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Companionship and conversation

Collect Open 2018 exhibitor Juliette Bigley

As we look forward to seeing Juliette Bigley’s installation TABLE at Collect 2018 we've delved into the Crafts archive to when former Deputy Editor Teleri Lloyd-Jones visited her studio in 2014.

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Makers coming to their discipline as a second career aren’t unusual but Derbyshire-born Juliette Bigley is a rarer beast, a third-career maker. ‘I’ve done quite a lot of studying!’ she laughs, as she talks me through the circuitous route that brought her to silversmithing.

Following a degree in English Literature, Bigley completed a Masters at London School of Economics in voluntary sector policy. But after a year working in a youth organisation, she went to music college and trained as a classical singer. Music had always been close to her heart. Her father, a viola player, was a founding member of the Lindsay quartet and Bigley and her sister grew up on tour: ‘As a young child, I’d slept in most of the concert halls in Europe.’ 
After this foray into music, she returned to the charitable sector and worked for seven years with the Terence Higgins Trust, beginning on the helpline but ending up running THT’s clinical services in London, where she still lives and works.

During a holiday to Greece, Bigley and her partner visited a small contemporary jewellery shop and the trip got her thinking. ‘I always knew I was looking for something else,’ she explains, and back in London she began an evening course at Central St Martins; a natural aptitude confirmed when she moved on to a BTEC at Kensington & Chelsea College.

Bigley began her metalwork education knowing she wanted to focus on silversmithing rather than jewellery: ‘I knew I wasn’t interested in jewellery. Objects are endlessly fascinating,’ she explains. ‘I think there’s something very practical about the way we structure our world with them. 

Objects are our everyday companions. They mirror what’s going on inside and exploring that is really exciting.’ On her silversmithing degree at the Cass she was taught by David Clarke, Wayne Meeten and Simone ten Hompel, the latter’s influence most easily discerned in Bigley’s work with their soft surfaces and interplay of volumes.

Juliette Bigley

‘She’s a really exciting maker,’ Bigley says of ten Hompel, ‘She has an incredibly precise way of thinking and working’. Bigley herself exudes a quiet determination, and you can see why she might respond to such precision; you get the feeling that this is a maker with a plan. Perhaps this is in part because she came to silversmithing as a mature student, but there were her years as a project manager, too: ‘It’s easier to be selective and strategic about what you want to do.

I entered my third year with a really clear picture of where I wanted to be at the end of it. That really helped, it allowed me to focus.’ The challenge to develop and push her making ability is one she enjoys. ‘The quality of basic skills is important to me,’ she says. ‘I want to make well. And even if I don’t use them, I think there’s an integrity you get through practise in your making that is really important.’

For a maker who demonstrates such thought and consideration within her work, it’s little surprise to hear that the part of the process she struggles with the most is that first moment, the process of designing what you will go on to make (Bigley admits she’s no good working in 2D, preferring to model than draw). ‘It’s like a magic wand, waiting for it to strike and that makes me uncomfortable because if it doesn’t strike then you’re goosed,’ she explains. At the Cass, however, ten Hompel directed her student to find a good question and set about answering it. This was music to Bigley’s ears: ‘I thought, “OK, we have control over this process.” It’s not waiting around for the muse and that suits me well.’

Water and Wine Carafes, Juliette Bigley

Bigley is a maker who begins her process with words. A love of literature has never left her, and writing is still a big part of her practice. Her graduation work, a series called Conversation Pieces, began as a series of questions about how objects interact with each other, what happens when two static things begin to talk to each other.

Bigley is currently working on TABLE - her first installation and her largest work today to date – which she will show at Collect Open. A stylised interpretation of a table at the completion of a meal, it acts as a snapshot of the moment when eating is over but the ritual communion of dining continues. At 2.5m long and 1.1m tall, the table itself is a scaled-up version of Bigley’s own, topped with a 20-object tableau comprising a wine bottle, jug and water glasses crafted from a mixture of patinated copper, brass, nickel silver and silver.

“For me, the act of making bridges the gap between the tangible world in which we live and the intangible worlds of emotion, belief, thought, language and memory.”


This article first appeared in Crafts July/August 2014

Collect 2018, Saatchi Gallery, London SW3, 22-25 February.

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