Helen Carnac is a maker, curator and academic who lives and works in London. Drawing, mark-making, the explicit connections between material, process and maker and an emphasis on deliberation and reflection are all central to her practice as a maker and thinker. An Internationally acclaimed enameller – she works with vitreous enamel on steel – it is the type of enamel used for domestic ‘white wear’ – including baths, sinks, pots and pans.
Carnac has a commitment to understanding where materials come from and how we may understand place through this. She is part of a group of artists who collectively meet as ‘Walking, Talking, Making’. Her philosophy of making may be broadly understood through this and she has run many thinking and making projects that begin and end with walking.
In 2009 Carnac was awarded a Cultural leadership fellowship in the Crafts in order to develop ideas about how the Crafts are communicated. She curated the National touring exhibition ‘Taking Time: Craft and the Slow Revolution’ in 2009 which opened at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and tours to 2011, covering eight venues. In 2006 She was co-chair for the Association for Contemporary Jewellery’s conference Carry the Can® which sought to develop ideas around sustainability in metals.
She is actively involved in developing dialogue within the Crafts having developed numerous talks and events for makers over the past five years. She is also a member of the quartet Intelligent Trouble who aim to develop ideas about collaborative making.
‘My primary material is metal and from this I take my position of understanding, of not just other materials but of the world that we live in…
Recently I learnt that many generations ago some of my maternal line of family were master engravers. I was taken aback by this and felt a certain recognition that one of my primary interests – scratching with metal on metal may be hard wired in me. This helped me think again about my compulsion in making to find and make marks’
Carnac’s vitreous enamel works are available from her South London Studio or please see stockists.
They can be purchased individually, in installation and Carnac also works to commission.
The vessels in this piece have been made during an intense period of making activity, in response to each other. Beginnings and endings overlapping – each a reflection of the other. The drawn base forms part of the process that initiates and binds the thinking and making of the marks. The wooden frame is made by furniture maker David Gates and is intended to once more reflect on the making process the construction being made explicit.
I have always considered drawing to be a most significant part of my work and intrinsic to my practice as a metalworker and enameller. Over the last ten years my work has developed markedly with over-riding concerns of line, mass and landscape continually recurring. I aim to develop new ways of working where the drawn image is the focal point in a union of two-dimensional and three-dimensional works. This ongoing series of work is an expression of my fascination with mark-making in both two and three dimensions. I aim to record not only my thought process but also the connection of hand, eye and mind in a non-verbal discourse, whilst highlighting the cyclical nature of my making process and the marks and rhythms of my drawing process, which resonate and confer with my object-making processes. Repetition of mark is key and enables me to focus. I work mostly with vitreous enamels on steel. My primary aim is to draw with the material leaning towards techniques such as sgraffito. The combination of materials and my drawing methods have led to an ongoing body of works that I find rewarding and demanding. Firing for the most part only once, areas of the panels are ground and abraded to a matt finish in places, allowing the steel substrate to oxidise naturally, creating new relationships with the enamel; a crossing point between control and chance.
This is what David says of the piece:
‘Helen Carnac had asked me to make the supporting work for her work that was to be shown at Collect, a series of vitreous enamel and steel bowls set on a large drawn and printed panel. The brief was “I don’t want a plinth!”, the resulting leg frame of pegged and lapped unfinished oak sections developed, and gained its own quiet autonomy in it’s making leading to something more of a collaboration than either of us had imagined at the start’