on the cable, but it joined these two pieces. Each piece of cable is a different diameter from 0.27mm through to 0.6mm, and had a knot for testing the enamel on and a knot to affix it to the trivet with copper wire.

The large kiln wasn’t on today, so I will wait to fire this piece. Fingers crossed!

I’ve moved on to a smaller piece – to fit it in the kiln, and because these are all I have left of my pre-prepared metal pieces.

Both vessels were dipped whole in wet process enamel – in slightly differing shades of red.

Fired! This one got a little shaken before entering the kiln, so some of the missing patches toward the frayed cable ends went missing before firing. Interestingly it slumped toward the back of the kiln, where it would have got hotter. Jessica has since suggested maybe I should hang them to avoid this. It’s a thought.

You can see some exposed metal on that top layer in the foreground of that image. There was a small amount of enamel pinging off once it fired, but it seemed mostly from off the cable.  It seemed to lessen as it became properly cooled.

Day two – Screened

Melissa’s adventures in Bristol – day 2. Lesson one, mark making for screen printing.

Went today to hang with Dave in Screen Printing to do an introduction on Mark Making. Given my foundation education was design/architecture, I’m kinda missing some arts basics, like screen printing, so I had a bit of fun tooling about with dip pens and scratching into acrylic paint and doing rubbings (over some of my laser-cut stainless patterns) and the like. And of course making the screen and the prints themselves. Dave is a master craftsman in this area, his knowledge and precision were easy to admire, especially once us novices had had a go at the process. Why screen print? Well, using different media one is able to screen print onto transfers that can then be placed onto a layer of enamel and then fired, rather gently. Could come in handy…

Then back in the enamel studio I made 3 quick samples, all of which impressed me more than the previous day’s efforts. There’s something to working quickly without thinking, (with the advantage of some practice under my belt.) I was reminded of how I like to work with enamel.