tai chi in metal
by Elena Bidy
Bringing silver to life is a hard task. Conventional designs rely on the metal's cold brilliance, but in expert hands it can be transformed into something suffused with feeling and energy. Wayne Meeten is one of those rare craftsmen who achieves this, looking beyond a simple mastery of the metal, instead seeking to understand it and work in harmony with the materials.
These ideas reflect Meeten's life and personal philosophy. His route through silversmithing has not been a straightforward one, but it has given him the experience needed to create such striking work.
Meeten left school at sixteen and learnt the basics of silversmithing and jewellery travelling through the UK, Canada and Asia. He then enrolled at the Sir John Cass School of Art, at that point renowned as one of Europe's best metalwork academies. It was during his time there that he made two discoveries that would have a profound effect with his life and his work. The first had its roots in a serious accident. During his recovery, Meeten was introduced to Tai Chi, whose philosophy of balance and harmony prompted his move from the small scale of jewellery to larger, more expressive work. The other grew from curiosity: bored by simply buying silver from bullion dealers, he began to experiment with ancient Japanese metalworking techniques, teaching himself from textbooks.
These processes require infinite patience and concentration, and Meeten quickly saw a link with the tenets of Tai Chi philosophy. However he knew that to truly understand them he would have to learn from the Japanese masters themselves. After two years learning Japanese, he travelled to Tokyo to study under several of the countries leading experts in the field.
According to Meeten, their guidance did not only teach him technical virtuosity, it also revealed ways of thinking and working which form the foundation of these ancient metalworking practices.
On retuning to the UK he continued to translate these ideas into practice, first as an MA student and then as an independent maker. The development of his style went hand-in-hand with success, and after he won a place at the prestigious Goldsmiths' Fair, he was finally able to establish his own workshop, which has now been open for 12 years.
Talking about his work today, it's clear that Meeten is still driven by a passion for understanding silver's expressive qualities. He comments that 'It's the pauses between each hammer mark, each motion of filing, sanding and taking rest which slow your mind and lets you see your work in a fresh innovative way'.
His advice to young silversmiths echoes his teacher Professor Tamagawa's warning against short cuts: 'root values give you the stability to grow and explore. If you want to learn about silversmithing, step into your garden'. With this outlook, even a 'cold, hard' metal can blossom and flower.
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