|Simulated color pallet for the edition|
Introducing the next installment in my “Sharp Arts” series, The "Sculptural Knife Bowl". It is a piece that combines elements of knife making and wood turning (and yes a big chunk of iron-nickel meteorite) into an object that is far more sculptural than it is functional.
If you are unfamiliar with my earlier project, The Sculptural Knife Vase, I highly recommend you visit it as the premise for this sculpture remains similar and I have written a tightly packed thesis for the whole project on that page.
But even if you don’t go back, I will adventure to flesh this out some here as well, there is always more to say, if in a slightly different way.
The premise for my sharp artworks series, simply put, is that machine-work is a medium that straddles a lot of worlds within the industrial and decorative arts. To properly understand machine-work as a sculptural medium, one needs to foster an appreciation for the way it intersects the fields of glass art, woodturning, ceramics and the other metal trades. Most of the industrial trades that have since been turned to various arts mediums have distinct craft forms that help define them.
These craft-forms are of interest to me because while machining is a craft that shares a similar industrial past, there are few signature forms one can point to that uniquely representative it as a medium.
The machinist landscape seems to lack ubiquitous forms that fall neatly into the paradigm of craft and craft-form.
Because of this absence of unique craft-forms within the world of machined metal, I have spent considerable time exploring what a “machined craft-form” might be. Should machining eventually find better standing as a sculptural medium, what forms might come to define it?
knife making and wood-turning have been front of mind for me a lot lately. I follow quite a few craftspeople within these fields who demonstrate manual dexterity and skill, as well as a thoughtfulness with materials that I find inspiring.
My appreciation for these makers has led me to believe that telling my story means telling their stories. To do this properly, I reasoned direct appropriation would not suffice. If I were to simply turn a bowl, then it wouldn’t be a commentary on woodturning, it would simply be an instance of that vocation. Likewise, making a traditional knife wouldn’t be recognizable as anything other than an exercise in knife making as well.
Woodturning is a craft that most resembles aspects of my own process. Aside from the fact that woodturning is most often performed with hand guided tools instead of constrained by manual or automated machine motion, turning wood and turning metal have much in common.
When I meet woodturners there is instant kinship. They get my work instantly and the conversations quickly proceed to highly technical and interesting topics.
One of the most common craft forms within woodturning is bowl making, and so it seemed a natural fit for this project. Sometimes it is as simple as that.
Why knife making?
I have already written extensively about this over on the Sculptural Knife Vase post so I will just pull some quotes from there.
Knife making is a discipline that perfectly captures the dichotomy between historical and contemporary industrial processes. It is a field that mixes historic and modern methods and is that rare craft that maintains working “first hand knowledge” of nearly every technological step of its long history.
While its historical traditions are alive and well, the world of knife making has also been completely transformed by the adoption of modern machine tools and new technology.
Knife making’s influence on the creative culture of machine-work is undeniable. It has a long decorative arts tradition that has only grown with the adoption of digital fabrication technology. As a metal sculptor who is involved in the ways the process can inform the aesthetic elements of a craft, knife making is beyond fascinating to me.
I found it difficult to approach the craft directly through my work. My process typically involves stripping away the utility from various design or craft concepts to better reveal what is aesthetically interesting about them. However it occurred to me that it isn’t necessary to fully strip the utility from a knife to appreciate its inherent aesthetic qualities; one can simply put those qualities into a unique context.
The knife bowl?
Creating a distinct and impractical Bowl might seem an odd way to explore woodturning and knife making together, but as with the Sculptural Knife Vase (above), using blades as sculptural elements creates an interesting contrast that elevates what would otherwise be utilitarian forms into something to be appreciated aesthetically. It is the best way I know of to get people to stop and consider what the decorative arts have given to the creative arts and vice versa.
I am committed to periodically visiting this tangent in my work as time permits. When I sketched out a plan for this series, I made three designs, two of which I have now made.
Time will tell whether or not I get around to the third and final piece in this saga, but no doubt these experiences will find expression elsewhere in my work.
I have folded in many of the technical elements I learned over the last few years. I spent the better part of last year making sculptures with components that were turned from various exotic hardwoods. My approach to the blades was also heavily informed by my previous work.
The body of the bowl is turned in Desert Ironwood, which is actually a common knife making material, but not one you often find in a wood turning studio. Likewise, I couldn't resist the urge to include a large piece of machined iron nickel meteorite (a very exotic knife making material with historical roots) as the focal point for the bottom of the bowl.
I documented some, but not all, of my work on this one. I was juggling a few projects and so I was spotty with the camera for a bit. Above is what I was able to capture. I hope it is at least partially illuminating (if incomplete).
As always, questions and comments are welcome.
Of course I am being dramatic, but I think it is important to exaggerate the little things. However one is able to identify and commit to ideas is worth elevating just a bit. When I was a younger artist, I was often dismissive of the little quirks of mind that yielded the best ideas. There are no doubt others in my shoes and I relish taking small luxuries with my work. My smaller works are expressly intended to be a fun way to approach some of the trends I see in the fine art world, the machinist world, and my own muddled head.
This work incorporates two dozen magnets to hold the assembly together and their use is another thing that I have given an unusual amount of thought to. Magnets are inherently novel, and while novelty is a tool many artists use, it is one that should be handled with care because it wears off ver fast.
-Think about what you want to make.
-Think about how you are going to make it. -Consider how the processes and tools you might use to execute your idea can inform and change it in a conceptual or aesthetically meaningful way.
-Adjust your concept or design accordingly.
-Repeat this process until your idea and it’s process considerations reach an equilibrium, a state where each fully complements and reinforces the other without dissonance or significant compromise.
-Now go make it.
“I first encountered Chris’ extraordinary art in 2018 in the Instagram posts of one of his collectors, who also happened to be following my channel. He remarked on our similarity of appreciation in forms (and even then dreamed of a collaboration). The core of my practice then was raku firing ceramics, a low-tech, fast and brutal process with the end result left very much to the whim of the kiln gods rather than the artist – in my early years much of my output was lost to thermal shock breakages in the final moments after firing. Raku, I thought, might be too far removed from Chris’ precise, controlled and tight-tolerance work to consider a combined artwork?
Early in 2020, as Chris was preparing for release of his ‘worry stone’ meld of metal and wood, and in mutual appreciation of each other’s work, we agreed an artswap. Chris sent me a prototype worry stone in exchange for one of my two-part, wheel-thrown raku-fired ‘squid’. By 2020 I had already branched out into slipcasting my ‘waveform’ sculptures in porcelain tile form, driven by the need economically to make identical pieces for tessellating wall arrays. So, when Chris posted an image of a small collection of ‘overrun’ machined exotic wood ‘jewels’ from his project, and I mused how they might look presented in a ceramic mount, Chris sent a dozen over to me in the UK to “have a play”!
My early experiments prompted Chris to offer to promote a possible collaborative edition, although he was still keen to see a prototype #4 of the ‘elytra’ that I’d first suggested. I set out to try to make these and to make the means to batch produce all four prototype themes should each/any garner enough interest for production? The modified oloids (Prototypes #1 & #2), with my primitive making methods, entailed so many hours of finessing that I elected to make them only for special commission. I am still investigating the technicalities of making the elytra in ceramic (developing a ‘slip injection process’ using plaster casts and kitchenalia) but present instead a divergence into pewter casting of the carved cuttlefish variant ‘elytra’ which I think works beautifully. I rediscovered cuttlefish casting in 2019 and was keen to incorporate it into my practice both in metal and ceramic. Lead-free Pewter is a pleasantly heavy (and easily cast) metal and it well defines the expressed laminae of carved cuttlefish in a sensuous, tactile form.“