Materials and Processes etc...
I employ many materials and techniques, some more challenging than others. Typically I start with a piece of timber, stone or metal that attracts me. These are found, gleefully, from a wide range of sources and have usually been sitting in the studio for a while, making suggestions.
I like to explore the material a little before a form comes to mind, then I might sketch ideas, refining my vision before further shaping. When the outer sphere has begun to show the nature of its inner, for example, I begin the complementary element.
There are always part formed pieces, on shelves and benches, even toolboxes and machinery, any spare surface, all around my work space. Most wait for over a year, some much longer, with various partner materials in or on them. Some because a decision has been made and a process is awaited, others are trying out. A few procrastinate, until I despair, when the thing they needed usually appears. Then it seems obvious, as if it had been there all along and I launch into what is regularly a long night of obsessive fervor! I love little more in life than to sit down in my studio, with no particular plan and spy a thing that inspires me; makes me smile, look closely, see in a new way, jump up and start work.
In no particular order, here are some details of work in progress...
I love metal. I play with it, often when it is liquid, which is a remarkable thing to behold at close quarters. Whichever way it is done, it takes a phenomenal amount of power to melt metal and when it pours, one feels it.
There are several traditional Japanese 'precious metals' I make for Iro-gane (coloured metal) and Mokume-gane (wood grained metal), here I am making both Kuromido (Copper and Arsenic!) and Shibuichi (Copper and Silver). Roll over for more...
One begins by melting metals together in a foundry (most often gas fired these days, although I still like my traditional solid fuel and bellows unit best and get it out for special recipes : ) The desired ingredient is usually poured into a traditional Japanese water casting sling, producing a rounded ingot of delightful proportions.
The ingot is then hammered, heated and hammered over and over, until its crystals are compressed together and it will eventually fit through the rolling mill.
Then it's annealed and rolled, over and over until the desired thickness is reached. These sheets of alloy are cut into pieces that fit between the torque plates and (after insane amounts of cleaning) are clamped together in layers, under great pressure, before being cooked in the kiln to their eutectic point (hot enough for the whole thing to fuse into one big lump of metal).
When the billet has been cut and cleaned up, it can be hammered again and checked closely for imperfections. If floors exist, which they will if one speck of dust got onto a plate, its a thousand dollar lump of scrap. If no floors exist, it is ready to be annealed and hammered, over and over again, until the whole thing fits through the rollers once more. Then I finally have a plate of multilayered material I can carve my pattern into.
When the pattern has been carved and rolled through the mill enough to become a flat surfaced plate, the piece can be shaped. Often I raise mokume into a part sphere, usually to fit another material. Here I have inlaid a carved, wood grain patterned dome into wood (it still staggers me that in four hundred years of the Mokume gane tradition, I can find no other examples of matched grain).
If the size of the piece allows, I usually just hold the stone in one hand and attack it with a diamond tip grinding blade, simply taking off the corners, until it's round, as in the photo on the left. In the middle is a shot of me hanging onto a wee sapphire with all my grip while doing the same with a pendant motor (I must have dropped it twenty times!) On the right, much more peaceful, but actually more nerve wracking, was shaping a piece of lunar rock! I rubbed it gently against the diamond wheel. It was very soft, very crumbly and very expensive. It was also a very big moment for me, not just because had I wanted to do it for years; it is truly awe inspiring to hold a piece of the moon, let alone shape it.
Trees are beautiful individuals, the pieces of timber they produce are too, I love this medium as much as metal, I think. The process usually starts with me, out in the world, scavenging around likely trees or wood piles. I know tree surgeons, furniture and boat makers and various other woodworkers who groan when they see me coming and shake their heads at me for rummaging in their off cut bins! I've even grabbed piles of burning beech from a builders bonfire! My lover (and future wife) once brought me the charred remains of a teak transom and said, "I was at a party and they were burning this and I thought..." It was ancient heartwood teak from an old vessel. You actually can't buy that! It became a thing of glowing beauty. Thanks love.
So, when I've been lucky enough to meet a piece of timber, I grab a saw, cutting off bits that are not included, yielding a piece of wood I can shape further.
Depending on the scale of the piece, I might work with an arbortech, before mounting on a lathe and or moving to a surform and then rasps and eventually sanding. With special pieces I avoid power tools all together. On the left I'm gouging an inner dome from some cherry (I often have a bruised inner thigh but I haven't cut myself yet!) In the middle I'm using an arborech. I've used them for twenty years and they still scare me.
In laying anything is a painstaking process. Matching metal to wood grain is in equal parts about getting the pattern just right at both cutting and rolling stages and in raising the metal in tiny increments especially towards the last, fitting stage. Each time the piece must be offered back up for the match to be checked. It is a ridiculously time consuming process. It helps to have an avenue in which to exercise my control freak : ) In the middle is a shot of some sterling silver, set into the checks that appeared in a hollow walnut branch. Several lines join the inner and outer faces. The silver was bent to shape, hammered into place and filed back carefully, so as not to mark the polished wood.
Usually when the piece has been assembled, it's time to start finishing. On the left I'm adding yet another round of salt and vinegar to some copper alloys, to promote the growth of copper 'rust'. However, some metals are treated or colored before they are set or in laid: In the middle is a video of the smallest rokoshu pot I've ever seen! I made it to patina some small pieces of kuromido before setting. To the right is an image of a piece of spalted birch, which drank so much linseed oil that it oozed out when the piece was warm. It did this for some years before being cut back and polished.
Works in progress
Here are some works part way through the above processes, just because I like to look back at the moment when a finished piece was just a lump of material, before the magic of a new work had been imbued.
Extended artist's statement
I'm often asked questions about my work, or have discussions about Art that leave me thinking. I don't have time or data to blog, so this is my forum for a little cogitation, maybe even an occasional rant!
My work aims simply to promote a sense of wonder: There is a tribe; the Kogi, who choose to raise some children in an isolated cave for their first nine years. Despite intense tuition from a team of holy men, when the time comes to leave, the child is so overjoyed by the exquisite perfection of our world, it lasts for the rest of their days. A large part of their job is to go among the people and point to the wonder of it. I believe in Western Culture, this role is handed, among others, to the artist and is one I aspire to.
I've just read Shaun Greenhalgh's book, about his incredible career as an Art 'forger' and am slightly rattled. Among the many moral and philosophical issues that his jail cell ramble brings up, is the notion of respect for the craft of great Art. I disagree wholeheartedly with the man, who essentially writes off 'modern Art' in favor of craft! I believe there is no finer Art than that created as a spontaneous response to a creative urge, whether conceptual or otherwise. I do however, agree that Picasso was given credence because he was such a master draughtsman. I am left feeling that all but the very most spontaneous work (most so in the 'immediate disciplines' such as certain paint, spoken word, dance and music) are designed at some level. Some Artists are masters of media requiring more detailed design than others. I'm sure Rodin didn't need to scratch his head before beginning his 'thinker'; by that time in his career it was possible for him to set about it without much conscious thought, despite the painstaking number of hours, processes, and people involved: He knew how to turn clay into bronze.
The thing that counts for me is the purity of the original vision, combined with the excellence of realisation. I owe Mr Greenhalgh a debt of thanks, as his prodding has brought me to the conclusion that while I may not be a great master of any medium or technique, I am lucky enough to be able to 'see' in a range of stone, timber or metal and simply get on with it. What gives me joy is meeting my need to create something original, or of myself