Between Risk and Routine_2019

Salens, P. (ed.), D. Huycke, W. Nys, David Huycke, Risky Business, 25 Years of Silver Objects, Stuttgart: Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2018:3




Objects show themselves to the world and to us via their contours, shapes and colours. From a distance, these are the first things we see. Closer inspection reveals details, texture and subtle nuances. Despite the fact that form and colour are ever-present, in much of my work those elements don’t occupy a spectacular place. In many cases, my work consists of monumental basic forms: spheres, parts of spheres, cylinders and sometimes more complex combinations of geometric shapes. Furthermore, sobriety, minimalism and at the same time mass, repetition and rhythm are visual features which determine the appearance of a piece. Generally speaking my colour palette is sober and ranges from white through grey tones to black, or all colour variations of silver. Without wishing to play down their importance, form and colour are rarely a starting point in the development of new work. Forms are what they are, monumental, most often monolithic, and they are not really up for discussion. They are what support the surface and the ornamentation, or sometimes the reverse, when the form is determined and borne by the ornamentation.

Forms are not chosen because of aesthetic reasons but have their origin in a combination of artistic strategy and the laws of nature. When it comes to the ‘perfect’ form, the choice of, for example, the sphere as the form of the object or as ornamentation is partly dictated by gravity and by mechanical or metallurgical laws – it being no coincidence that the earth and its building blocks, the atoms, are spheres. When striving for extremes in artisanal execution, form follows science and the ‘right’ form gives an object’s other qualities greater force and potential. In the right decision between a concave and a rounded surface sometimes lies the solution to a complicated problem.

Innovation in this context takes time; it involves experimentation and failure. It is a question of finding and combining strange or thoroughgoing applications of techniques. It is working as an inventor or as an alchemist to cast in moulds non-existent and seemingly impossible concepts so as to create new ideas. Risks of breakage, meltdown or collapse are incurred and so are part of the artistic idea. Working on the dangerous brink between the possible and the impossible, just before the sheet breaks, collapses or melts, is the essence and the moment when the object comes into existence. In the tedium of the slowness and endless repetition, the risk of failure concentrates the mind. When these challenges and seemingly insuperable possibilities become ‘normal’ and so routine, it is time to explore new borders.

Granulation has long been part of my work in different ways – as a construction method, where the little bead-like balls build objects, and more recently as part of the surface, where the hammered object and the granulation come together. In neither case are the granules used in pre-decided patterns, but rather the patterns grow organically, completely filling the surfaces. The decision as to where the little balls should go is always made at the time, during the granulation process, when they are fused to each other or to the object. While striving for a degree of virtuosity, granulation also provides inspiration on other levels. Its essence, namely the granules formed from molten metal and the fusion of minuscule parts to form a larger entity, goes beyond technique and is magnified as a sculptural and poetic idea. Despite the quest for minimal or modest beauty, ornamentation accounts for a substantial part of the object. It builds the object, the granules are remnants of the production process or the ornamentation is the concept and so by definition not decorative.

Eventually those ideas and experiments are selected and elaborated into an object where they exude a degree of stillness and have a natural obviousness as if there is no other way of making the work. Forms are reduced to their essence, and though they sometimes suggest a particular use as a vase, bowl or dish, functionality is not the aim. The object’s intention is sculptural, and the result of fundamental research and those principles determine the status of the work.

Decisions about an object’s format and proportions, about the relationship between the thickness and the size of the work and about the space the form takes up physically and the space inside it are directly linked to the challenge of making it. Here, too, the work is taken to the brink, and there is always an attempt to make it larger, thinner or heavier – and so also more daring. Poetic quality in questions, such as how the smallest possible mass of material can occupy the largest possible volume, is demonstrated beyond the idea, in the executed, tangible piece.

In this journey, which is difficult to retrace, Piet and Nadine Salens-Kegels identified a leitmotif. Over the years, they have put together a collection which elucidates the different phases of my work, from the first sets of dishes to the most recent pieces. The collection also provided the inspiration for this book, which gives an almost complete overview of my silverware and summarises a large chunk of my artistic life to date.

David Huycke