Reflections on my “Dragonfly Fugue”

 



 

I’ve been working with metal, initially as a craftsman and latterly as an artist, for nearly 28 years now.  From the very start I’ve been entranced by the varieties of texture and tone that metals can be made to exhibit.  My immersion in the Japanese tradition has allowed me to study and develop this aspect of metalwork in a way that I believe is generally unimagined in contemporary fine art.



My latest work, Dragonfly Fugue, is the culmination of a 6 month exploration of how I might use these subtle qualities to express my developing personal aesthetic.

The story of this particular piece began 4 years ago, in England.  I had , for some years, been searching for a suitable “canvas” for my artistic expression having come to the conclusion that boxes, plaques, vases and similar traditional forms were far too cliché and limited.  I had also formed the opinion, one I still hold, that the vitality of the sort of techniques I practiced was diminished by attempts to work in too large a scale.



I was looking for some way of integrating the ground upon which I worked as part of the overall expression.  It was the very positive reactions of many different people to a small, hollow iron pebble I’d made that nudged me in the right direction.



The very idea of taking a 1mm thick sheet of steel and hammering it into a hollow form that was so strongly reminiscent of a real rock, seems to utterly beguile people. These little rocks of mine seem to posses a certain presence that invites the viewer to pick them up, to caress them and to simply hold them.  Then there is the delightful surprise at the lightness of the object itself.  Despite their appearance, the thinness of the metal allows me to create very strong, yet light sculptures.







The actual process of turning a flat sheet of steel, an industrial product,

into something so seemingly natural brings me to a point, through the

application of own abilities and skills, where I have in my hands my own,

completely honest stepping stone into my world of metal as art.

Using this as my inspiration I have attempted to express something

of the intimacy and delicacy of metal by making reference to the

natural world.  I tend to use my subject matter to allow me to explore

the medium rather than use my medium to express the subject. 

In this respect I feel my work is, in reality, abstract.





 











































                                                                                                       



The wings were initially conceived as being simply set into carved recesses but my desire to allow them to glow meant that ultimately all but the finest supporting ledge  was cut away.  The result is that the moment the stone is picked up the wings appear to lighten, to even light up.  Holding the piece up to the light creates quite a dramatic effect.  The eyes are shaped from black lip mother of pearl.

































 

The actual composition of curved lines that make up the dragonfly is echoed in the shape of the stone and in fact the curves of the upper surface of the stone was dictated by the natural curve of the shell. The golden colour, which I wanted to utilise, is only visible in about 1mm of the shells thickness.  Bringing the hard iron surface to meet, perfectly, the inflexible mother of pearl was an exercise in infinite patience.


The body of the dragonfly is inlaid into the steel and is of an alloy know as Shakudo (copper with the addition of 3% gold).  The markings on the body are true inlay also, in gold. I curved the abdomen, gently, to avoid a too stiff an appearance and perhaps hint at movement.

The sculpting of the nodes of the abdomen is of course not at all realistic.  I wanted to create a sense of rhythm and pattern, so I elaborated the shapes and enhanced the look of the sections.

The following layer of my fugue was the introduction of the water, the river.  I only wanted the merest hint of silver at the edge of the stone, both to frame the object when viewed from above and to suggest a context.  My decision to carve a minimalist version of sculpted silver water was a conscious reference to both Meiji period Okimono  ( small sculpture ) and Art Nouveau sculpture but while remaining true to my own sensibilities.  A certain degree of Scandinavian silver design was probably also shaping my response to this aspect.



The mesh of leaves and the little golden orchid flowers provided me with the solution to my need to close the gaping back of the stone but still to allow the light through to illuminate the wings.  This part of the composition was taken, in part, from some working drawings I have been making, for a tsuba design I’m working on.  I like the idea of my work linking in such a very direct way like this, because it accurately reflects how I develop my ideas too.  Through repeatedly drawing the leaves I was quite comfortable distorting them to suit my purpose and yet still managing to retain a sense of naturalness.



































To contrast the subtlety and precision of the carved silver surround, I wanted to render the leaves and flowers in an almost expressionistic manner.  The Japanese chiselling style, kata-kiri (literally; cutting to the side) which imitates bold brush work, seemed a logical technique to use.  I added a bit more gouging than would have been typical in the past, to help strengthen the impression of the directness of the process.  The flowers were very roughly formed using only two, very basic, rounded punches.  With them, I wanted to create the feeling that they’d been modelled with a palette knife and molten gold.  The ochre colour is a result of the particular alloy I made up for this part of the work to help create a sense of warmth in conjunction with the gold and the mother of pearl.



This aspect, the final coloration of the metals, which is so dependant on chemistry and the actual composition of the materials, is inevitably the last process in the making of work like this.  It is only at this stage that all the layers of form, texture and colour come together and the success of the work can be judged.  The name “Dragonfly Fugue” is intended to reflect my attempt to expound on the initial impetus of the “iron stone” and the many additional layers I’ve woven around it.  The hollow stone was the introductory theme.  I hope that while holding and contemplating the work all the other counterpoint themes and harmonies will be revealed.



Ford Hallam
September 2008
Cape Town

The concept of dragonfly’s wings has intrigued me for years.  Their rendition in miniature sculptural form has frequently disappointed me though.  My approach was to try to express the idea of the wings but by suggesting their iridescent quality, mother of pearl seemed an obvious choice.

 The amazing complexity of the veins had to be somehow reduced to make engraving them possible but still retain the general overall impression.
To achieve this I eliminated about 30% of the detail seen in real wings but it still took more than 2000 individual points to mark out the pattern.
 I balanced the effect of the iridescent and translucent wings against the wet, and deep tones of the “stone”.


To return to the 'Dragonfly Fugue' click here.

To return to the 'Dragonfly Fugue' click here.

My friend, the neo-pointillist painter, Gavin Rain had the following thoughts after he took the photos of the completed work. You can visit Gavin's own website here. 


"For me a fugue is a progression. Well not just for me, for that Bach guy what did them tunes… starting with the introductory theme the other harmonies – parallels to it, are introduced to create a woven melody… your work is obviously like that – in a number of ways
There’s the temporal reflection – where you first thought of the form, then the addition of the counterpoint – the dragonfly, then a context for it in the grass at the edge of the stone and the river finally.
But there’s also the visual reflection. Start with the reflective iron, and you come across a dragonfly, seemingly en situ. Lift the stone and the dragonfly takes light. Which is your way of showing that moment of taking flight. It’s also obviously suggested by the different thicknesses of the pearl – the way the wings peel (hehe or perhaps peal) away from the stone… here the melody shifts … you see what the dragonfly sees, the reeds glistening below him – for us through him – it’s the faint echo of things to come….and then your perspective changes and you’re looking up through the reeds to the dragonfly beyond as it leaves you.
There’s also the chromatic reflection, which is like the passing of the day. You start with the cold bluish stone with hints of dawn in the subtle areas of pink and orange, then the dragonfly reveals the vast array of colours of the day… in the afternoon you have the ochre’s and golds of the river, and then finally the twilight and sunset that is the orange of the dragonfly from behind….
So for me the fugue is not just a story told in parts, it is also the same story told in different voices."


"It’s a progression. …starting with the introductory theme the other harmonies – parallels to it, are introduced to create a woven melody. There’s the temporal reflection – the first thought of the form, then the addition of the counterpoint – the dragonfly, then a context for it in the grass at the edge of the stone and the river finally.
But there’s also the visual reflection. Start with the reflective iron, and you come across a dragonfly, seemingly en situ. Lift the stone and the dragonfly takes light. Which is a way of showing that moment of taking flight. It’s also obviously suggested by the different thicknesses of the pearl – the way the wings peel away from the stone… here the melody shifts … you see what the dragonfly sees, the reeds glistening below him – for us through him – it’s the faint echo of things to come….and then your perspective changes and you’re looking up through the reeds to the dragonfly beyond as it leaves you.
There’s also the chromatic reflection, which is like the passing of the day. You start with the cold bluish stone with hints of dawn in the subtle areas of pink and orange, then the dragonfly reveals the vast array of colours of the day… in the afternoon you have the ochre’s and golds of the river, and then finally the twilight and sunset that is the orange of the dragonfly from behind….

So for me the fugue is not just a story told in parts, it is also the same story told in different voices.​"