PHOTOGRAPHY BY EDWIN HO, ASSISTED BY JON COONEY
SHOT AT ANRÁN STUDIO
"Aesthetics are always evolving and becoming more distinctive as I grow, learn and change,” declares Wayne Meeten. The silversmith, 56, has garnered a long string of awards and accolades over three decades, including the winning the Grand Prize in Hollowware twice for the international Saul Bell Design Awards and The Goldsmiths’ Company Gold Award, the equivalent of the Oscars in the jewellery and silversmithing trade.
He believes there is no right or wrong way to create a piece of art: “It’s your own interpretation, the way of the maker to find his own path, as we are all influenced by travel and life’s experiences. Art, history, dance, photography, music, texture and everything you touch in your life is inspiring.”
THE WAY TO HIS ART
Wayne learnt his craft and lived in London for decades, and moved to Devon seven years ago when he got married to a local girl. He built a studio on his property, where he has plenty of room to hammer away without disturbing the neighbours. Still, he misses having a workshop in London, which he shared with about nine or 10 other makers running their own businesses. “We had some great laughs and fantastic comradeship,” he reminisces.
His metalwork career began at the age of 16, when he left school and he was offered a job renovating jewellery in a workshop in Brighton. Job prospects in the ‘70s were grim, and it was either that or becoming a hairdresser. Or worse, going on the dole. The choice was clear.
Repairing jewellery was unfulfilling work. “The work that came in was often too badly broken to repair. My boss just wanted to melt it down and scrap it. This really troubled me, and I wanted to restore it to its original state. Nobody in Brighton would teach me those skills to restore jewellery properly. They were only interested in making money.”
After six years, he left that job and moved around several times until he joined one company which advised him to go to London to develop his craft. That was the turning point.
At 24, he went to the Sir John Cass School Of Art in London, renowned as the finest jewellery and silversmithing academy in Europe, where he was taught by craftsmen from Cartier, and royal warrant holders Garrard and Asprey.
Unfortunately, within months, his flat in Brighton was burgled, then he was sacked from his job because he was too slow. Despondent, he bought a round-the-world ticket with the £1,000 insurance money and decided he had plenty of time ahead of him to replace his material losses and plan what to do with his future.
MASTER OF HIS CRAFT
Two and half years after travelling all over the world, with the £1,000 still in his pocket, Wayne returned to Brighton with renewed energy, and decided to humble himself and go back to school to learn the trade correctly.
He moved to London and enrolled at the Sir John Cass School of Art. He was always the first student at the door every day and made sure he sat as close as possible to the teachers to watch them work. He spent nine years there, and won every prize there was for his craftsmanship.
“In art school, you are taught to research and find something that is unique and your style, and to take risks. How you make it is up to the individual. Some may go down the route of machine, some others take a conceptual approach of installation, while others go down the route of handmade,” he says.
In 2014, he studied at the Tokyo University Of Fine Arts And Music, an experience that he calls “life-changing”. He says, “It was the hardest time of my life, but the most rewarding without a doubt. The Japanese masters explained how the metal was alive, and how to listen to it. They were jewels of wisdom and touched me to the core like no other.
“I learnt from craftsman of the highest calibre in this country, and living National Treasures of Japan. The workmanship from both is the same, but the ways of making the finished article are different. The fusion of both makes my work distinctive, I feel.”
He employs a mix of British and Japanese metalwork techniques in his pieces, including the jewellery featured in these pages. “Besides traditional British silversmithing and goldsmithing techniques, I use Japanese metalworking techniques such as Mokume Gane (diffusion bonding), Zougan (inlay), Shibori (hand raising), Japanese Hammer Fluting. They are techniques that you cannot easily find in British jewellery making.
“With a signature brand, an artist has to find a technique and style that they find best to make their work different and stand out from the crowd. My signature style is hard to define; perhaps an unusual, elegant, precise, refined technique, beautifully designed with stunning gem stones and pearls, with shapes that are soft and timeless.”
Wayne doesn’t limit himself to one particular type of metal. “Silver is a beautiful metal, but so are gold, platinum and palladium. Alloys that are Japanese – shakudo and shibuichi – are stunning too, and copper is just as important in the right setting, In the right piece, I do not prefer one the other.”
FORCE OF NATURE
Being a tai chi practitioner has also had an impact on his craft. In his twenties, he was badly beaten up in a street aggression. During his recovery, he was introduced to the Chinese martial art form Tai Chi Chuan. It led to a breakthrough in his artistic expression.
He elaborates: “With tai chi, I felt the same emotions as dancing in the night clubs of Brighton to house music. Tai chi is all about flowing lines within the soft and gentle movements, slowing down a racing mind, a meditation in dance and breathing that is long and deep from one’s centre. My designs changed from angular, sharp and symmetrical to warm, soft, womb-like curves within a short space of time.”
He still practices tai chi regularly and its philosophy is embedded in his work, from the filing to the hammering. “I taught it for over 25 years, and ran classes in London and Devon, and have even taught the police force and in old folks’ homes. But right now, I feel that I must concentrate on my work. I will teach again for sure. It will happen when the time is ripe.”
ANTIQUES OF THE FUTURE
For now, his focus is on his craft. He has worked with museums, galleries and livery companies but commissions from private collectors are his main income. The biggest piece he made for a private collector, a lamp base for a penthouse in Barcelona, took two years to complete.
“Winning awards tells you exactly where you are among your peers and contemporaries but seeing clients weep when you show them what you have made is an amazing feeling,” says Wayne.
“They put their faith in me to make a unique work of art, an heirloom and an antique of the future. When you touch someone’s heart, this is worth more than any prize. I build personal relationships with each client. try to understand their ambitions, interests, backgrounds, inspirations, family and passion and I make choices to include these elements in the making and design of the piece.
“Clients always seem to pick the wild card, something new. This is exciting for the artist. An artist and craftsman should always push the boundaries of his making skills. I always incorporate a surprise element unique to each commission, a hidden surprise. I have been adding this touch since I won a Crafts Council Award some 15 years ago, and this is the hallmark of a work made by Wayne Victor Meeten Studio.”