For some time I’ve been looking for a new direction for my work. I often find that making art is like trying to write a poem when you don’t even know the language you’re writing in. Or a bit like bashing out a series of one-liners. They come from nowhere and I don’t really know here to go next. Instead, I wanted to feel that I had a competence in the basic language I was trying to use. It would be like jotting ideas down all the time – some of which might make it to finished work and some would make its way to the bin, but whatever happened, I was looking for an energy that would sustain a conversation with myself and others and not just be a one-line gag.
I’ve talked before about Essex Crystals and how I fell in love with them. In a nutshell: A few years ago I came across a tiny antique crystal gem with an equally tiny lap dog engraved on the back. The optics of the gem gave the little dog a lifelike quality, and it was all set off with diamonds and gold. It was captivating, technically complicated and utterly bizarre.
I felt that these crystals might be a starting point for my new direction. I could see that they had a visual language that spoke of the personal, strangeness and sweetness that I could develop. It’s not that I would recreate the pieces exactly, but I would use them as a starting point, taking some of their technical and visual qualities and seeing where it took me. I also felt that I was ready to get more involved in the craft of glass. I’ve always used fairly simple processes in my glassmaking. These pieces, as I envisaged them, required more complex techniques, techniques that I knew would be really, really difficult to master, and as I found out in practice where actually ten times harder than that.
Casting for an optical finish, engraving, reverse painting with enamels (where you view the painting through the glass, so you need to start with the highlights and work backwards, firing each layer as you go), grinding and polishing (especially when you haven’t got quite the right equipment) gilding with precious metal leaf, and because I wanted to make them into glorious, over the top gems, pearl and gold cutwork embroidery too. All this proved to be very challenging indeed. It felt at times like I was trying to play a Beethoven concerto when I’d only got grade three on the piano. I’m lucky to have brilliant mentors – Angela Thwaites, Milly Frances and Jo Newman have been my rocks – or I would have ground to a halt. There’s a whole conversation to be had here about the tyranny of technique!
Just after I got going, I realised that I needed the motivation of somewhere to show the results, and I approached Ann Marie Franey and Angela Mann, the Directors of the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair to see if I might apply for a stand at the show. I knew that my work would be priced rather high for GNCCF (labour intensive = high prices) but what you have there are people who really know their objects. They are used to touching, trying on and imagining the things they find there on their bodies or in their homes. Also, pretty much all the North West’s curators of craft go there. GNCCF is a fantastic conversational space. As it turned out, Angela and Ann Marie where really wanting to develop their branding that ‘Craft Says Something’, and the idea of creating a conversational space has become a brand new section in the show: ‘Discuss’. Myself and two other mid career makers are showing a collection in development, while it is still in the somewhat messy phase before work is polished up for presentation. There’s the possibility that the conversation might not just comment on the work but shape how it develops.
So that’s where I am with Essex Crystals. I’d be delighted if you would join me at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair to discuss Essex Crystals, the creative roller coaster, the tyranny of technique, taking risks and the irresistible magic of tiny optical glass worlds.
Find me on STAND 85
Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair
GNCCF #MANCHESTER #CraftSaysSomething
10-13 OCTOBER 2019
Thursday 10 October: 18.00 – 21.00 (Preview)
Friday 11 October: 10.00 – 18.00
Saturday 12 October: 10.00 – 17.00
Sunday 13 October: 10.00 – 16.00
Upper Campfield Market*
*the event entrance is on Deansgate next to Dimitri’s restaurant – near
Beetham Tower (Hilton Hotel) and opposite the Great Northern
Warehouse Car Park.
£6.50 Advance* / £8 on the door
Concessions: £5.50 Advance* / £6.50 on the door
Preview: £10 Advance* / £12 on the door
*Eventbrite fees apply