The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh are hosting a celebratory show for master goldsmith and hand engraver Malcolm Appleby, marking the 50 years since he first set up his studio in Scotland.
The exhibition, which opens tomorrow, 27th February and runs until the 30th of March, showcases a selection of currently available works including jewellery and silversmithing. We took this opportunity to interview the Scottish Gallery’s managing director Christina Jansen and also talked to Malcolm about his ’50 Golden Years in Scotland’. His characteristic first response was: “Everything is for sale!”
Malcolm has worked some 30+ years with the Scottish Gallery and commenting on his connection with them, he said: “It’s a relationship that has grown gradually over the years. Christina Jansen has put a huge amount of energy into the applied arts. She’s now a director of the gallery and she’s got a very, very keen eye on quality as well as on the art market which is very important. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We introduce each other to clients, it’s a relaxed working relationship which works well for all of us.”
We asked Christina what she felt resonates most about Malcolm’s work?
CJ: “Malcolm’s work is narrative, engaging, fun and super sophisticated – we are all Malcolm Appleby addicts at the gallery!”
What makes his creations and approach distinctive from other artists working in the same or similar media?
CJ: “Malcolm is a fearless, instinctive artist who loves what he does and it is his passion which has always driven him forward. He is always thinking about executing the next idea, the next project, who else he can work with, so his engagement stems from his passion and that is what makes him so distinctive.”
Looking at the last 50 years as a body of work what have you observed in terms of evolution in Malcolm’s work?
CJ: “His work is a constant evolution but what underpins it all is his understanding and knowledge of material.”
Does the show cover older work as well as new?
CJ: “’50 Golden Years in Scotland’ is simply a snapshot of what is in the studio right now. I particularly wanted to focus and draw upon Perthshire and his studio – he lives in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland and his surroundings have become completely immersed in his work.”
We asked Malcolm how he felt the world of silversmithing had evolved in the last 50 years.
MA: “There’s a lot more studio work, as they call it. More people working on their own, away from established workshops, developing their own ideas. I think this is being encouraged by the earlier generation.
There has also been an evolution in terms of new techniques, often very much of silversmiths’ own applications rather than established techniques.”
What about the business and sales side of things? How do you feel that the market has evolved over the last 50 years?
MA: “50 years and more… When I first started in the 1960s, and this is my experience, it might not be others, I hawked my stuff round London and I sold it out of my pockets!”
Nothing has changed then!
MA: “It works for me but just because it works for me it doesn’t mean that approach works for other people. Everybody has to find their own way. If we all did exactly the same then we’d all be following the same market. So if you’re shy of talking to people then maybe a gallery or working through social media may be a better way of working. Personally I love the social contact.”
We also talked about Malcolm’s silver symposia, which include an annual Silversmiths’ Symposium and an International Hand Engravers’ gathering.
MA: “The engraving one is bi-annual and that’s with the Hand Engraving Association. They organise it and it is for engravers but when they come here I try and emphasise the design and creative side rather than the mechanics of the craft. The mechanics of the craft obviously come into it but it’s focusing on using hammers and chisels and gravers to create new work.”
These gatherings are immensely supportive for silversmiths from many points of view. What advice in particular would you give to a young artist starting out today, perhaps even in relation to working with a gallery?
MA: “It has to be worked on and it’s a slow process.
First of all, the most important thing is a sketchpad – drawing, drawing, drawing – while you’re at art school and then after art school. Developing a portfolio of photographs. Instagram is a great help but it is no guarantee of sales – but it does get your name around.
I think working with a gallery is often a long working relationship and you have to start slowly. First of all the gallery has to like your work and accept it. It’s very difficult when you’re starting off with a gallery because sale of return can take up a huge amount of stock, so you’ve got to be very cautious that you don’t overstock a gallery with sale or return work when there is no return.”
One last question: in a silver nutshell, what have you learnt over the last 50 years?
MA: “Nothing! I have learnt nothing!”
Go see Malcolm Appleby’s ’50 Golden Years in Scotland’ at The Scottish Gallery, 16 Dundas Street, Edinburgh, EH3 6HZ from 27th February – 30th March 2019. Visit their website to find out more. A catalogue with highlights from the show, with foreword by Christina Jansen and an essay by the silver specialist, curator, collector and writer John Andrew, is available.
The next Hand Engravers Association International Symposium runs in Malcolm’s workshop in Grandtully, Scotland from 29th July to 2nd August 2019. Contact the Hand Engravers Association for further details.
Watch a video created by the artist and silversmith Miriam Hanid, filmed at the International Hand Engraving Symposium in August 2017 – a link is posted below. You can also check our earlier review of the same event.
Interviews by Emma Boden. For photography copyright details, please see inidividual captions.