Catching Up with Future Heritage Alumni: Gavin Keightley

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Future Heritage holds a special place at Decorex. This integral component of the show displays collectible items by talented makers to boost their profiles and share their extraordinary work with the world. This year, as we move towards virtual, Future Heritage will remain a focus of pride on our platform until it can return to its physical form. Headed up by Corinne Julius, curator of Future Heritage, only the most daring and creative craftspeople are chosen to exhibit, many of whom use extraordinary processes to accomplish their masterpieces. 

Decorex caught up with Future Heritage Alumni member, Gavin Keightley, to discuss his memories of exhibiting as a maker at our design show in London. Keightley’s work ranges from ceramics to furniture, and usually tends to involve experimental methodology. He divulges to us the joy he finds in learning through doing and using pewter.  

Gavin Keightley Future Heritage Alumni

“I’m not shy about using colour and I don’t envision my pieces sitting within any particular interior or landscape, for me it’s about using colour to make people feel something different within themselves.” - GAVIN KEIGHTLEY   

 

DECOREX: What do you tend to make and why?  

GAVIN KEIGHTLEY: I make functional objects, anything from furniture to ceramics. My focus has been on making pieces that encourage and enhance the interaction between object and person.  

D: What are your favourite materials to work with? You’ve previously worked with Jesmonite and Pewter – why? 

GK: I started off my career as a joiner, so wood will always be my first love. Each step of taking timber from plank to object is a sensory delight, the smell of the first cut always brings me joy.  

I adore working with clay too. I’m not great at throwing or hand-building really but it just feels good to get my hands stuck into a big lump of clay and try to turn it into something useful, it takes me back to my childhood. I’m much more comfortable with slip-casting, for me it’s a great way of experimenting with process and understanding how little changes can make a big difference to the final outcome. It’s like baking, tweaking a recipe over and over again until it’s perfect. 

Jesmonite is such a treat to work with. I had very little knowledge about what could be done with the material before I began working with it, which was a blessing. Having no preconception of its possibilities freed up my experimentation, I have tried to cast Jesmonite in some pretty unusual ways, and surprisingly it works more times than I thought it would. It cures quickly so I don’t have to wait long to see if my experiments have worked, but it can be quite stressful when it takes 3 days to make a mould and casting it takes less than 30 minutes. It is worth it for the thrill though, Jesmonite is never boring. 

 The characteristics of pewter make it perfect for trying something different, but most forms of metal casting require equipment and facilities that aren’t readily available, especially to someone who says they’d like to try something with an unknown outcome. So for me, pewter casting in my garden with very minimal investment in equipment (and PPE) means that I can try things that would make most people laugh. But without the ability to do and re-do an experiment I wouldn’t be able to get the final outcomes that make me happy. That’s why I use pewter. 

D: How important is process and experimentation to you? 

GK: I spend a majority of my time working on the process. Sometimes it’ll take me multiple attempts to achieve the outcome I want for a piece, but with every experiment I’ll learn something new about the materials I’m working with, so I like to see failures as research. The more research I do, the more my experiments seem to work. I try not to let my own aesthetic impact the final piece, my aim is to make a framework for the process and then let the material do the rest. Having an idea turn into an experiment is amazing, realising it has potential to make objects is just the best feeling. 

D: What made you turn to food elements (such as mashed potato and jelly) to create moulds for some of your collections – did you have any disasters when defining this method? 

GK: I was stuck on an experiment one day, and I had run out of materials to try. I needed a natural material that could be used as a mould to cast Jesmonite and would hold its shape during the cure. Once cured, the mould material had to be easy to remove and not leave any waste with a negative impact on myself or the environment. I had tried every single traditional material that I could think of, researching for alternatives took up most of my time. Then the answer came to me as I was making dinner one evening, I had left couscous steam for too long and it had held its shape as I went to remove it from the bowl. I knew that these were the kind of properties I was looking for in a material: that was the lightbulb moment that made me want to explore food as an alternative ‘natural’ material for mould making. 

Most of my initial experiments went horribly wrong, but after a while I began to understand how the properties of the mould would react with the casting material. The time when I tried to fill my former with 40 pints of liquid jelly didn’t go to plan initially, despite my best efforts to make it watertight there were pools of half-set agar jelly covering the studio floor. Luckily everything I used was pretty easy to clean up, I quite like the process of making a mess and cleaning it all up anyway. 

Gavin Keightley Future Heritage Alumni
                                                                                                     BLACK ROCK CABINET: JESMONITE CABINET WITH INTERNAL DRAWER

D: Is texture something that holds high importance in your work? Or is it simply a by-product of your creative process?  

GK: The textures are intentionally a by-product of the process, something being perfectly smooth has the same importance to me as something intentionally textured. When I look at an object and I like it, the next thing I want to do is touch it. I want to know if it feels like I imagined it to. 

These are things I love to explore in my work, I want to make people’s imaginations attempt to understand what they perceive and then play with reality. Texture and colour in combination can play tricks on the expectations of touch. 

D: To what extent do you consider functionality when designing your furniture pieces? 

GK: A piece must function as intended, but I want something more from my work. I have a favourite mug that I like to drink tea from, when I use this mug it makes me happy. I don’t use it all the time and it’s not the most practical, but it feels special when I drink out of it. If I can emulate this feeling between people and my pieces, I have a succeeded. This is what I consider to be valuable when I design my furniture. 

D:  How important is colour to you? 

GK: Colours and emotion are linked and the tether between them can split opinion. Bolder colours generate stronger reactions in people, I find this fascinating. I love playing with colour and seeing how it can change, how people interact with an object. I’m not shy about using colour and I don’t envision my pieces sitting within any particular interior or landscape, for me it’s about using colour to make people feel something different within themselves. 

D: Would you characterise your style as unconventional?  

GK: I design things with a series of methodical and calculated processes to generate outcomes, this seems quite conventional. I think all the bits in-between can get a bit unconventional sometimes; I don’t know how to make in any other way, I just do what feels right. It’s easy for me to get carried away and want to try an experiment that I can picture in my head, putting that idea on paper can make it sound ridiculous. Most of the time I’ll just do it and see if it works. Be brave. 

D: What new collections and projects do you have on the horizon? 

GK: I have a limited series of ceramic pieces that I’m currently working on. It’s still at an early stage but my first set of tests were fired recently, and I love the outcomes. Refining the process and upscaling takes a little time but it won’t be long before they’re done. I’m trying my hardest not to make anything big until I move into my new studio. The plan is to be set up by summer so I can work on a new furniture project. 

D: Are there any particular designers/ artists that you follow?  

GK: I’ll follow anyone who is doing something creative and their passion shows in what they do. I’ll spend ages looking into traditional crafts and trades, I’m currently obsessed with stonemasons and basket-weavers. There is something special about using very little apart from a raw material and your hands to make beautiful objects. 

Gavin Keightley Future Heritage Alumni
                                                                                              GAVIN KEIGHTLEY: COUSCOUS & POLYSTYRENE - JESMONITE CAST STOOL 

D: If you were represented by a piece of furniture, which one would you be and why? 

GK: I can honestly say I have never thought about this. I know that I have the personality of a hammock, a bit difficult to get used to at the start but once you’re in there’s nowhere else quite like it. 

D: What would you really like to do that you haven’t done to date?  

GK: I haven’t had the right opportunity to showcase my work outside of Europe yet, I’d love to do this. 

D: What did you get out of Future Heritage?  

Future Heritage gave me the opportunity to share the story behind my work with an audience that were truly appreciative of every detail and process. It provided a platform for me to showcase something different and pushed me to make pieces that I thought was beyond my ability. The positive feedback I received from the exhibition has given me the drive to continue working with a process-led methodology. For me, Future Heritage was as much about celebrating the work of the other participants as it was about celebrating my own. Getting a chance to exhibit alongside so many incredibly talented people is rare, having the time to get to know them and their work is something I will always cherish. 

To learn more about Future Heritage, and to discover work created by our alumni, view here.