THE TECHNIQUE

THE HAND AND EYE.


Masons work essentially by hand and eye, as depicted by their makers mark at the top of each of these pages. This means hand-fabricating pieces pretty much intuitively. Very little measuring is done, with such obvious exceptions as ring-sizing.

It also means that even when production runs are undertaken, not even a template is used. So, for example, Phill has been producing the gumleaf rings for a quarter century now, but has never resorted to a template for drawing the leaves: they are still drawn by hand and eye each time, with the result that they have evolved over the years. this keeps the interest high for Phill, and the integrity of the piece intact for the customer. Even though this work is a 'bread and butter' production of the widest Australian appeal, it does not have to be slathered with disrespect.

More than this, though, Masons do not tend to draw a design first, but work directly into metal. Even their most complicated pieces are just imagined, and then manufactured. It's interesting to look at the root of these words: 'imagined' is to see an image in the mind; 'manufactured'  is to be made with the hand (manu). Two-dimensional drawing is as much a restrictive interloper, as it is a tool to convey to those who don't share your 'vision'.

Designing this way leaves open the window of serendipity. Fortuitous juxtapositions can occur; even happy accidents. In any event, making a piece takes so long that a dozen variations can be thought of, many of which lead to a wholly different direction of work. The problem for a designer with a rich imagination is that whole streams of design-thought can be lost sight of before they are manifested.

A SPACE IN TIME.


Hollow-fabrication has been one of Masons' favourite vehicles for occupying space. Form is made by assembling elements together.

One way of doing this is with hollow segments and sectors; of hemispheres and tubes, bounded by planes and arcs.

Another way is to delineate space with edges and intervals; making shapes with wire and shot, the unoccupied spaces being as integral to the design as the boundaries.

Either way, it is the mastery of gold- and silver-soldering which will see the success of a highly resolved and crisply executed piece, or an eyesore flooded with excess solder and sloppy execution.

                                      

'Game of Knucklebones for an Indolent Metalsmith', 1990. Hollow-fabricated, unventilated playfulness with the abstraction of the sphere. 18k gold and patinated sterling silver.

UNIQUE INNOVATION.


A unique innovation of Phill's has been the development of the 'Geometric Annulus'. Throughout most of the archive, and the current work, multifarious examples of its use will be seen.

                                     

'Game of Knucklebones for the Weightlessness of Space', 1988. Intensive use of the 'geometric annulus' and 'upset' stones (see text box at right).

Following is part of an abstract of a address that Phill was invited to give to the International Conference of the Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia, Melbourne, 2004. (If the prose reads more turgidly than usual, it is to be remembered that Phill was wearing his Fine Arts hat, before a professional audience of his peers.)

Title: The Development of the Geometric Annulus, and its Application as a Motif for Abstract Geometric Expressionism.

Since the mid '80's, I have used chenier as a vehicle for technological exploration and development. This has been carried out by systematic plastic deformation of chenier, juxtaposing annealed straight lengths next to the rigidity of reinforced elliptical "spines" created by obliquely soldered joints. These forms are initially most easily envisaged as square or triangular frames.
The play of annealed metal interacting with adjacent areas of greater structural strength is akin to a three-dimensional development of the more planar "fold-forming", developed by Charles Lewton-Brain.
Through this exploration, I have invented a hollow-fabricated, unventilated form which I coined the "geometric annulus". This is manifest mainly by experimenting with the circular deformation of the square and the triangle.
These geometric annuli become motifs for my commentary via abstract geometric expressionism: "squaring the circle" being the paradigm example; and more abstractly, in the case of the triangle, "curving the angle".

'UPSETTING' STONES...

Right from the start of his stone-setting career, Phill has set stones upside down whenever he felt the piece warranted the need of that drama. In the late eighties he coined the term 'Upsetting' for this practice.

           

'Gothic Tardis', 1988, showing an 'upset' amethyst. (This image published in CraftArts International, 1990)

At that stage, Phill had not seen this practice displayed elsewhere. It was considered so novel as to be offensive to some. One stone-cutter in Tasmania famously remarked that he wasn't going to sell any more stones to Phill because "he doesn't know how to set them..."

Of course, this technique had to be used judiciously, in order not to devalue its impact. It was largely confined to Objets d'Art and jewellery that addressed the concerns of Art. Nevertheless, the quote that Phill "preferred the form predominating over the sparkle" was published in a number of journals in the late 'eighties and early 'nineties, and came to be one of the signatures of his work at the time.

From the early 'nineties through the mid 'nineties, Phill moved on to having stones, which exaggerated the 'upset' effect, especially cut for him. These tended to be elongated developments of the rose cut.

              

'Ring for an Iminent Epiphany', 1996, showing a spinel especially cut for Phill.

From the very late 'nineties onwards, Phill has cut his own stones, and has gone on to design his own cuts tailored to the needs of his style.He very rarely now just sets stones upside down, seeing it as frequently too simplistic for the needs of his current work.

 

'Diurnal Temple' and 'Nocturnal Altar', a pair of rings exhibited at Idar-Oberstein, Germany, 1997.