"Born of earth, and formed by fire, metal can be as hard as steel or as soft as silver. Metal has opinion and character, even before it is made into a piece.”
“ON THE ONE hand, copper is a sloppy metal: it is the lazy teenager of the metal world, leaving its clothes all over the floor, rarely washing, and leaving a bit of a smell behind. There is another side to copper though: it is the mother, the metal that births; one of the components of brass and gilding metal, and, especially when working at larger scale, it is a metal that cares,” says Juliette Bigley, co-founder with her colleague metalsmith Simone ten Hompel, of Mixed Metals. The duo are currently showing at London’s contemporary craft fair, Artefact, at The Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour.
The pair feel strongly that each metal has a distinct character, which determines how it can be worked, and they share a burning desire to open up conversations around metals – to explain the rich, intellectually stimulating and skilled processes that lie in making. Mixed Metals is not a gallery, but rather an opportunity to introduce metals to the public, who might have an understanding of other media such as glass or ceramic, but have little knowledge of metal.
Materials, they maintain, respond to specific treatments, just as people do. This is not a rule-based system, each metal is an ‘individual’ and responds differently – a kind of psychology of the material. “I think you can’t be a maker and not have an intimate relationship with your material. How you frame that will be personal. For me and Simone it’s obvious to frame it as characters. When you have this framework you learn more about the material. It makes it intriguing because you’re almost dealing with something that’s dynamic rather than something that’s static.”
Metal is an elemental material. “Born of earth, and formed by fire, it can be as hard as steel or as soft as silver. Metal has opinion and character, even before it is made into a piece,” says ten Hompel. Her judgement stems from how each metal moves. Brass is smooth and buttery, whereas nickel is hard and crisp. Personality comes from colour – the soft moonshine of matt silver, the rich red of copper – and emanates from our perceptions of it, such as the industry of iron and steel, and the preciousness of gold and silver. Contemporary metalworkers typically fuse these aspects to create different interpretations of familiar objects.
Simone ten Hompel, Britain’s leading metalsmith, is Reader in Metal at London Metropolitan University. She has a string of awards to her name and works in museums around the globe. She creates atypical vessels in a variety of metals, which she combines in unusual ways. Juliette Bigley makes abstract metal sculptures based on composite geometric forms that explore how our internal experiences interact with the world. Made as an aid to thinking, her pieces are ‘punctuation marks’ in an ongoing dialogue between thinking, writing and making. For Artefact the duo are joined by metalsmith Max Warren.
All the work on show talks of the material. It places metal front and centre and puts the medium in dialogue with form, as opposed to the material being a surface for decoration. “The wall pieces in mixed metals that I am showing at Artefact,” says Bigley, “are a really good vehicle for that communication between material and form, because they’re abstracted entirely from traditional notions of function that can get attached to an object.”