The Jerwood Art Fund Makers Open 2022
Former Jerwood judge, Grant Gibson, has a close look at the newly commissioned work of five early-career artists and makers.
Jerwood Space, London
28th January – 9th April 2022
THE JERWOOD ART Fund Makers Open has been one of the highlights of the London craft calendar since it launched a little over a decade ago. Why? Partly it’s a question of the emerging artists that have exhibited over the years. The likes of Keith Harrison, Maisie Broadhead, Louis Thompson and Sam Bakewell, to name just a handful, have gone on to become established names in their respective fields.
As the biennial commissioning opportunity awards five artists/makers (chosen from 500 applications by a judging panel – full disclosure, I was a judge in 2015) a meaty £10,000 each, as well as curatorial and production support, it enables them to genuinely push their practice into new areas. As a result, visitors to the exhibition of new works – however well versed in the artists’ output – don’t know quite what to expect.
Then there’s also the fact that after the Crafts Council closed its Islington gallery space in 2006 (a situation it has rectified recently), there were precious few places to see experimental craft outside of a handful of private galleries. As a result, the biennial event became something of an oasis in the desert.
The five commissioned artists of this year’s edition cover a string of materials, their combined palette including textiles, metal, ceramic and glass. There is a sense of eclecticism, almost inevitably in a show such as this, but, by the same token, boundaries aren’t being pushed in the same way that, say, Keith Harrison attempted in 2011, when he built a huge ceramic sound system. Or indeed Will Shannon’s pottery workshop the following year, complete with fictional potter and working kiln. Instead, these are discernibly craft pieces rather than bits of performance or installation art.
So, in no particular order, Cecilia Charlton shows a triptych of Bargello embroideries inspired by the Greek myth of the Three Fates – Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who spun the ‘thread’ of human fate, dispensed it, and cut it (deciding someone’s moment of death) respectively.
Jahday Ford combines 3D modelling alongside traditional glass blowing techniques to create Axle, a family of large (and, it has to be said, ever-so-slightly-phallic) glass vessels.
Another glass artist, Vicky Higginson, looks at the history of medical instruments and combines this with an ongoing fascination with folklore and sci-fi to create a series of pieces designed to treat emotional ailments.
Anna Berry uses porcelain and concrete cones for her work, ‘A Fall From Grace’, which investigates ideas of balance and power. And finally, in the back room, Francisca Onumah & Helena Russell look at the history and future of silversmithing in Sheffield (where they are both based) focussing on a set of found tools that they refurbished and repurposed to make a selection of vessels, as well as as documenting the stories of three craftsmen from the city.
Does the show have something to tell us about the current state of craft? On a social and political level, yes, it does. This is the most diverse judging panel there has ever been for the scheme – including Junko Mori, Dame Magdalene Odundo, Yinka Ilori, as well as former Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums Manager, Christine Rew and Harriet Cooper, head of visual arts at Jerwood Arts – and they have chosen artists and makers from a range of backgrounds. Compare that to the year I was judging when every exhibitor had studied at the Royal College of Art, for example. With the Crafts Council’s exhibition, ‘We Gather’, coming to a close in its gallery in March, and ‘Body Vessel Clay: Black Women, Ceramics & Contemporary Art’ recently opened at Two Temple Place, it suggests that the field is attempting to grapple with its diversity issues.
Inevitably the show is a curate’s egg, with a profound interest in their respective materials the only thing binding the exhibitors together. Perhaps that’s why I found myself drawn to the Jahday Ford and Francisca & Helena Russell commissions that focussed more on the technical or historical aspects of their work and craft, whereas the more conceptual pieces felt as though they were fighting for space and that the ideas needed further development. I suspect each might have benefitted from being able to expand their thinking in the catalogue – which sadly provides scant information.
All that said, there’s no question of the talent in the room. It will be fascinating to watch how they each progress and if the Jerwood becomes their springboard for greater things.
Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance: 25th June – 1st October 2022
Aberdeen Art Gallery, Aberdeen: 19th November – 4th March 2023