I was born in Spain in 1954 to an English father and Spanish mother. From a child I had a natural talent for drawing and painting, but my education was such that Art & Design were never subjects that figured on my radar. I was quite good at science and languages and given that it was the late 60’s/early 70’s I was streamed accordingly. However, it wasn’t until a careers advice interview during my A levels, when asked why I wanted to go to Imperial College to study Geology, and I answered ‘’because of the colours of the gem stones’’, that I realised it wasn’t for me, and left it at that (not that I got the required grades anyway!). This didn’t mean than I knew what I wanted for a career.
I had always been quite good with my hands, and I had a friend, Rosie, who made jewellery in Cambridge, and she showed me the rudiments of working in silver. I was captivated, bought the basic tools, and started making stuff in my mum’s garage. Through another friend I started attending jewellery classes at an adult education institute in Woking, Surrey, under Tom Saddington and his wife Vicky Hind – it was brilliant, and they suggested that I should go to Art School. I didn’t even know what Art School was, let alone where to apply, so I found out which was the best for jewellery design, and gave them a call. It was Central School of Art in Holborn, and they were very encouraging when I went up to see them. They wanted me to do a foundation, so I went along the corridor, and talked to that department; they wanted to see some drawing, so I did some in my lunch breaks at work, applied, and was accepted on the course. This all sounds terrible trite, but that’s the way it was.
The one year foundation course was a real eye opener, and I really loved it, but even then there was pressure to go into painting or sculpture. I stuck to my guns and went to the jewellery school under Brian Wood and Ron Stevens – it was a course that might as well have been tailor made for me. I was thirsty for knowledge and count myself very lucky to have been studying at a time when resources were so plentiful; there was a desire to take every opportunity that came my way to learn new skills and it helped that I was a little older and had to work to pay my way through college. Colour was very important to me, and I experimented with lots of different materials, but in the end it was enamel that really captured my imagination. It has the ability to capture so many moods – subtle, passionate, electric, you name it, and with a degree of difficulty, unparalleled in metalsmithing, guaranteed to satisfy even the most ardent masochist.
When I finished at Central there was pressure on me to go to the RCA, but although I’d had a great time, I was pretty fed up with being a student. I set up on my own and to help with my own work, I did a lot of enamelling for other people; that really taught me a lot – you had to sink or swim – and was able to work on pieces that were way beyond my financial means to make, but I think I also brought something of myself to their work. I also had some great commissions which all helped to strengthen my reputation, and I was very lucky to be given a one man show at Garrard in 1995. In effect I was sponsored to make anything I wanted for 2 years, which really fast tracked the development of my work in silver, both from a technical and design point of view, and was a huge springboard for the work I do now. Although I am well known for my work in enamel on silver, at heart I am still a jeweller, and I very much see my silver as jewellery for the home.
When it comes to the work itself, almost anything can trigger my imagination. The Natural World is obviously a huge source of inspiration, but I still respond to abstract concepts and elements of comedy often creep into my work. I have been known to incorporate personal jokes in to a piece without telling the client and leaving it to be discovered (sometimes years later). Importantly, I like ideas that have depth and layers of meaning which are personal to me, as if I’m telling myself a story. I also like to try and achieve a lightness of touch or feeling of spontaneity that disguises an inherent difficulty or the hundreds of hours it has taken to produce.
I have really had to ignore most of what I was told about enamel – to do what I do now I have had to create my own way of working. Traditional techniques have their place, but I wanted more and I do expect a lot from the medium. More information about my technique can be found on my website at www.fredrichenameldesign.com. Routinely I sail a bit too close to the wind, but there is a kind of magic and excitement about not being quite in control. To spend so many hours focused on one single outcome and then find that all your endeavours come down to two firings is a huge ask.
Ultimately, the birth pangs of creation will lead down new paths – I think the relationship between artist, the piece, and the client is very important, and what I often forget, obsessed with the minutiae of making, is how much pleasure the pieces give other people.