‘The Blacksmith’s Craft’; John Girvan at Wiltshire Museum

 

‘The Blacksmith’s Craft’ exhibition; a review

John Girvan.  He’s the ghost walk guy, the man who has the Canal Forge, the bloke who writes about the dungeons, prisons, and tunnels of Devizes.  He might have made your gate.  You might have been to his forge with your school.  You might have spotted him dressed as a Norman and wielding his massive weapon on the Market Cross.  You might have seen him on the telly with Derek Acorah.  You might have one of his books on your shelf.

What you may not know about him is that he once worked for Burtons, that he trained as a blacksmith under Laurence Love, that he has been a member of The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society since he was a boy, and that until September 23rd you can see a selection of his work in ‘The Blacksmith’s Craft’ exhibition at Wiltshire Museum on Long Street, Devizes.

I went to a short talk that John gave before looking at his pieces.  He’s full of quips and anecdotes, and his delivery is gently camp and self-deprecating.  He showed some old photos of himself at work in the forge (he had that Angela Rippon in there once, don’t you know).  He taught us why a blacksmith’s apron has a fringe at the bottom (it’s for sweeping the anvil).  He showed a video of himself hot forging a scroll.   He told us that he made the bunker door at Browfort, the gates of St. Andrew’s, and the seat above the White Horse, and that he’s made a handful of chastity belts, and more weather-vanes than you can shake one of his finely forged pokers at.  He spoke animatedly about his workshops with children over the years, and enthusiastically about repoussé.  ‘Strike while the iron’s hot!’ he said, sparkily.

The Wiltshire Museum describes his exhibition as ‘rural traditional art’.  To me John’s work falls in to four categories; practical objects / folk art (pokers, gates, metal flowers), fun stuff for kids (what child doesn’t like a cheerful robot or a cheeky spider?), experimental works, and Very Beautiful Things.

Recent experimental works include various ladies made out of chicken wire, ‘The Three Graces’ (mixed metals), and ‘Aphrodite’, the face of a woman made of mesh with metal eyes and lips.  I could take or leave the lively chicken wire ladies, but ‘Aphrodite’ got better the longer you looked at her (many people did, and it was The Mayor’s favourite piece), ‘The Three Graces’ had a certain elegance to them, and the shadows cast by the sculptures on the wall greatly enhanced the effect of both works.

By Very Beautiful Things I mean the glorious sconces, the acanthus leaf, the flora and flourishes, the ‘King’s Chair’ with its delicate ironwork, the beaten copper leaves, ‘The Hand of the Smith’, the hot forged horses’ heads, the tiny fronds and spirals spinning from things, the witty little metal snakes and snails.

I’m not sure all these things belong in the same room in an ideal world, but the juxtaposition of the ‘Iron Mask’, one of the few nods to John’s interest in the macabre, with the humorous robot was interesting.

I asked John about his favourite piece.  ‘You’ll laugh’ he said.  Bet I don’t, I thought.  ‘It’s this’ he said, and pointed to ‘Juncture’, which is ‘two dissimilar weights of steel requiring different temperatures of heat to bring them together, set in oak’.

It’s heavy.  It’s light.  It’s simple, complex, angular, fluid, and stark.  And Very Beautiful.

John is winding down the Canal Forge these days.  He’s been there since 1980.  I asked him why.  ‘You can’t go on forever’ he said, with a twinkle in his eye.  He has a forge in his garden now, and you just know that he is going to carry on making beautiful interesting humorous things and striking while the iron’s hot until the day his fire goes out.

‘I’ve had to show people what I can do’ he said in his talk earlier.

John Girvan.  Blacksmith, artist, historian, humorist.

Go and see what he can do.

© Gail Foster 30th July 2018

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The Jester’s Tea Party

Simon Griffiths at The Round Tower, Frome; a poetic review

Images may not be reproduced without the express permission of Simon Griffiths http://www.simonjgriffiths.com

*

I went to The Jester’s Tea Party

In the tower with the winding stair

Frida Kahlo manned the door

And God and the Devil were there

The artist was stood in the shadows

Silently summoning me

To stand with him like a tiny child

At the edge of an innocent sea

He showed me the sadness of circuses

And the violent colours of night

Swept by the brush of his sorrow

Upon canvases heavy with light

He showed me the bones of roses

Strewn on a luminous land

Yama and Dali and Karma and Kali

A heart in a mannequin’s hand

He showed me a skull full of sinister dolls

The ink on a baby’s skin

The wild provocation of beauty

And the unsubtle presence of sin

He showed me unusual clichés

Arranged in original ways

Dudes in the gloom of a glorious doom

Rocking the Ancient of Days

He showed me a girl with an earring

A boy sat alone with a scream

The mischievous mosh of Breughel and Bosch

Through acrylic satirical dream

He showed me the judgement of jesters

The torments of transient lust

The whirling of dervishes whipping up wind

The imprints of pride in the dust

As he showed me his rainbow emotions

His passion, and bright neon grace

Solemn tears came tumbling down

His secret and hidden face

When I asked for the key to his magic

To his powerful mystical prayer

He turned

In silence

And pointed to

The lonely clown on the stair

 …

‘Tis time to face the darkness

The words of the flyer had said

In Simon Griffiths’ art I found

The light of his soul instead

 *

© Gail Foster 2016