This exhibition is a consideration of the relationship between metal and colour in contemporary silversmithing and jewellery, with a mapping of relationships and practice in key centres internationally. It examines approaches ranging from colour achieved using the inherent properties of metal to react with other chemicals or heat (or a combination); the reveal of colour as a property of the metal itself; infusing the surface of aluminium with pure colour or image; the use of enamel glazes with varying degrees of transparency and opacity – but always with a fundamentally strong relationship with the surface qualities of the metal.
Through seminal works by key international practitioners, it places artist practice in a broader context, tracing international information exchanges. It considers routes to support learning patination at all levels: from schools to professional studios; from undergraduates to specialists in conservation. what colour is metal? makes vivid the connections between innovative studio practice and historic techniques, and furthermore looks to the future and profiles potential adaptations for industry. It examines notions of value, and the changes in assay regulations which have allowed a freer approach to combining precious and base metals within a single work. The possibilities for achieving colour modulations and sometimes startling colour were seemingly endless.
The democratisation of the information occurred at a time when notions of precious were being re-examined, and led to a surge in the application of colour; on jewellery and vessels, but more widely in architectural practice, in mid-scale applications such as furniture and interior surfaces. It has been described by Martina Margetts as “a paradigm of the transformation of the aesthetics and creative possibilities in the last quarter of the twentieth century.”