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Mindful of Silver - Goldsmiths’ Hall

“Spiritus” by Theresa Nguyen, 2010. Fold-formed, hammered and soldered.

Exhibition preview

MINDFUL of Silver, a dynamic and revelatory exhibition by 12 leading contemporary British silversmiths, will be on display at Goldsmiths’ Hall from Friday, May 27 to Saturday, July 16, 2011.

Mindful of Silver is an exciting and stimulating exhibition which challenges our perceptions of the modern day silversmith and illustrates the intellectual and practical design process involved in the making of innovative, design-led contemporary silver.

Twelve stunning, yet contrasting silver vessels form the core of the exhibition, each made by a different leading British silversmith.

The participating silversmiths, namely Vladimir Böhm, David Clarke, Rebecca de Quin, Sarah Denny, Alistair McCallum, Grant McCaig, Hector Miller, Peter Musson, Theresa Nguyen, Michael Rowe, Toby Russell and Lucian Taylor, were chosen as they embody differing philosophies and approaches to their craft and demonstrate interesting, diverse making processes.

The exhibition curator Julie Chamberlain explains: “We are all familiar with the vessel as part of the technical heritage of the silversmith so each was challenged to design and make a silver vessel of their choice. This became the shared starting point for their individual thoughts. The silversmiths were also asked to keep a ‘metaphorical box’ into which they put anything and everything that contributed in some way to the intellectual and physical development of their piece.”

The result is an energetic and honest reportage animated with a fascinating, disparate collection from tea stained scribbles, drawings in differing mediums, photographs, text, objects, models and material samples.

Creativity remains at the vortex of the exhibition but whirling round it are the complex, demanding and sometimes pragmatic elements of the design process. Hours of contemplation and practical experimentation are involved before an original, beautifully conceived vessel demonstrating the highest skill of the craft and individual intellect eventually emerges.

Throughout the journey, which can be both playful and torturous, each silversmith has to make numerous decisions and incremental adjustments – it is an insight into these decisions which makes the exhibition so fascinating.

One distinguished participating silversmith and the next Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company (May 2011/May 2012), Hector Miller said: “As a designer I am often asked where ideas come from. This exhibition presents some of the creative processes that prompt new work and illustrates the varied ways in which I, and my colleagues, arrive at our own unique solutions to the challenge of a commission.

“The exhibition is not just about finished silver vessels, it is about drawings and models, images and objects, because although it is often the logic of thoughts and words that start a design process, it is by embracing the material world with the intuitive use of eyes and hands that a new piece comes into existence”.

Miller has delivered a “tour de force” and pushed the boundaries both creatively and technically with his elegant silver vessels. At first glance the vessels looks like a stunning decorative silver sculpture but in fact the top unhinges to form a natural handle thus making two practical jugs. Inspired by the Dragon Tree, Miller’s design sequence from its conception to completion is documented by a series of drawings and models.

David Clarke has a reputation for producing engaging, intelligent and challenging domestic objects. His take on a vessel was to start with a spoon: “I respond to spoons and see them as the beginning. In the background is the tradition of silversmithing. My reaction is to subvert the subject and place strange, odd or humorous objects back into this dull predictable and stiflingly conservative arena.”

In keeping with his design ethos Clarke uses old squeezy bottles and mangled spoons to help him formulate his ideas. Despite his radical thoughts his resulting vessel, with its graceful narrow shape and spoon on the top, serving both as handle and lip, is extremely sophisticated and elegant.

The design process can be more abstract and intellectual. Michael Rowe takes a radically conceptual approach looking at the relationship between containers and what they contain.

The humble Ryvita provides the vehicle for an exploration of geometrical proportions in silver for the table. Ryvita is made to the golden proportion, a formula that is followed through in its packaging making for an economical use of space and this, together with other geometrical ratios forms the basis of his group of vessels, treated as a site-specific display. The textured silver foundation echoes the crinkly, grained surface of the cracker.

In order to produce his scored and sheet folded jug, Toby Russell had to overcome the challenge of converting his final design from a card model into silver. He explains: “Paper has its own unique quality and in some ways is less flexible than silver sheet. I never truly know how the design will convert or how far the silver can be pushed”.

The image that inspired Russell throughout the design process was that of a prow of a boat cutting through water and as a keen swimmer and surfer, he is naturally drawn to images of waves.

Theresa Nguyen‘s Spiritus is a conceptual vessel for aesthetic effect. She has interpreted the notion of containment by producing an open and fluid form composed of multiple leaves unfurling from a tightly packed core.

Nguyen began by visiting some of the country’s most renowned gardens and freely sketching the form, movement and overlapping patterns of leaves. The proportions and scale of the design then evolved three dimensionally through model making in paper, wire and real leaves.

The ancient Japanese metalworking technique of Mokume Gane (wood grain metal) is taken to new heights in a bowl by Alistair McCallum made using an incredible 128 layers of silver and gilding metal. The final bowl emerged after considerable deliberation, documented by numerous drawings and a series of smaller hand-raised bowls made with much fewer layers.

The layers were then dramatically increased in scale and number, and finally the bowl was hand-raised to produce a simple form that harmoniously complements the random organic nature of the pattern.

While the results are totally different, both Peter Musson and Lucian Taylor like to fuse the precision of modern technologies with the unpredictability of traditional hand-raising skills.

In contrast Rebecca de Quin‘s silver vase, its elegant lines echoed in a two-dimensional silhouette of blue aluminium, takes on the form of a still-life painting, while Sarah Denny‘s sculptural vessel Plunging Form seeks to express simple changes of movement within an object and celebrates the natural beauty of her native Yorkshire.

Denny’s vessel went through the physical process of pencil to paper, to plasticine and then papier-mâché models followed by hours of hammering to raise the form from a large single blank of silver.

Equally fascinating stages were also undergone before Vladimir Böhm produced his flat, rounded and textured dish which took its inspiration from the weight and solidness of a centuries old cattle trough in a village in his native Croatia. Likewise what complex thought processes and practical experiments did Grant McCaig go through before his vessel and associated beakers emerged?

The exhibition is a journey of visual and thoughtful discovery for both the maker and viewer – hence the title Mindful of Silver.

Mindful of Silver Gallery

Admission: Free.

Time: Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm.

Goldsmiths’ Hall, Foster Lane, London, EC2V 6BN

Tel: 020 7606 7010