Visit to Collect 2011 - Ruth Ball

My visit Collect was a great chance to get a feel for the latest happenings in design and get an overview of current practice. There is so much to see in a show of this type it’s overwhelming, a real visual overload, but never the less a great experience. It’s a privilege to see the work of so many national and international makers in the prestigious surroundings of the Sattchi Gallery. A perfect venue to showcase the diversity of our contemporary applied arts.

It would be impossible to review every piece and get a sense of each gallery on exhibition, so here in this report I will just highlight a few of my favourites.

My local gallery, The Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool, had a strong presence as one of the first displays in the show. The emphasis of their presentation was on the work of makers that centred their work on a radical theme. Their represented artists looked towards contemporary political issues in all their diversity including sexual politics, animal rights, warfare and current affairs, all quite intense subject matters. The work is further profiled in a follow on show at the gallery in Liverpool in the 'Collect(ed)' exhibition at the Display Centre. Artists featured included Stephen Bird, Michael Brennand-Wood, Stephen Dixon, Emma Rodgers and Paul Scott, with much of the work shown being newly commissioned for the Collect exhibition. The ethos of the work exhibited runs in tandem with the Liverpool “City of Radicals” theme which is a varied discourse in to examining and trying to identify just what - and who - is radical at the start of the 21st Century.

This approach seems refreshing to me as I think that it’s a move away from the examination of shape, colour and minimalist forms that have been a focus of late. It’s a reminder that the content of the work, why we do it and the message, is a key factor.

For more information check out and

The Bluecoat Display Centre Stand

The next gallery to leave an impression on me was Galerie Marzee, which is the largest of the galleries in the Netherlands, and apparently according to their website the largest gallery for modern jewellery in the world. Their display was mostly contained in large anthological style cabinets with draws that could be opened by the viewer. They had a lot of work to absorb and I confess that didn’t take a lot of it in but I did enjoy the childlike experience of opening the draws of their cases to discover the work of their selected artist. I delighted in finding a collection of Ramon Puig Cuyas Brooches, items I’ve much admired from the pages of books, nice to see them for real.

They didn’t allow photographs but I recommend a visit to their website.

Steffen Dam Glass Sculpture

My favourite work of the show was not enamel but the work of the glass artist, Steffen Dam, who was represented by Joanna Bird Pottery. My fondness these stunning pieces are led mostly by the admiration of how he has portrayed his subject matter. I’m really fascinated by microscopic forms, it’s a subject I want to return to in my own work, and I love the play on science and art. Above all these pieces are also just exquisite, really jaw dropping. It is said that work is a success when it works on several levels. It has to have an emotional response; it has to be something that you care about. It should stand out and have a presence and mean something. I guess be it should also be technically competent. This work has technicality in spades, but it does not overplay the work. It’s amusing to find from the catalogue that in part the inspiration for these pieces were borne out of finding the beauty in experimentation and making mistakes, as they appear flawless. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for me they were a certainly a sight to behold. I found them very covetable - they are on my lottery list for sure!

Helen Carnac Wall Piece – Lesley Craze Stand

Working along the list of galleries Lesley Craze was a stopping point. There I spied the work of Vladimir Bohm and Helen Carnac. Helen Carnac showed her signature bowls and had some hung enamel on steel plates. I was particularly drawn to her wall piece, which was a feat of mark making in pencil, paint and enamels, worked together in potent sheet of layered imagery. The value in the action of the work and its drawn elements are exemplary. CAA also represented Vladimir’s work. His strong blackened forms and use of red enamel I found earthy and organic. I like the raw dynamic of his recent work and I’m also pleased to note that Vladimir is also included in the next Goldsmiths Hall Exhibition “Mindful of Silver”.

Enamel Vessels - Naoki Takeyama

The work of Naoki Takeyama, profiled by The Yufuku Gallery, Tokyo was another head turner. The pieces are fairly large and elegantly rendered.

It’s a bit anal to try and work out how something is made in a show like this, but I enjoyed the simplicy of how he overcame the issue of how to deal with a joint on his larger vessel by making it a feature. Conversely, in his is crimped vessels I couldn’t work out a join and decided to think it better anyway that some things remain a mystery. ( Though, there is some technical description in Issue 81 of Craft Art International if like me you cannot help yourself and want to try and fathom the work out.)

His application of small perfectly placed foils to create the mesmerising patterns add further awe to the mastery of technique. However it is on learning the translation of the titles to the work I was brought back to the meaning and aesthetic of the pieces. They carry such names as “Devotion”, “Ephemeral” and “A Thousand Years”, thus a reminder of the dialogue within the enamel. For me the work was also a parallel in the ideal of perfection expressed in Japanese Enamel Ware, deftly joined with a key pointer to the modernity of looks akin to “Op Art” artists such as Bridget Riley.

In terms of how enamel was used there were other indicators of very innovative practice in several gallery displays.

I was captivated by the cosmos like droplets of enamel suspended in the works of Italian Jeweller Giovanni Corvaja, displayed by the Adrian Sassoon Gallery, who also had some handsome pieces by Jacqueline Ryan. The tiny particles of fired enamel in his works cling to ultra fine wires woven and inter bound in gossamer like fashion. The random placing of colours combine with the mathematical precision in the construction of the jewels. The enamel is an adjunct to the work but also very much part of it. They are not just fine jewels, but as is the case with contemporary adornment, they are sculptures in miniature. You could well imagine them working on a much larger scale.

Giovanni Corvaja - Adrian Sassoon Gallery

Alternatives from Rome hosted displays by two other Italian enamellers, Giovanni Sicuro and Graziano Visintin. As is Giovanni Corvaja, both artists are from the famous Pauda School, each use enamel as a surface that adds to the eloquence of their work. Their pieces are wearable conceptualised jewels in fine metals, but the enamel is employed in roughly worked technique to express a rawness in the qualities of the materials used. I particularly liked one of the pieces by Visintin who artistically married 18ct gold with blackened red opaque enamel that was textured and not smooth. It was applied directly to the surface of the metal and not fired into a recess. It seemed liberating.

Brooch - Graziano Visitin - Image scanned from Alternatives Promotional card.

At Gallery Ra I really enjoyed the work of Bettina Speckner.

View and more images here

The techniques listed in her photographic pieces are described as Ferrotypes or as Enamel photos, and some are noted as photo etchings in zinc. Her fine art representation of the narrative is evocative. The treasured imagery combines with collaged found elements set into the works. You are led into the pictures to try and discover meaning. They give the sense of a time past and allude to the art of memento and commemoration. I left wanting to know more about the stories behind the jewels, which reminded me again that it was important to have more than an aesthetic agenda.

Bettina Speckman – Image scanned from Gallery Ra promotional card

Gallery Lousie Smit had several pieces by Ralph Bakker. I took interest in the recent book about his collection and the neckpiece that promoted the solo show, hosted by the gallery in March. A stunning piece, which demonstrates an observation to the “white enamel paradox” * that has been witnessed in recent contemporary enamelling exhibitions.

* Ref to Isabelle Busnell Blog

Information about Ralph Bakker

Gallery Louise Smit website

Ralph Bakker - Neckpiece – scanned image from Gallery Louise Smit promotional card

Having mentioned opaque colour renditions and the all white phenomena, it is also good to report that richness and subtly of colour was still evident throughout the galleries, not just in enamel but also within the practice of other makers. Fine examples were represented by The Scottish Gallery and Bishopsland showing pieces of Jane Short's beautiful work.

“Court Cup” for The Goldsmiths Company - Jane Short - Image from Collect catalogue

As ever, you can see house styles and the elements of trends but I came away with the impression of a lively and diverse world. My big reward visually came at the end of the show as I discovered the Project Space area, where along the full wall of the gallery I found the vivid “Chromatic Landscape” by Lubna Choudray and Ptolemy Mann, a collaboration work hung as a large scale intuitive response to colour. The impact of this piece was just fabulous. You didn’t need to intellectualise about it all, merely just drink in the colours and admire the view. It was a great finale to a very thought-provoking day.

Ceramics by Lubna Choudry (pictured sitting on bench) and Textiles by Ptolemy Mann