Dr. John Grayson

Dr. John Grayson

Hereford College of the Arts GB


What I will share

Satirical Metalsmithing

My research and practice interests intersect, synthesising investigation into the eighteenth-century metalworking trades of the English Midlands—Birmingham and the Black Country—with contemporary craft. I use practice as a research method to investigate the making processes of the English Painted Enamel trade and the cultural context in which it operated: the trade made items such as snuffboxes, scent-bottles and candlesticks. Through a synthesis of hand and digital fabrication, I resurrect, celebrate and re-contextualise the lost making methods—the press forming of paper-thin copper, and decorative enamel printing and painting—to create contemporary enamel automata. In the eighteenth-century (like today) politics and society were fertile grounds for satirist such as George Cruikshank (1792-1878). Automata were popular, viewed as things of wonder, novelty and amusement, and were sites where science, art and craft combined. However, while my work is a celebration of lost making heritage, it is not an unfettered celebration of the past. The appropriation of historical technical and tacit craft knowledge enables the creation of an aesthetic resonant of past Empire, Colonialism, and privilege. Consequently. I use this to make contemporary objects that mimic the opulent possessions owned by the elites of the past; symbolise the (misplaced) hubris often suggested in Nationalist narratives; and, connect and commentate on the English class and political system past and present.

I am exhibiting two recent works that narrate and satirise Brexit. The first, Spartans, has been in the making since 2018. It is an analogue automaton that depicts the power struggles between May and the ultra Brexiteers—The Spartans—that ultimately led to Boris’s coup. The design has a brass mechanism that appears to be graffiti-covered, like a spray-painted neo-classical architectural relic decaying in a present-day urban environment. This symbolises the juxtaposition of the wealthy and the disadvantaged of society, both of whom increasingly appear taken in by right-wing nationalistic rhetoric. The second work is La Brexiteuse à Petits Talons—the name is a reference to Theresa May’s fashionable footwear—which charts post-Brexit events. Printed enamel embellishment on the automaton provides reference points to the actors—the politicians, newspaper moguls, and the social-media fake-news voices—that contributed to the unfolding events occurring during the work’s making. This is one of a pair of digitally controlled and motion sensor operated automata, the other, The Discombobulated Brexiteer, is in the UK Crafts Council's collection.


Dr John Grayson is a lecturer in Artist Blacksmithing at Hereford College of Arts; Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Arts, Media and Design, Birmingham City University; and, Honorary Research Fellow, School of History and Material Culture, University of Birmingham.


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