I had great response to my new work for the Bluecoat Display Centre theme "Heroic" which was displayed last week at COLLECT 2012 in the Sattchi Gallery, London.
For their theme I chose to explore the work of scientists. The resulting main set of panels that I made celebrate the work of William Henry Perkins, who in 1856 at the age of 18 discovered the first aniline dye, which happened to be a shade of purple. His colour was called "Mauvine" and it is said that it's finding helped change the word.
To the dismay of his Father and Tutor, Perkins abandoned his studies and went into production of the colour.
His action went on to democratise the availability of such a luxurious hue by making it affordable through mass production. Previously it was a colour created by crushing thousands of shells and throughout history it was so expensive to produce that the higher classes, royalty and religious figures only wore it. His father and brother turned in the end to join and support Perkins by using their own building and architectural skills to build his factory. Proving his discovery successful, his tutor Hoffman, became supportive and also in later years went on to do his own further research into colour formula.
Perkins also found synthetic dyes for green and shades of red and violet. Hence the colour theme on the panels. I added a blue to also represent the fact that the factory was built on the side of a canal. It is noted that the water changed colour every week depending on their production. The shapes of the pieces are based on reflections and flow shapes in water to reference the flow of dyestuff and create an abstract format for the work. In the series each shape selection is different, and as part of the work I want to infer a serendipitous approach.
The surfaces of the enamels are matt, granular and also occasionally glossy.
Perkins was actually tasked with researching a substance that would cure Malaria. Failure to do so lead to his haphazard finding that the mix of chemicals he was working with presented themselves as a repeatable colour. The fact that he kept trying and had the vision to develop this into an industrial scale business is remarkable. The pieces are mounted individually in Perspex museum type boxes to suggest the format of scientific display. Each piece being like a specimen to examine.
When Perkins retired at the young age of 36 he had become rich enough to return to his research and he is credited with being instrumental in as a catalyst for a wide range of important discoveries. The detection of synthetic methods of producing colour have been wide reaching so I have included within each one of the panels a circular point and an image to reference microscopic shapes / images from petri dishes. It is the fact that a colour can evolve to have a medical significance that I find particularly poignant.
Alongside the lager panel I also exhibited two artworks called "Unknown" and "Unsung" .
There are many stories behind scientific advances and people who go about work that is heroic. They are humble and largely go unmentioned. The format of these cases are consiquently intentionally ambiguous.
"Unknown" consists of 12 mini medal shapes hung in a circle format on a hand embossed paper surface. The images in the small medals are made in fine gold wire and foils. Fired onto transparent white enamel, they are based on drawings of matter in petri dishes, and inspired by an illustration of work done by German scientist Robert Koch, who worked in the same era as Perkins and became one of the founders of bacteriology. The ribbons are white to symbolise hope of new discovery and the circle shape is for continuity.
The paper embossed lines echo the flow drawings of the colour panel.
"Unsung" is dedicated to anonymous modern day scientists who we never hear about but do such invaluable work.
The case consists of a 10cm diameter enamel on silver dish. The pattern is suggestive of bacterial growth forms. A colleague told me that it is the bacteria themselves that are the most fascinating thing. There are good and bad bacteria, they give us such delights as wine and chesses and the best can be used to fight the bad stuff! The three safety pins supporting an enamel disc are designed as medals to represent research in to the safetly of food production in infant formula. Additionally, there is a figure pendant which has a thumbprint illustration made in gold foils and wires that hint at the shape of a figure, which are a reference to hidden identities, plus a square brooch with finely worked abstract micro forms. I've used selectively yellow and gold on this piece as a celebrationary aspect. The combination also stands for preciousness. The additional fact it that yellow it is the opposite colour of purple and for me signifies the continuation of research in the modern day.
I travelled today with the Bluecoat Display Centre gallery team and Robert & Joan Porter with their students to the jewellery quarter in Birmingham.
The first stop was the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, which houses fine collections of techniques, materials and displays of workshop settings that give an insight into the historical working life of the trade. Alongside the main collection was a selection of works marking the bicentenery of Pugin.
Metalsmith, Cathy Miles hosted our next visit in her workshop full of fabulous wire works. Cathy's links to Liverpool stem from the Nextmove residency at Liverpool Hope University. After the programme she relocated her practice to a workshop in the Quarter.
Her designs take the form of three-dimensional drawings that document observational view points from everyday life. Birds feature typically in her pieces and recent work references ornametal pattern and traditional forms. Cathy's work comes back to the Bluecoat during May as a feature artist in the Display Centre Window exhibition.
Our final desitination was the Birmingham Assay Office, where we listened to a talk about the history of Hallmarking and discovered what The Birmingham Assay Office does in the 21st century.
The present building is a treasure trove of period features but plans are underway to move to an upgraded building, which will accomodate the extended services that the company offers.
The opportunity to view the spectacular Silver Collection and the Library was a real treat. It emphasised the sense of a continued history and highlighted the dynamic work that is on going though to present times.
The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter is also the home to tool shops, bullion dealers and commercial jewellers. However, apart from a quick browse around the
RSBA Gallery where a lovely display of vintage inspired jewllery adorned the gallery shop, a lack of time prevented more exploration through the streets.
I think a return trip is on the agenda !
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