AN ART ESSAY
MIRIAM HANID is an artist silversmith. In 2016, she was interviewed by ROSALIND PEARMAIN for Heartfulness Magazine about her art and her motivations. Five years later, they catch up again to find out more about Miriam’s journey, and where her art has taken her.
Q: The last time we reflected on your work it was in 2016. Looking at your website, you have been so busy since then, continuing to create so many exquisite works of sheer beauty. How have you sustained this output?
MH: Wow, time flies! Thank you, it’s always nice to receive good feedback about my work! Many factors come to mind about how I have sustained my output, but I would say the main ones are rest, motivation, and beauty. While these words may not seem to be closely linked, they all work together for me. It is extremely difficult to be motivated without proper rest. Working at an optimal level, the best possible, work seems more like play and the end of the day comes as a surprise. The work is so enjoyable, and one is completely absorbed in it. I believe that leads to great rest.
As the days and months pass, when reflecting on my career so far, I often look back on the most productive times with much amazement. But I have found myself overlooking the times of non-doing – those necessary inner periods when I’m just resting, relaxing and absorbing all that is going on. I now know that these are the opportunities where inspirational seeds can poke their heads above the surface to see what the conditions are like for growth. If my motivation is replenished (more on that later), and I can nourish those seeds, I can catch many new ideas for silver pieces, textures, forms and patterns which then come into being.
Working in precious metal is laborious, particularly chasing and engraving, my two signature techniques. The metal demands care, attention, and precision at every step. Nothing can be rushed, or it ends up taking longer to correct mistakes.
The driving force behind any work, whether the physical sculpting of the silver, or planning and designing, is undoubtedly motivation. There are countless books on how to find your “why power,” the reason why you do what you do. If the mental or emotional “why” is strong, the physical work will fall into place and become easier. To brighten up someone’s spirit, to give a gift of hope, to surpass my past performance, to thank the universe and all the people in it for all the things I’ve learned so far, and to express them in a creative expression of gratitude, I find myself going back to my why at times of difficulty. It is hard to put into words, but I think this is where beauty comes in. The expression and gift of beauty is probably my biggest why.
John O’Donohue writes in his book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, “When we feel and know and touch the beautiful, we feel that we are at one with ourselves – because in some subtle and secret way, beauty meets the needs of the soul. The Earth is full of concealed beauty,” and all we are doing in art is revealing it from the depths of our consciousness – and perhaps from the universal consciousness.
Q: Evidently, you continue to be inspired so much by the forces of nature, especially water, but we can see that you are also interested in many forms and patterns that you observe around you.
MH: I think the inspirations that attract me change and go through seasons. I feel I can always draw on water with its never-ending variety of forms and patterns, encompassing energy and movement which echoes the great flow of love all around us. I also like this to birth in different shapes and matters – those of botanical forms such as leaves, buds and flowers, wood, earth, stone and ice. I have realized more and more that the manner in which a subject is represented in any work is where the real richness lies. The clues around the subject, how it has been carefully and lovingly shaped and shaded, as well as represented or considered in the overall design, speaks volumes about what the artist is actually communicating with the receiver.
Q: I can see that Japanese traditional forms, such as Manga, are also resonant for your own work and giving you a new direction. Can you say more about how you came to this?
MH: I have always loved oriental art, from the time I studied it in my A levels and the influence it had on Art Nouveau, to coming across beautiful woodblock prints and books, such as The Grammar of Chinese Ornament, which has many visual motifs which excite me and subconsciously feed into my work.
When writing my latest blog post, “Oriental Inspired Works,” I explored pen and ink Manga with a natural theme after my creative communication assistant, Emma, suggested I look into it. I came across many striking examples of exquisite mark making, which I found very inspirational. I can see these feeding into my use of hand engraving, which uses a series of lines to create different visual effects on silver.
Q: Recently, there were some lovely BBC TV programs by the art historian James Fox about Japanese art. He pointed out how Japanese artists and craftsmen show a reverence and care for the materials they shape; for example, saws and planes are pulled rather than pushed across the wood by a master carpenter. They revere the spirit of the material they are working with, demonstrating the beauty of the humble and everyday object. I was wondering, do any of these strike a chord with you, too?
MH: I haven’t seen this series, but will definitely watch it. It sounds fascinating and seems a very natural way to work with the materials, which are so precious to us as craftspeople. Reverence and care are also very important to me when working with a precious metal – listening to it by observing the signs of stress and tension, and respecting these whilst being aware that the metal can be worked to its limit if treated with respect.
The Flower of Love Tumbler was a piece where I tried to stretch the metal a bit further than normal, and I’m very pleased with the result. I plan to continue in this way, refining as I go, and hopefully pushing more boundaries. There comes a point where it takes great motivation and vision to keep going. It is easy to stop and settle for what the piece may be at that moment, but I feel staying true to one’s own vision is important. This might equally entail knowing when to stop.
Q: You mention the significance of simplicity.
MH: This has become an element in my designs all by itself. Looking at my work, one may think that it is far from simple, however, an object can be meticulously worked by hand and also be simple in design. That is what I aim to achieve, not adding anything unnecessary other than the inherent theme which runs through the piece. Many of my pieces are quite busy, yet I aim to imbue each piece with a unified feeling so that the piece is inherently harmonious.
The chasing or engraving often follows the same trajectory of the initial shape of the silver piece, and they work in tandem with its nature rather than having a different flow. I feel this is the same for simple living, and it is one of the great insights of Heartfulness – to be plain, simple, and thus in tune with nature. For example, as the sun rises, we also rise; as it sets, we rest. We are in harmony.
Q: Are there any pieces you have been making that are most valued by you?
MH: Yes, the Cascade Loving Cup, which was my major commission for 2020 and was delivered in October, in between the lockdowns in the UK. A commission for the Clothworkers’ Company of London, the cup evokes a swirling piece of cloth and is deeply chased with draped fabric and yarn fibres. The piece took 800 to 1000 hours of chasing, working the metal from the inside and outside in order to achieve the depth. I collaborated with a fellow silversmith, Jenny Edge, who developed the design of the handles and made them. Working together resulted in this key aspect of the design, and a much more dynamic piece than I could have achieved on my own, particularly as Jenny’s specialty is anticlastic raising, by which the inner curves of the handles were formed. It meant she could bring a movement and synergy to the handles which complemented my chasing. The turned wooden models and maquettes made by my father, an engineer, also greatly help the realization of my designs.
The Mountain Incense Burner is another commission that I look back on with particular joy. After my Union Centrepiece was exhibited in the “Masterpieces of British Silver: Highlights from the Victoria and Albert Museum” in Hong Kong, a client who saw it asked me to design and make an incense burner. I really loved researching the mountainous terrain, the flora and fauna of rural Chinese landscapes in order to design the chasing on this piece. It is one of my most intricate pieces to date, and took considerable time to create. It remains one of my favourites.
Q: I see that you have also been hosting interns. How did you find that?
MH: It was a great summer of 2019, and looking back I value it even more! I really enjoyed the vitality, determination and enthusiasm of my two young students, Sana and Julius, from Paris and Vienna respectively. They asked to come and learn silversmithing and chasing from me, in two-month and one-month internships. Their aptitude and curiosity to learn and apply the techniques to their own work was really refreshing, and I really enjoyed having them in the workshop. We made a road trip to see the master engraver, Malcolm Appleby, in Scotland, and had a great time at a hand engraving symposium there. I have many fond memories of creating, designing, experimenting and sharing.
Q: How does Heartfulness affect your work?
MH: I would say that the practices of Heartfulness enhance my connection to my work, and transform it from something merely physical into a day-to-day and lifelong passion and personal practice. This cannot be put into words, but I would attempt to describe the process by saying, “If Heartfulness were not there, I would not be able to see in order to create.”
The inspirational people I’ve met through Heartfulness seminars and groups in the UK and around the world form a network of creative connections with beauty of spirit as a running theme. The exceptional talent and enthusiasm for their work of many Heartfulness practitioners – whatever form that work may take – has inspired and nurtured me throughout my career and life so far.
I should also say something about the times I find it difficult to carry on, when I feel depleted, tired, lacking in vision or clarity, or just can’t see the point of my work anymore. It’s my own regular Heartfulness practice that always reveals a helpful insight about the situation. That daily silent time with my Self brings forth new inspiration, energy, resources, and clarity. It supports my adventure in life generally, which then undoubtedly influences my silversmithing practice with a fresh perspective. This cannot be underestimated. It also confirms that without rest, motivation and beauty, I question whether any of my work would exist in the way it does today.
I found this quote, which is from The Creative Fire by Clarissa Pinkola Estés: “Because there must be a decline and a time of utter stillness, creativity can never be paradisical. It can never be utopia wherein it just flows and flows and flows with no maintenance, with no waiting periods. In everything manifest, there is vibrancy then decline followed by restoration.”
Q: What next?
MH: The effect of the current pandemic has marginally reduced my commissions, so, whilst working on various silver projects at a more relaxed speed, I have enjoyed exploring new techniques, working on a building conversion project with my father, spending more time supporting Heartfulness practitioners through various online programs and virtual meditation sessions, reading and gathering new inspiration.
I have also been having a slower pace of life, which, as I mentioned earlier, is very necessary. Thankfully, I have been fortunate to have consistent income from my work, which is very encouraging. My next project will be a Roses Beaker, as part of a collection of four beakers on the theme of the four nations of the UK – a concept which my client is commissioning from four different silversmiths. The climbing roses will be chased in my usual style and softly gilded with gold fading out from the centre of each flower.
In the long term, my husband and I have always dreamed of setting up a center where people can come to retreat from their busy lives, learn silversmithing and experience the rural beauty of Suffolk. It would be a creative sabbatical and a retreat from technology. I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds in the years to come and to exploring how we can bring this project into being in order to provide a space where interested people can slow down and open up the ground for inspirational seeds to grow.
Interviewed by ROSALIND PEARMAIN
Miriam has been working as a professional silversmith since 2008, creating pieces for private clients and public commissions, including the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, Eton College, New College Oxford, The Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Museum of Wales. Her work has been exhibited in numerous exhibitions internationally, including in the UK, Germany, Hong... Read more