Behind the scenes with RubinoWilson and Luke Fuller at Grandey's Place Heritage & Craft Centre in Hertfordshire
There's some serious design work happening on the hill between Bishop's Stortford and Much Hadham. In the last of an occasional series showcasing the community of talented craftspeople at Grandey's Place Heritage & Craft Centre in Green Tye, Helen Miller spoke to three artists and makers with big design ideas...
Leading British design duo Daniela Rubino and Lauren Wilson, who specialise in designer metal work and mould making, are upstairs on the mezzanine level of their double-height workshop, organising their Instagram posts, when I drop round.
It's a cool day and the garage-style rolling door that conceals the ground-floor workspace where they weld metal and mould concrete and other materials into beautiful and functional objects is shut tight against the prevailing wind. Their adorable rescue pup Ravioli scampers down the stairs, tail wagging wildly, pursued by Lauren apologising for the exuberant doggy welcome. Daniela shouts hello from the gallery above.
Together these two artists and makers are RubinoWilson, a young partnership with a creative catalogue of impressive breadth and depth who are only in their third year of collaboration. The most eye-catching part of their portfolio so far is Collection 1, their limited-edition range of bespoke metal and concrete-moulded furniture.
The design part of the business is called Studio Enyo after the terrifying and formidable Ancient Greek goddess of war. So, should I be scared? They both laugh out loud.
"Beware the dog, she's trained to kill!" jokes Daniela. "No. We wanted to name it after someone solid, powerful; an icon, I guess."
"We like the idea that we're women working in a male-dominated industry. You shouldn't mess with us, basically!" adds Lauren with a grin.
"It's reflected in the furniture too," says Daniela. "The furniture's strong, it's solid, it's built to last. And it's made well, it's considered. You're not going to buy it from IKEA and throw it away."
Collection 1 is the pair's first foray into furniture design. Their pieces are constructed using mild steel frames and combine industrial materials with luxury textiles. Each piece is designed to be both sculptural and elegant and to accommodate instinctive resting postures such as kneeling and reclining. Their next foray, Collection 2, is due to launch this summer.
Making and designing run through the pair like letters in a stick of Brighton rock. They are fizzing with ideas, using their eponymous website rubinowilson.com to sell their designer household goods, such as a brilliant (if brutalist) Don Piero cheese knife, which Daniela describes as "a little villain… well, he thinks he is but he's really a sweet guy!"
"The furniture is priced highly because that's what it's worth," explains Lauren. "The reason we have a range of homeware products is to reach more people. The things we design are functional. For us it's about taking pleasure in objects you use every day but having a beautiful version of that."
Another big part of their business is fabrication which means making something for someone else, whether in industry or sculpting. Sculptors, for example, may have a vision of what they want to make but lack the skills to turn that vision into reality; after all, not many people are handy at welding.
One of RubinoWilson's career highlights so far is a fabrication for Grayson Perry. Inspiration Lives Here is a two-metre-wide metal lamp in the shape of a row of houses, which is now on permanent show in the central courtyard of A House for Artists in Barking.
The Instagram posts Daniela and Lauren are working on are all part of running a modern business. Most of the makers at Grandey's Place run courses in their respective crafts to supplement their income; Daniela and Lauren run an entire teaching platform in subjects as diverse as casting in pewter and resin, mould making and welding.
"We both want to make our skills accessible to the public, but the classes are also a way of funding our design practice," says Lauren.
"No one pays us to be here designing things and there can be quite a large gap between designing and making something and someone buying it, so the teaching bridges the gap."
If all this isn't enough, they're also running a free mentoring scheme called Ore Projects, funded by Arts Council England, aimed at giving 16- to 25-year-olds in East Herts and West Essex the chance to become the creatives of the future.
What is clear amid this hive of industry is the strong dynamic between the two women.
"We support each other. We both have different strengths, different weaknesses, in different areas, and we try to play on that as best we can," says Daniela.
Round the corner from their workshop is a smaller ceramics studio occupied by Luke Fuller who, at 26, is presently the youngest artist in residence at Grandey's Place.
Luke is a multi-award-winning maker, who uses moulds he has created himself to produce hand-built sculptural forms in clay.
His inspiration is the impact of industrial processes on the natural world and his vision comes from the area around Port Talbot in South Wales "where the steelworks collide with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other".
His grandfather was a steelworker and his great-grandfather a coal miner and, although Luke is a Hertfordshire man himself, he still has close family ties to South Wales. He chose art school as a means of using his hands in a different way.
"I'm just someone who's interested in processes and ways of making, ways of thinking, understanding how things are made. That has always been my interest," he says.
The turning point was a visit to a decommissioned deep coal mine in South Wales. There he witnessed first-hand the cavernous underground miles of fissured coal that had been forcibly extracted from the earth; the reality of natural resources made unnatural by human intervention.
"When I saw the coalface, I was pretty stunned by the scale of it; it was sort of glistening in the dark," says Luke. "And then I started looking at sedimentary rock formations, which are produced by the layering of materials over time. I really liked that layering process so I wondered how I could incorporate that into ceramics."
After much experimentation, the result is his Faults series of clay sculptures. He uses layers of humble cardboard glued together to create a sturdy mould. Then clay is pushed into the stratified crevices and under-cuts inside the mould. The exterior cardboard is then burnt away in the kiln revealing the clay "rock formation" beneath.
"People refer to my work as 'natural' and 'organic', but it's not natural or organic," says Luke. "It's the result of all the processes that I've made. It's artificial. But I like the speculation about my work… I think that's the world we live in now, people trying to understand what's natural and what's not."
It's also why Luke is interested in the construction industry and the process of turning natural materials into man-made.
His Repointing series is inspired by how bricks were hand-made in the past. His pieces are created by slamming clay with some force into his own specially constructed wooden moulds. After firing, the clay is ground and polished with a diamond pad. The stippling effect comes from aggregate added to the clay.
Nearly three years on since he graduated with an MA from the Royal College of Art, Luke is doing well, selling his work through galleries, art fairs and exhibitions. His advice to other young people starting out in any field is do something you enjoy and have no fear about contacting people for help and mentorship.
"As long as you enjoy it and you work hard, you'll end up somewhere good," he says.
"And send those emails. I think sometimes people don't send enough emails and push people a bit more. Don't worry about what other people think. If they don't reply, they don't reply. But you've done your job."
Monthly tours of Grandey's Place are available. Enquiries about secondary school visits are welcome. See www.grandeysplace.co.uk for more information.