Magical Metals – the art of fused metal work
PUBLISHED: 16:38 11 July 2016 | UPDATED: 16:39 11 July 2016
Silversmith Wayne Meeten is a leading light in the art of fused metal work – an ancient craft originating in Japan.
In a purpose built studio a few miles outside of Exeter, Wayne Meeten sits surrounded by hand-made hammers. He estimates there are more than 150 in total - All in different sizes and weights and made by Wayne to create the stunning patinas on his range of vessels, plates and silverwork. But that’s not even the most interesting thing in the studio of this award winning silversmith. It is the metal that he uses to create these stunning works of art that makes them so special – slabs fused with alloys of fine silver, copper, shakudo and Shibuichi, which creates wonderful patterns of colour.
Wayne’s love of fine metal working began at the age of 16 when he started his career in the famous lanes of Brighton renovating antique jewellery, where he remembers he wanted to be a diamond-mounter for Cartier. “I was eager to learn the trade properly but my boss at the time had other ideas,” he remembers.
Instead he left to travel the world from Canada through Asia. On his return some years later he enrolled at the Sir John Cass School of Art – renowned as Europe’s finest metalwork academy, where he remained committed to the idea of working in the jewellery industry. “At college they said why don’t you learn design and make your own jewellery?” says Wayne. So he began to experiment with ancient Japanese metalworking techniques, teaching himself from textbooks before heading to Tokyo to study under several of the country’s leading experts in their field. It is here that he learned the art of Mokume-Gane. This very old technique of fusing various different metals together using pressure and heat originated in Edo period, the making of swords for its Samurai warriors.
Today Mokume-Gane remains a specialist craft practised by a very few in Japan – and Wayne who is now recognised as a leading practitioner. His time in Tokyo not only taught him technique but also the philosophy that underpins this ancient practice. And decades later, looking at the array of pieces in Wayne’s studio it is easy to see why he developed a life-long interest in transforming the fused metal using this painstaking method that to create pieces that have an ethereal beauty.
After sketching out his ideas – each one is often a unique design – he creates a wooden model which is itself a work of art, before starting on the final piece. There is an alchemy in working with a thick slab of quite uninspiring-looking metal (to these untrained eyes) but as the metal is expertly worked, the different layers reveal themselves; something Wayne carefully plans in his designs.
“Each piece starts off with a flat sheet, then I raise it up – that can take 100 hours,” he explains. “I make the tools and hammers I need for the piece – each mark on the metal is created by an individual hammer mark; it can take months to make each piece – the longest a piece has taken me is two years.”
When a piece is not being worked on it is kept warm with an electric blanket. “The metal is made of atoms,” he explains. “If it’s not warmed up the metal can split or crack.”
Most of his work is in vessel form and the interior of each piece is as important as the exterior. “The inside has to be perfect,” he says. “The buying public will always look inside to see what’s hidden.” It’s the inner hidden qualities that interests Wayne from his teachings of Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung movements, where he studied for more than 25 years in Devon. “It’s a bit like people,” he adds. “As you get older, you stop looking at the outside of people, and look for the inner hidden qualities.” Wayne is also renowned for adding unique hidden messages on the underside, from golden facets, to beautiful floral designs.
Wayne’s work is inspired by the materiality of the fused metals, as well as observing the world around him – from the night sky seen without light pollution to the fluidity of water. Japanese philosophy also continues to inspire and enthral him.
His work has become highly collectable and sits in a range of important collections, among them Chatsworth House, Exbury House, the Goldsmiths Company London, the Contemporary Arts Society and the Pearson Collection. People are seeing his work as antiques of the future, he tells me. His awards are many and the latest is an International Art Craft Design award 2016. This year he will also be included in the Who’s Who in Visual Art – 100 Artisans, Craftspeople and Designers. In May he went to Japan where he studied Zougan Inlay and Uchi Dashi, with one the of highest Living national Treasures of Japan – a term given to people or groups who embody intangible national, cultural values of Japan. This month he will be showing in Oxford followed by exhibitions in London and new York. “There’s a real renaissance with Silversmithing – and the British are leading the vanguard,” he says. “I was 16 when I started and I am 54 now and I am still going – and I love what I do. You know you are in the right job because the time flies.”
Discover more at wvmstudio.com.