Chess; it’s a serious game. For these two, the chess board is more than a game, it’s business and the accumulation of a long period of hard work. It’s a game of two halves for Phil Guy and William Romeril.
William is a silversmith who creates wonderful and ingenious silver pieces. For this project, the bronze chess set, he lent his hand to wax sculpting to create thirty two little fists; all pulling different gestures, and all representing a player on the chess board. Phil plays a necessary part in the process; to enable sculptors’ work to be turned from a wax sculpture into a bronze sculpture, it must be cast. Phil is a metalsmith, offering bronze and aluminium casting as well as other fabrications and restorations.
The beauty of their individual project work is that they lend themselves perfectly to each another; they both work with their hands and with various metal, silver and bronze materials. However, their roles in the field are different, and they ordinarily work entirely separately. The chess project is a great demonstration of artistry and collaborative business. Each man’s role supports the other, and although they’re both one-man bands, they have been able to use each other’s skills to further their own work.
William tells us that Phil is one of the people who influenced him and lead him to metal-work, showing him ‘some of the ropes’ when he started out. Phil’s partner, Kate, is also a metalworker. She’s worked as a blacksmith too and has been of great help and support to William throughout his artistry career, especially in the early days. She taught Will the foundation of skills in silverwork, putting him in a good position before he went to university. William and Phil have a clear friendship as well as business relationship, with William joking to Phil (and that this is the only time he’ll hear him say it);
“Phil, you have been invaluable to me”.
William initially avoided the term ‘artist’, instead characterising himself as a craftsperson. His plan after leaving school was to pursue a history degree, but after an opportunity to make a simple ring came his way, it changed his mind and he knew that silversmithing was for him. He’s never looked back. He completed an Art Foundation at Highlands and then went on to do a degree in Silversmithing, Goldsmithing and Jewellery at the University of the Creative Arts, Rochester.
Other than this bronze chess set, William holds a fantastic collection of other silver pieces, from jewelley to functional items and things that just make you laugh. He has won prestigious awards for his work. From an intricately designed pencil sharpener to a pencil holder that sits on the ear, his work is witty, ironic and funny. His work doesn’t take itself seriously even though it is seriously fantastic. William said he often finds inspiration by thinking about “what’s the most ridiculous thing I can come up with?”
When thinking about a new project or idea, Will has an idea of what he wants to make, and from experience knows how to adapt and work out the processes to get to where he wants to be with a project. The ingenuity of William’s processes and thinking is great, often creating his own jerry-rigged tools and equipment to form and shape things exactly how they need to be.
Phil has been in metal work for nearly forty years. He creates everything from large gates, furniture and stair cases to life-like apples and crow’s skull sculptures just centimetres long, He says he’s been heating and bending metal for a long time and his skillset covers a very vast spectrum. Like William, Phil thinks of himself as more of a man of craft, rather than an artist. “I’m am artisan, I’m a maker, I’m not trying to be an artist”. He’s not one to stop learning, continuing to add skills to his repertoire. Just two years ago, Phil took a course to learn how to create ceramic shell casts. By having the experience and understanding of working with metals, learning to cast wasn’t a completely new field for Phil. Since lending his artistic, maker’s hand to casting, he now successfully casts work on commission from artists and makers as well as making and casting his own sculptures.
The art of casting is just as important as the art of sculpting. It allows sculptures to be transformed into something that’ll last a lifetime, and it’s something Phil likes to find enjoyment in too, casting things from a walnut to a kitkat chocolate bar.
The process employed by the two uses a soft wax in which William intricately and carefully sculpts each piece, warming and cooling the wax to form it to the exact shape he wants it, and using his hands and tools to help create each indentation. Once William had hand-sculpted all thirty two pieces of the chess set, he entrusted it to Phil, who then assembled each little wax piece onto a wax rod, also known as a tree. Phil then dipped the wax figures into a ceramic slurry and then into a sand-like silica. This process was repeated many times, with about 24 hours between each dip.
It’s a lengthy five day process to prepare the wax figures to be transformed into bronze. When it’s ready, the entire ceramic shell, including the wax inside is put inside a kiln where the wax melts under the heat and the ceramic hardens, leaving it as an empty shell. This is where the bronze comes in. Phil takes molten bronze that has been heating in a furnace and carefully pours the bronze inside the empty cast, leaving it to take to and shape each and every tiny detail of Williams sculptures. The bronze settles into every small detail; You can even see part of Williams finger prints that were left in the wax.
There are many steps and variables in the process and a lot that can go wrong, but with experience comes understanding. Just as William knows when he is happy with his sculpted pieces, Phil can look at the molten bronze and know when it’s just right to pour. And therein lies the symmetry of their understanding; chess mates.