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o b j e t S d e lu x e s i l v e r w a r e

An Argent Lover

When it comes to crafting silver, this Irishman could be considered something of an alchemist given his power to convert this unyielding material into timeless objects of pleasure and purpose.


JUN — JUL 2013

evin J O’Dwyer is a man worth his metal: while other metalsmiths painstakingly sweat over their silver, this virtuoso nonchalantly plays with modern architecture and traditional Japanese patterns (picked from ceremonial kimonos during Japan’s Edo period) to form seemingly effortless sculptures of the lustrous metal. “Besides Bauhaus and Memphis designs, the Neolithic stone carvings of Irish burial tombs – with their flowing forms – have inspired my work,” says the Irish artist, who has won over 40 international awards for his work over the better part of three decades. “I have often stripped down the carving to a single form as per some of my vessel and teapot handles… I work with strong architectural forms as the container, and create flowing forms as handles that incorporate both positive and negative spaces into the object.” From tiny teapots that elegantly perch on rippling waves of silver (not unlike a surfer), to exquisite Victorian-inspired perfume bottles that combine silver and hand-blown glass, O’Dwyer

has fashioned irresistible works of art created to “engage people” with their controversial, albeit functional anatomies, and have been displayed in over 40 exhibitions worldwide as well as prominent museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and Ulster Museum in Belfast. “Tea and coffee pots have been part of the silversmithing tradition throughout the ages,” he says. “They were important social tools for meeting family, friends, adversaries, and so on… I have designed my silverware to be more than vessels to hold liquids, to engage the server and participant aesthetically. Serving from a beautiful object may take the conversation in a different direction.” His most recent work was a set of candelabras for a Swiss chateau that were manipulated to resemble intertwined ribbonlike shapes that wove through one another: “Each set spanned over three feet and floated on a Kilkenny limestone base. The engineering and silversmithing involved in these pieces ensured that the six candles arising from each candelabrum looked like they were sitting on top of a ribbon-like form,” he says.

His soft, swirling ribbons, and curling spirals propped on plump pots – especially from the ‘Rocking Teapot’ and ‘Party’ series – entice and charm with the perspicacity of a puppy’s melting brown eyes. In stark contrast, O’Dwyer’s Architectural collection is quite geometric, with its sharp angles and prominent modernist architectural influences. O’Dwyer has fused his designs with ebony wood and rosewood for handles and trays, as well as Kilkenny limestone, the latter being the trickiest material for him to work with. His 2010 collection also features carved handles constructed from a 4000-year-old bog yew “mined from the peat fields that surround (his) studio”, and this combination of modernist design with ancient wood has a strong appeal for the artist. O’Dwyer’s fascination with peat bogs after shifting base to Ireland led him to establish Sculpture in the Parklands where he served as director from 2000 to 2010, which won four national awards for its sculpture and educational programme, and still houses his


O’Dwyer’s patterned ‘Rocking Teapot’ in sterling silver is beautifully balanced on a curlicue wave that is a delicate amplification of its handle.

Tippler Bridge, a creation that represents the industrial history of the place. Of course, this is not the only time O’Dwyer has done Ireland proud: he has also been commissioned to create several reputable projects, from an inauguration gift for Nelson Mandela to State gifts for royalty, such as the kings of Sweden and Spain, and even a presentation piece for Bill Clinton. Of the several aficionados of his work, Michelle Bufano, the director of Pratts Fine Arts Center, U.S., has described O’Dwyer’s work as “dramatic and elegant in its form,” also adding that a signature O’Dwyer piece “whirls in a frozen dervish dance that embraces the air”. Time might stand still through the beholder’s eyes, but for O’Dwyer, it is a precious medium that he consumes ample quantities of. His celebrated tea and coffee services – that can range anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 – on an average can take at least 150 man hours to complete, while he claims to have spent over 250 man hours perfecting certain sets that, according to him, bring about a festive and engaging atmosphere to the table. The silversmith does not traverse the world in search of quality silver, preferring to select sterling silver (92.5 per cent) from the closest sources. He has instead, made several transatlantic jumps to lecture at prestigious academic institutions, the most recent being Mesa Art Center in Phoenix, and University of Georgia at Athens in the United States. He will also be teaching at Lillstreet Arts Center in Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin this autumn. O’Dwyer employs various forging techniques, one of them being anticlastic raising – a method also used by Fabergé in tsarist Russia, where the metal curves in opposite directions – which, in addition to reticulation was honed during a stint in Savannah, Georgia under the guidance of Heikki Seppa, a Finnish metalsmith. This technique is most apparent in O’Dwyer’s ‘Landscape Series’ of textured boxes that are inspired from topographical cuts. “Flowing forms have a spontaneity, and our eye follows the form…it’s why an architectural shape – like his salt-and-pepper shakers inspired by cityscapes – that is straight or angular, is much harder to create than a curved

one,” says O’Dwyer who has also apprenticed under maestros such as Bill Frederick – “who told (him) that half the payment for the work we do is the pleasure on the client’s expression when they receive the finished piece, something I completely believe in” - and Harriett Dreissiger at the start of his career. Surprisingly enough, O’Dwyer began his career in Chicago by pursuing his love for history and archaeology. “Where I lived – Cashel, Co. Tipperary – has some of the most important 8th-13th-century buildings, including the Rock of Cashel and many monastic sites,” explains the silversmith. “I was drawn to the architecture, stone carvings, and history of the area. And with buildings, come artefacts including bronze, silver, and gold objects. It was my curiosity concerning the making of the objects that started my exploration of metalworking with night-school classes in Chicago. It became an obsession. Finally, I packed in the day job and apprenticed with goldsmiths and silversmiths.” From working with legendary American glass artist Andy Shea, known for his delicate perfume bottles, to fashioning an electric pair of 24-karat gold heels titled Goldsculpt with shoe designer Andreia Chaves, that were showcased in 2011 at the Milan and Paris fashion weeks, O’Dwyer has transcended the ancient art of metalsmithing across futuristic boundaries. “If you told me I would be making shoes for the fashion runways two years ago, I would have said you were crazy!” says O’Dwyer. He has also been designing jewellery for over 25 years. The proud father of two daughters also claims that he might be collaborating with his daughter Sinead in the future, who is at present interning with Alexander Wang, as he is always open to collaborations with other artists and the materials they use. His current projects include making chefs’ knives using Damascus steel, and cabinets that feature bronze parts. He remains unsatiated: “My mentor Bill Frederick passed away last May at the age of 90, but was silversmithing until he was 89! So I look forward to a long and creative life in silversmithing, sculpture, photography, and any creative opportunities that come my way.”

JUN — JUL 2013

Above: O’Dwyer’s coffee services from his ‘Architectural’ series sport handles made of bog oak that is 4,000 years old; Below: 24-karat gold shoes titled Goldsculpt made with shoe designer Andreia Chaves, and showcased at the Paris and Milan fashion weeks, 2011.