Focus on Cornish makers: Alex O'Connor
Photographs John Hersey
As part of our highlight on Cornwall with Design Frontier for the British Craft Pavilion, curated by Hole & Corner, the silversmith explains how the local landscape informs her work…
Design Frontier is a new initiative for showcasing exceptional design and craft from Cornwall. This launching showcase at British Craft Pavilion is part of the Cultivator Programme, and was made possible through funding from European Structural and Investment Funds, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council.
What do you do?
I’m a silversmith based in West Cornwall – my recent works are series of vessel forms. I began with a sculpture degree in the early 90s and I graduated from the Silversmithing and Jewellery course at Truro College last year. My work really attempts to merges those ‘sculptural’ preoccupations of aesthetic balance, form and composition with the very specific discipline of contemporary silversmithing.
What is it about working with silver that you most enjoy?
Silver is a very responsive metal. It ‘talks’ as you work with it – you hear it becoming work-hardened as you hammer it, or feel it start to resist as you form it. Silver relaxes when you anneal it. You have a conversation with the metal. Depending on how the silver is worked and finished, it can look crisp and shiny or soft and fluid.
What are the biggest challenges?
In a technical sense, silver is a very challenging metal and because my signature style is visually very ‘clean’ there is really nowhere to hide –imperfections would be apparent immediately. As a maker I try to always give the best of myself, so that in itself is a challenge, constantly developing one’s skills but also one’s dialogue with the material.
How does the Cornish landscape inform your work?
It’s often the details that stay with me; shadows, sounds, the colour of the sky, the shapes of the trees, the negative spaces between rocks. And it’s this that I try to express in the work. The poetry of the landscape is important – the resilience and dynamism – but also the stillness, the solace. It’s not a pastoral landscape but it speaks of something ancient and atavistic.
Do you think in this digital age it is important to have handmade, tactile objects in our lives?
In a time of unprecedentedly rapid change, innovation and constant content, objects that are made by hand are increasingly important. They help to connect us and provide continuity, familiarity and physicality. The handmade object, as an experience, becomes more significant I think, as a counterbalance to the often virtual nature of our lives.
Do you sense that people’s attitudes towards mass-produced objects are changing?
Yes, there’s definitely a growing appetite for objects that not only endure but also ‘time enrich’ our lives and environments.
Alex O’Connor is taking part in British Craft Pavilion as part of Design Frontier, a new initiative for showcasing exceptional design and craft from Cornwall. This launching showcase is part of the Cultivator Programme, and was made possible through funding from European Structural and Investment Funds, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council. cultivatorcornwall.org.uk; alexoconnorsilver.co.uk