I am drawn to industrial and agricultural architecture and infrastructure: storage depots, jetties and wharves, grain silos, coastal defences, radio towers and pylons. But this also includes the detritus and paraphernalia that often populates these sites; containers, crates, and access and moving equipment. it is these elements of the estuarine landscape that are less than architecture that have informed the composition of these two cabinets.
On walks I have often been struck by the balance, rightness, and beauty of chance compositions, of how stacked and piled objects present themselves sculpturally. Presenting themselves ‘in the round’ reflects the source material’s lack of a prescriptive frame or viewing angle. Working from a set of photographs, these two cabinets draw on that idea of precarious yet situated balance as functional furniture. Variations of drawers, fall-flaps, cupboards, and two-sided tambours conceal and reveal their contents. Timber surfaces are sawn, scraped, planed, and cleft while enamelled steel panels by Helen Carnac form part of the structural method and language. The hand-shaped elliptical section of the legs echoes that of yacht masts.
Although quite different outcomes very similar source materials informed the series Dungeness Sketches.
GYC#1 and GYC#2 continue my interest in industrial and agricultural architecture and infrastructure as a source of visual and structural information.
They represent a shift from recent pieces, most immediately their colouration by shou-ban and pigment. However, this obscures shifts in process as well presence. Both were made without any prior working drawings or plans. Each element was worked and placed directly as part of an overall making process; the piece was designed as it was made, each decision based on what has happened before and imagining what will be. In this way these functional pieces speak to the methods of improvised making explored in the Rhetorical Objects series.
The leg frame is an exercise in drawing, as much a visual composition as a mechanical one. Lines were placed and re-placed until the overall form was arrived at, while the carcase is an exercise in planes where constructed folds form corners and volumes.
The form draws on the structures of riverside and estuary jetties, silos, and wharves, echoing the utilitarian and vernacular, seemingly ad-hoc and improvised yet pragmatic, organised, and precise.
These observations extend to coastal and estuarine areas where an aesthetic and a method of improvised, contingent, and ad-hoc building shapes fishermen's sheds and winch-huts. Less engineered than the jetties and silos, the 'found' and accidental in their forms and surfaces, particularly tarred, felted, and scorched wood nonetheless speak a similar constructional language.
At Cliffe 1&2
Two cabinets designed and made as a pair. Although not directly ‘of’ and particular building or structure they are redolent of some of the things seen on walks at Cliffe in Kent. Although clearly very different from each other, as an unmatched pair the intention was always that the two cabinets would be in a visual dialogue - comparable to the Interlocutors cabinets. Their forms invite several ways to sit against each other, never properly interlocking but setting up an indefinite number of relationships. Being able to sit back to back or at various angles of incidence means that in combination they do the work of other more complex cabinets in presenting themselves in the round - having a less that determined front elevation or way of being framed.
Both cabinets were initially made with wooden legs but it was later felt that metal leg frames work more successfully. Enamel and steel bowl by Helen Carnac.
Perpetually Ajar is one of an ongoing series of collecting cabinets, a series that was begun in 2007 with Silo (held by the National Museum of Art, Design and Architecture, Oslo). The piece was originally imagined and made as one of an unmatched pair alongside From Greenwich to the Barrier. Each cabinet shared a common overall form and structure but varied in their individual arrangements of drawers, doors, and other openings.
Shown here are two iterations of the design. The first was awarded a Gold Award at the Cheongju Biennale, Republic of Korea in 2015 and retained by the biennale foundation. The second version varies from the first by being a mirror image; i.e. that what was on the left is now to the right of the piece. The second version was acquired for the Crafts Council’s permanent collection.
Like all the collecting cabinets Perpetually Ajar explores ideas of asymmetric form and non-prescriptive utility function. The title alludes to the doors always affording a partial view of what the cabinet contains. This is imagined as a moment of intrigue, a glimpse as the eye moves across the cabinet.
Bowls in vitreous enamel and steel by Helen Carnac.
In a Landscape 1&2
In a Landscape, here the first two groups of three but ongoing, are a pivotal moment in my working relationship with Helen Carnac. As an enameler and metal artist Helen draws on the same architecture, structures, and landscapes as I do. Whereas I look to the macro elements of structure and form Helen focusses on the micro of surface, patina, corrossion, and incremental change. We have often made work together, for example the furniture for the Bilston Craft Gallery, but with the In a Landscape works we have arrived at process and method that synthesises our work equitably and integrates our materials cooperatively. We have inverted the typical relationship between panel enamel and cabinet-type forms. Normatively the enamel would be used decoratively, but here the enamel is used as the constructional element. This shifts the wood toward being the decorative element in the relationship meaning many conventional markers of studio furniture making such as joints are jettisoned. In most pieces, however we row back from the extreme position and use some joinery in order to let the point be made visually.
Cabinet No.1 was the first large scale work made with Helen Carnac in this recent phase of our collaboration. It preceded by a very short time In a Landscape but was part of the same period of activity. We worked with an arrangement of folded enamelled panels pegged to other carcase components replacing one corner of the cabinet. This afforded sightlines through to the contents of the cabinet and made the rear of the piece more visually arresting than the front elevation. The move to steel legs reflected our interest in the lightness and tracery of pylons, cranes, and gantries seen on the estuary.
Dungeness Sketches is an ongoing series of works smaller in scale to furniture but that stem from some of the same fieldwork and sources. They build from observations of stacked, piled, and placed crates, containers, and paraphernalia while on coastal and estuarine walks, in particular the landscape around Dungeness. The accidental rightness that can be seen in chance compositions of objects and how they are situated in broad expanses of land is the starting point for these pieces. In this sense they are related to pieces such as Littoral Chances and Lodged but their smaller scale, relative simplicity, and lack of function allows for faster working and affords space for experimentation in making. So, in turn they have a relationship to the Rhetorical Objects series.
Some of these pieces are wall-mounted while the table-top works are intended to be reconfigurable, inviting movement, re-placing and re-composing.
Over the last dozen or so years I have found myself returning to a type of work that I’ve come to call Rhetorical Objects. Several bodies of this work are shown here. Although appearing quite different to my cabinet work they are in fact intimately entwined with that aspect of my work.
These types of works and their method had two initial motivators. Firstly, time; studio furniture making is normally time consuming, pieces might take anywhere between 100 - 300 hours, and much of this time involves a high degree of risk. This means that feedback loops of learning and reflection on a piece of work can be quite slow. As a response, these pieces are made very quickly and often from offcuts or odd pieces of materials. For many I limited the number of tools I could use as an aspect of ‘compacting’ the working process. Secondly, the furnitural nature of furniture. By this I mean the expectation of utility and the relationship between function and form; what furniture is or might be.
The idea of a reduced tool kit was pursued to its logical conclusion in the piece Saw, Split, Scrape, Slice for the project The Tool at Hand when I worked with just one tool and compounded the matter by working with one piece of wood.
So, for myself, I can process and work through ideas at a furniture scale that answer and pose questions about making and form in reasonably quick time. And for myself and viewers the works prompt conversations about what we think furniture might be, do, remind us of, or where things are situated.
These pieces and the general idea are expended on greatly in a chapter I authored for Trevor Marchand’s book, Craftwork as Problem Solving, Ethnographic Studies of Design and Making.
In Our Houses 1 and 2
Saw, Split, Slice, Scrape.
Lodged was undertaken as a commission for a private client. The brief was to design a cabinet to house and display small art objects and contemporary jewellery. The piece stems from the same period of sketching and model-making that resulted in Littoral Chances; looking at chance arrangements of crates, containers, and linear elements at industrial and agricultural sites.
The piece is explicitly three-dimensional and is best seen in the round. A pair of doors oppose a stack of drawers in the middle cabinet and a tambour wraps around two faces of the upper cabinet.
Tables and desks
Although much of my recent work has focussed on cabinets I have long been interested in tables and desks and I show a selection of those pieces here. The starting point, 20 years ago, had been to design and make a 6-8 place setting oak dining table - a description that at once speaks of largeness and heaviness - as mechanically and visually light as possible. this is done by taking away material in the top rails; reducing what is normally quite a massed joint at the corners and continuing this lack to the cutouts in the rails. This, combined with an undercut and shaped top and steel stretchers and stays affords a visual lightness particularly when sitting in the same space as the table. The reduced elevation and the cutouts afford sightlines through to the rest of the space. Dining table. Desk. Three-legged hall table.
The ‘odd one out’ is a table made with Helen Carnac as part of a group of furniture for the resource room at The Bilston Craft Gallery.
From Greenwich to The Barrier
From Greenwich to the Barrier was originally imagined as one of an unmatched pair alongside Perpetually Ajar . Each cabinet shared a common overall form and structure but varied in their individual arrangements of drawers, doors, and other openings. A clear link to the earlier Silo is immediately evident.
I am drawn to industrial and agricultural architecture and infrastructure. This includes storage depots, jetties and wharves, grain silos, coastal defences, radio towers and pylons. There is a peculiar rightness to many of these structures related to their expediency, function, and immediacy. Their rationality and utility generate a sculptural and aesthetic integrity. None of the cabinets are ‘of’ a particular structure or building although some are more strongly related to particular sites. This piece comes from observation and photography of sites along the Thames path between Greenwich and the tidal barrier close to the studio, a walk made many times.
Silo was the first in a series of cabinets that explore ideas of asymmetric form and ambiguous or non-prescriptive utility function. Both of these notions combine to present a scenario where the person using or coming across the furniture hopefully slows down and engages in a longitudinal interaction with the furniture. To generalise, much cabinet furniture has a front elevation containing most of the information and detail leaving the sides to simply provide volume. In contrast, Silo has two possible ‘fronts’, thus confronting the viewer with its three-dimensional qualities. While moving around and assessing the form of the piece the various openings: drawers, tambour, and fall-flap become apparent. Silo, and other pieces like it, are not for anything in particular but their vagueness lends them to the particular. It is hoped that someone will spend time with this type of furniture, storing, keeping, moving, and removing objects and ephemera. It is an acknowledgement that some objects, some things, are particular to us. This is when the furniture becomes complete when someone has made what they will of it in their lives.
Silo’s form sets a precedent for the development of the later From Greenwich to The Barrier.
Silo was acquired for the permanent collection of Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arkitektur og Design, Oslo, Norway.
Named individually as Bugsby’s Reach, Beech Mountain, and Stevenson Tempelhof after particular sites that gave rise to their forms, Interlocutors was designed and made as a group. The three pieces have their own distinctive voices yet there is also a clear dialogue between them. The three pieces can overlap and interlock but not in an overly prescriptive way. The idea is the user will move and re-position the group changing what is seen and displayed on and in them. The smaller piece, Beech Mountain has usable areas on opposing faces and when the taller pieces face in different directions the group has no definite front elevation, inviting the viewer to move around the work.