Fit for Purpose – Contemporary British Silversmiths at the V&A

When I was in London for Jewellery Week I made some time to sneak down to one of my favourite parts of the city – the Victoria and Albert Museum. Over the summer it’s hosting a show for the Contemporary British Silversmith‘s Society entitled ‘Fit for Purpose‘.

At the back of the silver galleries is a delicious little case filled with contemporary silverware:

The show has an interesting concept given that, in the last century or so, the market for silver has changed so radically and the ‘purpose’ for which most silverware is now made has shifted. Gone are the days of large firms making household, utilitarian silverware and the market is now much more dominated by studio makers exploring the craft for private clients and small retailers.

The work on display is varied, from that clearly designed for a more traditional purpose – like Louise Mary‘s salad servers (utilitarian, but no less elegant for being so) to the intentionally conceptual pieces of Rajesh Gogna.

There’s also a beautiful piece of Kevin Grey‘s laser welded work, a stunning set of angular beakers from Mary Ann Simmons and a wonderful sculptural tray from Alex Ramsey, which bears her distinctive and delicate cut patterning spread across a form I’ve not seen before.

For a small case it’s a wonderful collection of work that’s well worth a visit – the show continues in the V&A silver galleries until the 16th of September 2012.

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Made in the Middle – MAC, Birmingham

I wandered down to the MAC in the wintery sunshine today and paid a visit to Craftspace’s new Made in the Middle exhibition which moved in a couple of weeks ago. Featuring work from 35 makers in the middle of the UK (and, bizarrely, at least one from Wales…) the show covers the broad sprectrum of contemporary craft from ceramics to textiles via silversmithing and glass.

Made in the Middle at the MAC

It’s great to see so much diversity in a show like this – there’s a lot to connect with no matter what your taste and, while obviously I was drawn like a magpie to the metalwork, I was also fascinated by this:

Made in the Middle - detail of Charlotte Clark's glass

It’s a close up of Charlotte Clark‘s cast glass sculptures which are just stunning. She cuts through blocks of glass that are filled with voids and swirls of colour to expose the rough textures within – this one contained a hole host of beautiful tones and bubbles that evoked a storm at sea.

Made in the Middle - Charlotte Clark

There’s a posied sense of balance about her work, while the shapes of the sculptures are all geometric their harsh, mathematical lines are broken as the internal bubbles and ‘flaws’ in the glass touch the surface. Working with a substance like this must make for a constantly suprising results …

Just next to Charlotte’s work is case full of Kevin Grey‘s silversmithing. He’s something of a rising star at the moment with his distinctive, layered pieces that are gently organic and show off a dedicated attention to detail:

Made in the Middle - Kevin Grey

One of the nice things about this show is that it’s set out to discover how people made their way into working in contemporary craft, whether they’re straight out of uni or have come into it as a second career. Kevin is one of the latter, with years of experience in the luxury automative industry impacting his work. This background, blended with traditional skills means that he’s pretty free to bend the age old ‘rules’ of silversmithing to good effect. On the Made in the Middle website there’s a super photo diary of how Kevin made one of these gorgeous pieces which is well worth a look, here.

Made in the Middle - Kevin Grey

And, as I was heading out I spotted these:

Made in the Middle - Marcus Steel

With industrial overtones these base metal and silver sculptures are part giant chess pieces and part art deco factory buildings. They’re suberbly constructed with neat, smooth lines and clever details that are understated yet elegant. The base metals that make up most of the pieces have been chemically treated to patinate the surfaces – leaving rich, deep colours that highlight the silver details.

Made in the Middle - deatil of Marcus Steel's work

I really would recommend a visit if you’e got an hour or so to spare. Made in the Middle is open at the MAC until the 15th of April then it heads off on tour around the middle of the UK, finally closing in July 2013.

Made in the Middle - feedback board

Goldsmiths Fair 2011

Goldsmiths Fair 2011

I find it hard to describe Goldsmiths Fair to my non-silversmithing friends. The closest I’ve come so far is saying that it’s like New York Fashion Week. There are hot new designers, old favourites stunning you with their new collections, new heights of genius and always some starring talent that you somehow missed on a previous visit who’s ready and waiting to astound you now.

I suppose, in reality it’s just a fair, like any other, but somehow it manages to eclipse all those others and shine as the countries finest annual gathering of silver and jewellery talent.

I love it. The thought of aspiring to it terrifies me, but I love it all the same.

It inspires me and makes me realise again just how passionate I am about this industry.

Some of the things I saw which made an impression on me this year are:

Samantha Moore makes small silverware, she’s a lovely person and was happy to spend some time showing me her wonderful little tea infusers. The two halves of these snick together so easily, look so neat and are so beautifully funstional that I was awed.

I first saw William Lee‘s work at Collect a couple of years ago, the photographs of it totally don’t do it justice. All those little stripes on the surface are tiny verticle rows of hammer marks and vase itself is almost the size of a beachball. You know, one of those giant stripey ones you had as a kid?

Looking into it is marvellous, it’s hard to image how the thing was raised – just turning the weight alone must be a challenge, but clearly one that’s worth it.

Then, way down on the other end of the scale, is Vicki Amberley Smith. Her work is exquiste, all precise detail and clever use of materials. All her work is wearable, which is an unusual touch in something inspired by something so three dimensional.

So that was Week One at the Fair. I can’t make next week, sadly, which means I’ll miss seeing work like this:

but then there’s always next year …