State Apartments, Dublin Castle

Continues to 6 February 2022

What Colour is Metal? is a new exhibition of innovative master-metalsmiths from across 10 countries, exploring the intriguing relationship between metal and colour in contemporary silversmithing and jewellery.

What Colour is Metal? exhibition captures a vital time in studio metalsmithing and patination. Long-time leaders who have wholly altered the terrain continue to push boundaries of their materials, as the mid-career metalsmiths whom they trained forge new directions, and new generations of makers bring fresh approaches to the conversation.

Metal colouration techniques have been built on experimentation, in the meeting of science, curiosity and craft. Processes, developed in a time when chemicals could be accessed freely, have more recently been supplanted by non-toxic and natural applications – including, in this exhibition, the use of seaweed and bread. Early trailblazers and their generous sharing of knowledge in formal education, as well as peer support, have been crucial to the development of this lively discipline. Experimentation has continued unbounded, as evidenced here in complex forms, challenging techniques, innovative use of industrial processes and even the melding of media (such as the combination of metal and glass in the Material Dialogues collaboration).

What Colour is Metal? confronts us with a direct question: what do we understand of metal and its innate properties? In European culture the value of precious metal traditionally correlates with its fineness. While makers have long been experimental, innovating with patination and colour application, only since 2019 have changes in the Irish Hallmarking Act allowed the marking of mixed metals in Ireland. This has extended the creative possibilities for makers, allowing them to combine base and precious metals more freely. While this may be a divergence for European makers, in Japanese practice the combination of metals and the application of compounds to alter metal colour is a tradition spanning many centuries.

In Ireland we have a long history of ambitious silversmithing and innovation in metal construction, from ancient torcs and brooches to ecclesiastical objects and chalices. Skilled work in precious metals continues, with Kilkenny as home to more fine jewellers per capita than anywhere else in Europe. Yet the processes of colouration of metals, while practised by a few to exceptional standards, is not a wide phenomenon. This exhibition celebrates international best practice and simultaneously has the educational intention of sharing techniques, inspiring innovation and spurring on the next generation of experimental metalsmiths.

Curators Sara Roberts and Cóilín Ó Dubhghaill: are both passionate advocates of innovative metal practice and craft education. They have committed years to the realisation of this project, which builds on Sara’s 1993 exhibition The Chemistry Set, produced by Crafts Council UK and The Southern Arts Touring Exhibition Service. Nearly thirty years later this exhibition takes a fresh look at colouration in metal as it stands in the 2020s, bringing together exceptional works by master metalsmiths from ten countries and three continents, to demonstrate the vitality, diversity and complexity of this discipline.

What Colour is Metal? is produced by Design & Crafts Council Ireland, with support of the Office of Public Works, Sheffield Hallam University, Arts Council UK and National College of Art & Design

Susan Holland, Curator at National Design & Craft Gallery

Jane Adam | Peter Bauhuis | Edmond Byrne | Stuart Cairns | Alison Counsell Rebecca  de Quin Christine Graf | Koji Hatakeyama Nicola Heidemann | Kaori Juzu Toru Kaneko | Ruth Laird | Jose Marin | Cecilia Moore John Moore | Cara  Murphy Thanh-Truc  Nguyen | Cóilín Ó Dubhghaill | Michael Rowe Ryuhei Sako | Simone  ten Hompel Adi Toch Jessica  Turrell | Roxanne Simone | Max Warren  Curated by Sara Roberts and Coilin O’Dubhghaill.

Image: Koji Hatakeyama