Monday, February 04
NATURALIS WORKS #3
Naturalis is engineered be to the best-performing uncoated paper for print. For a designer or printer, understanding the qualities of the paper you specify is essential to your craft.
This series is designed around our conversations with acclaimed craftspeople working in diverse fields. They support our belief that selecting the perfect materials is a critical part of the creative process.
Bespoke sculptural artists
When a new and unusual material falls into the hands of open-minded artists, unexpected and exciting things happen. Unknown properties demand experimentation, and this opens up limitless possibilities. This is a story of serendipity, ingenuity and unstoppable creativity. The story of a company that owes its birth to the potential of a material but owes its success to the vision of the individuals behind it.
Based Upon was founded by twin brothers, Ian and Richard Abell. They had long felt the instinctive desire to work together on something important, and when they chanced upon an undiscovered material, their destined collaboration presented itself. They heard about Liquid Metal, a substance that had been developed by an Australian company. It was being used and marketed as a skin to mimic metal, but Ian and Richard saw it through very different eyes. To them, its potential as a creative medium was fascinating.
When they secured rights to the material they committed themselves to pushing it as far as it could go. They vowed that their work would challenge perception; their products would look and feel like metal but could never be made from it.
Use of the material in this way was untried, so no rules applied. It was this that inspired the company to take up an experimental way of working that it still upholds today. Because no one knew how to use the material, trial and error was the only process they could follow. The brothers soon realised that this level of experimentation called for a meeting of creative minds, and they partnered with gifted sculptor Alex Welch. They now employ numerous creatives from different disciplines, each bringing their own specialism and flair to the mix.
In simple terms, Liquid Metal comprises metal particles held in a polymer suspension. It is a cold process and can be applied in coats to any structure. The Based Upon approach is to treat each coat differently, making layers that are surfaces in their own right. Impressing, mark making, polishing, brushing and blending the layers means that each one brings a new dimension to the final piece. Drying time dictates that this first stage can take weeks to perfect, its rich and diverse composition providing the ultimate structure to work with.
The creative process that is then applied to the many layers forms the astonishing effects that Based Upon has become known for. By sanding and grinding through the layers, the artists excavate, revealing textures and tones from the layers beneath. Each multi-faceted piece has been constructed to be deconstructed in exactly the right way, although cracks, breaks or erosion in the lower layers can never be completely controlled.
While the traditional smithing techniques of patination and oxidisation are used to age surfaces further, Based Upon does not subscribe to the brutality of metal working. Protective suits, masks and booths for spraying and sanding suggest an industrial approach, but they do not use heavy machinery or furnaces. The brothers believe that sanders, chisels, routers and spray guns become extensions of the artist’s hand, enabling them to create at will. But because the material is delicate and requires a lightness of touch, their process has become a curious blend of art and industry.
The spirit of innovation flourishes in their London studio and workshop, and a true artistic philosophy has developed. Increasingly, projects are approached as expressions of context. This means that the creative process begins with significant and meaningful reference. The team absorb sounds, light and iconography to capture the spirit of the place in which the final piece will live. They collect textures by taking physical impressions of elements that form the unique identity of the area, such as indigenous plants or ancient masonry. Unusually, they use dental plaster to take these initial impressions. Non-toxic and easy to work with in most temperatures, this material captures the tiniest detail without damaging the surface to which it is applied. These textures are often used in the final piece because they give the work real and lasting resonance.
The team often start a project without knowing what kind of object the creative journey will result in, let alone which materials will be employed. It may become an art piece to hang on a wall, a sculpture or a functional piece of furniture. They concentrate on the story first and the vehicle for telling it later. This approach demands that each piece is unique. ‘Bespoke’ is the only way they know how to work, and ‘entirely handmade’ is something the team take as a given. They work so closely with materials that the results are pioneering. No standard process would yield the seemingly impossible structures and finishes that they produce. Their translation of idea into execution is nothing short of alchemical.
It is from this open-minded and experimental approach to materials that we can begin to understand the work of these creative mavericks; which is to give impersonal industrial materials meaning. And while Based Upon is as unpredictable as the strange material that was the catalyst to its creation, the work is consistently breathtaking.
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