John Grayson is currently showing in the Crafts Council exhibition A Curious Turn
Who or what got you into making?
Making has been ever present in my life - pinning down who or what was the catalyst is difficult, but it is fair to say that like many makers, I was probably shaped by my upbringing and surroundings.
Both my parents went to art school, my dad was a fine artist. As a child growing up in the 70s and early 80s, my experiences were of industrial decline, political and social upheaval, strikes and New Wave protest songs.
My toys were tools and accessible materials; Stanley knife, scissors, cardboard food packaging, sticky tape and PVA. Card was reimagined as metal sheet and glue as welds. And so my toys were both tools and the things I made; cardboard facsimile of the world I saw around me! In this environment tacit craft skills - tool manipulation and dexterity - were honed from an early age, and so art school beckoned.
Could you tell us a bit about your work?
I am a satirical metalsmith, I create narrative-based metal objects, often but not solely in the form of automata. I employ making techniques that have their roots in early industrial manufacturing, exploring the value of these lost or defunct 'making skills' for contemporary craft practice.
My early work utilised a technique of printing, stamping, cutting and assembling tin sheet; a craft hybrid process I developed from those used in the tin box manufacturing industry.
Creating objects that had aesthetic resonance with old tin toys; misregistered print, tab and slot construction, and jerky hand wound mechanisms. Current work employs the technology of the Georgian enameller to create complex structures from assemblages of copper components. The enamel surfaces of which are decorated with appropriated Georgian imagery, subverted to tell contemporary narratives.
What are your inspirations?
My work tends to be topical. Thematic inspiration is taken at the moment work starts - listening to the radio, reading the paper. Sometime contemporary stories are synthesised with historic narratives, political tales are a recurring theme - VAT on Cornish pasties, Plebgate, Brexit!
As I make, the work evolves as news stories shift in direction, arguments and counter arguments made…’alternative facts’ presented! In a sense the narratives I depict can date the objects. Since 2012 I have focused on working to commission, predominantly for museums and galleries etc., making work in response to historic collections or places.
What is your favourite part of the making process?
I enjoy the creative process the most, the researching of ideas, the creative conversation I have with myself, mediated through material I use - exploring material qualities and narrative possibilities, devising mechanism and problem solving construction methods.
And so the ultimate execution is the least pleasurable, partly because it is the final iteration of a long design process, and partly because enamelling is by its very nature fraught with potential failure, multiple firings mean things can go wrong at the last minute. But when it comes together the satisfaction is immense.
What are you working on right now?
I have new work in Made in the Middle, currently at the Parkside Gallery in Birmingham. The automaton is entitled ‘La Brexiteuse à Petits Talons’, and is a companion piece to ‘The Discombobulated Brexiteer’, which I made for the Crafts Council’s A Curious Turn exhibition.
‘La Brexiteuse’ charts post-Brexit narratives and like the ‘Brexiteer’, combines analogue and digital systems within the mechanism, technology developed during my recent Parallel Practices residency at King’s College London.
I am currently a STEAM scholar at Birmingham City University, School of Jewellery, researching the lost craftsmanship skills employed in the manufacture of 18th century English painted enamel objects. I am particularly interested in the techniques that they used to fabricate complex, three-dimensional forms in copper, an area of which little is known.
Some shapes were so complicated that they would challenge the industrial manufacturing methods of today. I am using my craftsmanship knowledge to explore and test probable methods of construction, making facsimiles of some of the objects I have observed whilst researching in the stores at the V&A, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the Museum of London. My hypothesis on the probable manufacturing processes used are then being tested by applying them to the making of contemporary craft objects. You will be able to see the results of this in autumn 2018.
See The Discombobulated Brexiteer in A Curious Turn on at Wolverhampton Art Gallery until 20 May