Art and silver are not much connected in the art lover’s mind. Silver, the chosen material of the wealthy, has gained a not undeserved reputation as too showy, too bling for the art connoisseur.
But there’s a small group of artist silversmiths to whom art, design and modern aesthetics are just as important as important as the metal. To these men and women silver is valued for its sculptural properties and the forms it can create more than its monetary worth. Martin Keane is one of those silversmiths. His work embraces both the ancient craft of the silversmith with forms inspired by his love of graffiti.
Keane graduated from Middlesex University of the Arts in 2009 with a degree in Applied Arts. He was quickly recognised as a talent within the industry and awarded the Design in Silver Award by Contemporary British Silversmiths at New Designers the same year. He has exhibited his work at Christie’s and can be seen at the upcoming Hallmark Salon and Goldsmith’s Fair.
How did you become interested in working with silver?
I have always loved beautifully crafted objects and aspire to a high level of craftsmanship in my own work. I spent my school holidays surrounded by beautiful objects in a Japanese Antiques shop near the British Museum where my mother worked, and I think I just absorbed it. Then, when I was at university I was introduced to silversmithing by two of my tutors who were silversmiths.
My work is quite labour intensive and it lends itself to precious metals. Silver is a lovely metal to work with and I like the surface effects that you can create. You can polish it to a mirror finish that picks up everything around it and loses its mass. Something that looks quite solid loses its density and comes to life.
Tell me about your work?
I started off doing fine art at university before changing to applied arts and I was still doing a lot of life drawing at the same time as I started to specialise in metalwork. I initially concentrated on raising techniques (a technique in which flat sheets of metal are hammered into sculptural hollow forms) to create forms that were inspired by the life drawing and then gradually moved on to graffiti.
Where does your interest in graffiti come from?
I have been fascinated by graffiti ever since I was a teenager and have watched it evolve from what was regarded as an act to vandalism to being accepted as a valid form of art. Graffiti is a powerful form of art that has followed the pattern of many other art movements such as impressionism and fauvism, which were also dismissed when people first saw them. It’s such a raw form of expression and it has traditionally been produced under difficult circumstances, with the minimum of resources, to express how people feel about their situation.
What is it in particular that interests you about graffiti? How do you translate graffiti into silver?
My work starts as a 2D graffiti drawing – I am particularly interested in “throw-ups” quickly-drawn shapes that are outlined in black. Then I re-explore the form as a 3D shape and make it in silver. I am always pairing things back… I don’t like unnecessary detail.
I am always searching for the essence of a shape and the balance of form and I find that making things by hand produces work that holds an energy. If you are saying something through the work, then working by hand is a part of that process. Silver is ideally suited to this way of working as it is very malleable and can produce an endless variety of forms.
I want to make things that haven’t been seen before and explore the boundaries between efficiency of function and sculptural form. My work has to stand on its own as sculpture.