Profile: Maya Selway

love it when design plays subtle tricks on you. Wood that looks like porcelain. Metalwork that looks like lace or sea creatures. Tyvek that looks like silk.

But silver that looks like…a line drawing? That’s what took my breath away about Maya Selway’s work, first spied by Pete Harris as part of the Origin show during the recentLondon Design Week.

Ethereal, contemplative, gentle. Spare, pure, and of course, beautiful. These are words that people have used to describe the Kishu Collection (as Maya calls these delicate pieces.)

I call those pieces bold, audacious, profound and powerful (and all those other words as well.) To refine work to mere lines (and not even all of them) is just so gutsy when the instinct for so many artisans would be to show off every virtuoso skill acquired over the years. Brava.

We got to spend a little time with Maya after back-to-back and very different shows–Origin (younger, edgier) and more established, traditional (but still invitation-only) Goldsmiths Fair (the Goldsmiths Company first received its royal charter in 1327). She’s got both craft and design in spades, this says. We like that.

We also like that she’s quick, passionate and sounds like she’s having a helluva good time.

Where are you from, originally? Proper East End London girl born and bred. I still live there.

How did you get into silversmithing? In her house, my grandma had a room we used to call  The Tip. It was wonderful, filled with all kinds of things…and lots of things I could play with. I could just lose myself there. I think that’s where it all originally started–working with my hands at least. And it also got me fascinated with the physical properties of things.

But why silver? Metal always feels hard and soft, strong and pliable. I really think it’s the duality that’s so intriguing. There are just so many possibilities.  They get under your skin, and become part of your consciousness.

How does that actually play out? I really do think in the language of metal. If I imagine a form or a texture, I’m thinking about how that would take shape in metal, what that would look like and feel like, and how I would achieve it. It’s instinctive now. Some people think in lots of media…I think in metal.

Did you go straight from school (Camberwell) into your own studio? No! I didn’t think I could do that. So I did prop making for 3 years in theatre. What kind of prop work? I was doing ridiculously massive metal work.

THEN you went out on your own. Yes. And now I’ve been doing this kind of work 4 and a half years.

So how did that work? After Camberwell, and after working at the theatre, I did a residency at the Bishopsland Educational Trust. This is an intensive year of post graduate training and really helped me develop the business side of how to start a creative career;  things like marketing, how to exhibit, how to manage your accounts, that kind of thing. That really helped.

How did the theater experience shape what you’re doing now? Obviously the scale is so different. You know, I never felt restrictions either way!  I found I could jump from one thing to the other pretty quickly and easily.

But I’m really intrigued…it’s not just about skill, understanding metal, being able to work with your hands. There’s a deep deep artistic talent there. Where do you think that came from? Well there is some art in my family. My father is a painter (he does portraiture and landscape). I’ve always loved painting. I drew a lot as a child.

OK so tell me how this amazing Kishu series came about? For me, Kishu is the relationship between 2 and 3 dimensions. I play with perspective and distorting reality and scale, as I suppose I did in theatre…But also wanted to create something just beautiful and simple that would move people. (And it does!)

You do both jewelry and objects. Have a preference? I like doing both, but I do love doing objects.

Well your jewelry is just as stunning as the objects. I’m a little obsessed with your technique–how do you get something that’s clearly so refined look so rough? Again, it plays with your perception. The technique is called dust fusing, fusing is a technique which uses controlled, sustained heat to permanently bond like metals together, gold silver dust can be joined in this way.

…I have lots of jars with that…infuse it into material, instead of selling it back. Lovely.

I see definite Asian and in particular Japanese influence in your work. But what else is there? Italian painters and in particular the still life of Giorgio Morandi, who obsessively painted the same objects over and over again. Also I am influenced by Giacommetti, Jean Baptiste Chardin, works of the Renaissance. I think you could say that I’m really interested in classical painting.

But honestly I find influences everywhere…just thinking about the objects that have surrounded me gets me inspired. It can be a rusty table, or Buddhist philosophy. I’m happy to take it from any source.

So talk a little about process. Do you sketch? Actually no. Sometimes I sketch but usually it’s words to metal.

Words? Yes. I usually have some sort of idea in my head, but often I start by listing words, or creating a spider diagram on a blackboard. Then I put them into a little animated film.

Very cool. How long does this take? Is it quick and do you scribble madly or do you wait for ideas to percolate? It’s normally over several days and yes it’s quite an odd process for a dyslexic. I use really mad frenetic spelling…So I don’t show my word animations! Then when I feel I have something strong….I start. In art college they’re all about modeling, but I never saw why. I think in metal as I write.

How many words do you start with? I start with 30-50 words, which I normally distill down to about 3.

So now you have a studio at Cockpit Arts. It’s been phenomenal. Cockpit Arts are a social enterprise with 165 designers makers, one in Holborn, one in Deptford. They offer studios, do events, and they offer business support to all makers (and also to the wider public).  It’s wonderful. I find myself wandering around; we show each other work, we talk through choices. Sometimes we do shows together, and sometimes collaborate with each other on projects.

What you listen to as you work? Bach, a little jazz like Miles Davis or Pergolesi.

Name a moment of transcendence. I think it must be the first time I made one of those little bowls…I didn’t know what it was until it was done.

Great moments also come from showing the work to people. One time, I had a lady cry…to be able to give that feeling to someone was overwhelming. People have an emotional response to the work. I don’t know…they just tend to repeat…it’s just so beautiful. It’s just a feeling of overwhelm.

Who would play you in the movie of your life? Marion Ravenwood Jones in Indiana Jones!

What’s the best gift you’ve received? A bowl by another maker–Alex Ramsay. Small glass bowl that I enjoy every day. I absolutely treasure it.









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