Silver Or Not Silver
Text from an interview with Isabelle Busnel from the blog Thinking Through Things
Having followed David’s work for some years now, I think that there is actually much more than mere provocation in it. I was very keen to understand what really drives him…
First, a flashback is useful to understand David’s current work. After graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1997, the young silversmith was incredibly successful. His degree show’s collection consisted in a series of stripped down fruit bowls that attracted the entire establishment. One piece went straight to the V&A and the Goldsmith’s Company commissioned another one. According to David, his success was mainly due to the fact that he was using a visual language that was radically different from what was going on at that time and that his works fitted perfectly the range of interior design products people loved in the 90’s: “it was satisfying all my financial requirement and desires” he remembers “but it didn’t satisfy my creativity. All I was doing was producing the same kind of work again and again. I became a machine”.
The revelation came during a workshop at Bishopsland: he was part of a group of silversmiths left in a field with sheets of silver but no tools except a hand guillotine and a torch. His first impulse was to try and recreate a studio but instead he let the magic operate and came back with a better understanding of what was important for him. This experience was very profound and he realised how his tools and his workspace were crucial, both physically and emotionally. Having been close to nature during this workshop, he decided to engage with the rawness of silver and started to use his scraps of the precious metal. He made a collection where the hammer marks, the firestain and the seams were visible. He drew on the metal, using felt tips and pens. “It was almost like showing work in progress”, he recalls and “ it was a real challenge for myself, for the galleries and for the audience”.
Keeping his momentum, he went a step further with the “Salt work” where the silver pieces were dipped in a salted solution that attacked the metal.
Drawing on the metal, using salt on silver…what could have been the next “sacrilege”? I have deliberately chosen the word sacrilege as David describes the relationship people have with silver as almost sacred: we use white gloves to manipulate silver objects, we worship them in display cases, we barely touch them to avoid staining them, we polish them at nauseam. Lead was the answer: it is often described as the “cancer” of silver. When heated and melted, it literally eats silver. David’s first works with lead were a series of silver objects cut in different parts then “fixed” with lead parts.
Then came the work “Dead on arrival” where a silver tea service eaten by lead rests in a leather carrying case…
Some of his works are very cartoon-like and David likes when people laugh in front of them: “when you laugh, it changes your physical and mental state. It is very healthy”. I can’t stop myself smiling when I look at the works.
This collection of amazing works leads me to the next theme that is essential to David’s work: function and non-function and the grounding of the artist in its discipline, the silversmithing. Often compared to fine artists like Cornelia Parker (who smashes silver objects and suspends them in the air), I asked David if he was not frustrated not to be featured at the Tate Modern as Cornelia does.
Sweetheart is the piece exhibited at Fix, Fix, Fix and is a collaborative work with the sugar jewellery artist Natalie Smith.
So, is it time yet to see David back to working silver in a friendlier manner? Having had the privilege of a private view of work-in-progress “Spare Parts”, his forthcoming exhibition, one can only doubt….