Material Reflections

Oct 13, 2017 8:41PM

Enigmatic: this describes the work of Tom Palmer, an artist, master of material and developer of unique processes; descriptions of whose work oscillate between the fine and decorative arts and collectible design.

Guilded presents an Artsy exclusive, the first retrospective of Palmer's work, presented to you in an online format with film

Drawing on traditions of craftsmanship and material experimentation, Palmer finds inspiration in artistry and techniques from around the world, threading this with a fascination with natural systems, phenomena and the ephemeral. These he attempts to capture in materials which though sometimes natural, are more often profoundly unnatural and industrial in nature. He then combines these under conditions that force them to react with one another, thereby generating unexpected and uncontrived results.

His work includes mirrors, furniture, objects, wall panels and screens, yet each has a mysterious quality that belies its functionality. A table sculpture created by splicing and engineering antlers becomes a candelabra, and what appears to be a giant iris mounted on a wall morphs into a deep pool of reflective blue depending on the viewpoint of its convex form

Blackthorn Candelabra created by hand-engineering naturally shed antlers

Blackthorn Candelabra created by hand-engineering naturally shed antlers.

The key to understanding Palmer’s work is in his willingness to freely experiment without fear of failure. This gives him the freedom not just to pursue a vision but to take it past this into something sublime. In fact the willingness to work with materials beyond known boundaries, to adapt or develop new techniques in order to do so, and marry these with a unique creative vision are the essential ingredients to great work, whether that applies as an artist or engineer.

Hand chiselling three-dimensional pattern

Burning the surface


The finished Fallingwater Screen

Testament to Palmer’s approach are the extent of samples and experimental workings amassed in corners of his studio - this Aladdin’s cave contains evidence of days spent mastering water-silvering, or attempts to work out the optimum techniques to achieve optical effects with lenses and resins. There is an irresistible quality to every raw material or iteration of an idea in his studio, each representing a journey that has ultimately culminated in a sublime end-result.

I recall first being introduced to Palmer by artist Sophie Coryndon in 2013. At the time he was a go-to for prop makers and decorative antique dealers who approached him to work his magic on everything from the display of grand tour plasterwork to creating feathered wings for music videos. However it was obvious on seeing what was then an early version of a Constellation mirror that here was an artist who had a unique blend of material, technical mastery and limitless potential. It was time to support this exceptionally talent to make under his own name.

The original Constellation mirror - a sublime work of a master of liquid processes including water-silvering

The model with which Guilded works has been ideally suited to Palmer’s predilection for constantly developing new ideas. At any time only one piece of a new iteration is completed and offered for sale. However, it also offers a stimulus to the art collector or interior designer. Recognizing that no room has the same proportion, light or furnishing, Guilded encourages enquiries for custom commission: to achieve the perfect relationship between the work and the space it will inhabit. On the simplest level a client can order a custom made piece to suit the proportion of their space, however Palmer’s work is primarily about techniques, therefore he welcomes applying them to an entirely bespoke design across composition, orientation and colour.

A custom mirror conceived in scale and colour to harmonise, pull together and reflect a fully furnished room belonging to a client in the US.

Recent work has focussed on reflectivity. Having devised a combination of water-silvering and hand tinting and pouring resins, Palmer has developed a series of mirrors which play with the notion of reflective appearance. A personal favourite is his huge cast resin lens Aegean Iris. Depending on the angle from which one approaches the piece it is read as an eye, a giant convex mirror or pool of deep blue. Drawing closer it is as though one is quite literally looking into an eye, finding yourself and your surroundings reflected yet altered through curvature. One is caught between looking into the piece and looking back at oneself.

Such an experience is reminiscent of the work of Richard Wilson whose work 20:50 (created by placing the viewer at the centre of a mesmeric mirrored space created with the use of sump oil) is the only permanent installation in the Saatchi Gallery in each of its venues since 1991. Palmer’s work is likewise mesmerising and confounding, offering an altered perspective on, and experience of surroundings, while above al being beautiful.

A Michelangelo moment

This online exhibition ‘Material Reflection’ includes Palmer’s full inventory of work, providing a retrospective to date of his career since bursting upon the art and design scene in his own name. I invite you to enjoy perusing this retrospective and invite you to enquire upon the custom potential for you and your space.

Charlotte Bowater - Guilded Founder

Please note studio visits are by appointment. Guilded will be showing Tom Palmer at COLLECT, the International Art Fair for Comtemporary Objects, staged at the Saatchi Gallery in London, 22-25th February, 2018. Please email [email protected] for further information and tickets.