Thursday 09 October 2008
Andrea Hargreaves talks to Peter Greenfield about his work
A square, somewhat Gaudi-esque, mirror framed with carved-out profiles sitting in an MDF substrate was made by Peter Greenfield to hang in the kitchen of his family home in Wantage, Oxfordshire. In the living room are antique tables he has restored. The tools of his varied craftsmanship live in his workshop garage, from the ceiling of which are suspended windsurfers - his father's - and a canoe - his. Shelves above his workbench contain examples of pieces in progress and elaborate prototypes he is developing.
But are they principally turnings or carvings? In fact Peter is reluctant to label himself turner, furniture designer/maker/restorer or carver, although he is all of those, for he regards those separate disciplines as a means to an end; doing what is necessary to achieve his vision, whether that be designing a hall stand embellished with slate, fitting out a canal boat or turning an exhibition piece with integral carved details.
Now 27, he has been a self-employed woodworker for the past two years, having learnt his skills at York College, studying cabinetmaking and antique furniture restoration, followed by a furniture restoration degree at Bucks college, High Wycombe.
"Furniture restoration is a good way of learning hand skills," he says.
He took up turning after seeing it demonstrated in college, buying himself a 1950s' Fortis metalworking lathe. Even now his machinery only amounts to a bandsaw, a pillar drill and a circular saw.
"I could do with a bit more equipment but haven't got the room," he says, adding that having to work in the limited space of a garage has taught him to manage with what is available.
Therapeutic"I find turning quite therapeutic - when it goes right," he says, showing me examples of work he has recently shown at Craft Movement exhibitions in London, in Richmond-on-Thames and Chelsea.
As I admire his Indent bowls in ash, lacewood and bubinga - wavy -edged, thin and studded with round shapes - he explains his rationale: "Most people think wood is quite rigid but the thinner the material the more flexible it is."
So as a trained furniture designer does he draw his designs first? "No, I don't draw, I just do it," he says, explaining that the finished piece will also have evolved from his original thought.
Much of his work has either detail or the interior painted a stark white. "I like to paint to show off the form rather than have the grain confusing it. The hollow forms are painted white to lighten them."
Particularly unusual are his pieces inspired by amphitheatre construction. "I got the idea from visiting an amphitheatre when on holiday in Spain," he recalls. "It's to do with the dynamics of turning, trying to give the idea that you can still have movement in what is apparently a rigid form. "It's turned to double thickness and cut out in a series of steps, each of which references to the one above, with no mill overhang. It's anchored in one place for stability."
On his workshelf is an incomplete piece that put me in mind of an exploded eyeball hollowed from sycamore. Emerging from its interior is a mass of white-painted Superman-Krypton-like wood bandsawn into irregular stick-like shapes reminiscent, where they break free of the confines of the 'eye', of TV aerials. "It's a meeting of turning and carpentry," he explains.
The avant garde nature of this work is strangely at odds with his finer, or more traditional pieces, like a hollow bowl in cherry resembling a conker. "The oval shape came about by accident," he recalls. "It was meant to be circular, with a natural edge."
An ash bowl with a V-shaped indent has scrolled edges so delicate you want to try to unfurl them as a child might a young leaf. The edges are cut out, then carved out, using the traditional carving skills Peter learnt at college.
ExhibitionsAt present he is selling his work at craft exhibitions. "You can meet people and it's nice to see their reactions to what they've bought."
He takes along a range of pieces, from small turnings to furniture, and ranging in price from £10 to several hundreds of pounds. For instance, Peter sells small hollow forms from £10 and a scrolled dish for £245.
"I get commissions from exhibitions. Usually people want something similar to what they've seen. People don't want mass-produced items which everyone else has got. They want something unique.
"I want to work towards having a solo exhibition, but that needs a big body of work."
Given that much of his turned work is delicate, with pretty, fluted, floppy-appearing, edges - some bowls in olive wood particularly take my eye - he reckons to get seven or eight out of every 10 to work. "Technical experience is very important, how you mount the work on your lathe."
So who is he influenced by? "Bert Marsh especially," he says. "Gaudi, Barbara Hepworth..."
And what about woods? "I try to use native woods - ash and sycamore for instance - and I would never use exotics. I try to use reclaimed wood whenever possible," he says, pointing out a natural-edged hollow form in cherry with beautiful figure. "It's better for the environment and you get a better piece of wood, of a better thickness."
The futureSo, as a young maker, where would he like to be in five years' time? He looks around the double garage - comparatively tidy with well-ordered work spaces - as I shiver in the icy blast of wind ripping underneath the gap at the bottom of the up-and-over door, and muses: "I would like my own workshop with enough room to display work to the public. That makes work cheaper for the public as gallery fees and craft fairs are pretty expensive."
Meanwhile he is happy to use his cabinetmaking skills to supplement his income as a wood artist, furniture designer/maker and restorer, and had just fitted out the interior of a canal boat on the Oxford Canal.
His exhibition work reveals elements of turning and carving. Which is he? Peter is reluctant to commit. "Turning is a means to an end," he says, "and I use whatever tool is expedient." And that is a response that should strike a chord with artist-turners everywhere.