‘Sound & Silence No. 6’, 2005
IT IS HARD to grasp, from a photograph, the scale of this object. It could be a monumental sculpture by Richard Serra, or it could be sized to slip around a wrist. In fact, ‘Sound & Silence No. 6’, a work by ceramic artist Martin Smith, is a substantial 520mm across and 150mm high; a sculpture constructed from those ordinary materials, earthenware and glass, which would serve both to make a house and a cooking vessel. What gives the impression of monumentality is the object’s formality and its finish, heightened by the use of platinum leaf, precisely applied to three faces of the earthenware. The work has a presence that belies its domestic scale.
The series Sound & Silence was one of many projects undertaken by Martin Smith, one of Britain’s most thoughtful and accomplished ceramic artists. “I define a set of questions, which I then try to resolve through a serial approach to the work,” he explains. This series explored the idea of a vessel with a void inside it, and how two contrasting geometric volumes, one inside the other, would look from above if you cut off their tops. He was experimenting with colour for this series – green, predominantly, but with this one work, ‘No. 6’, using a deep, saturated blue – and with the power of platinum leaf to enhance the colours’ effects.
The highly abstracted composition consists of a cut-off cone, inside a cut-off cylinder, with a gap between the two, both placed on a deep blue glass disc. The cylinder provides the silence, the stillness, against which the sound – the imbalance of the leaning cone, which looks caught in motion and the vibrant contrast of red earthenware and blue glass – plays. These oppositions are enhanced by the platinum, a serene reflective surface, constantly animated by the movement of light and colour around it, and the earthenware, which, while presenting a rough texture to the eye, created by mixing the clay with sawdust, which then burns out in the kiln, offers a smooth, highly polished surface to the touch.
Much of Smith’s work is concerned with how a place is located and a space defined – whether we are talking about his public artworks, his forays into architecture or his smaller-scale works in clay, glass and other materials. ‘Sound & Silence No. 6’, like Wallace Stevens’s jar in Tennessee, in the poet’s Anecdote of the Jar, takes “dominion everywhere.”
Lockdown has provided Smith with an unexpected opportunity to bring many pieces from his archive out into the light and into a double exhibition, currently running at Marsden Woo and at his own Camden studio, until 5th August. There are works there from the 1970s through until today. Visits are by appointment.
Martin Smith ‘Archive presentation’ 1st July – 5th August, at the Marsden Woo Showroom and the artist’s Camden studio. By appointment only: firstname.lastname@example.org +44(0)20 7336 6396