Brother and sister team Nile G. and Michelle Fahmy of Salt Lake City’s Tattooed Tinker Studio received the 2014 Eric Berg Prize for Excellence in Metal.
How did you first get interested in working in your medium?
We’re siblings and we shared a lot of experiences growing up together. From an early age, we were both fascinated by craftsmen, by people who could make masterful things out of virtually nothing. But the people who always captured our imagination the most were those who hammered metal. The resistance of the material, the force generated by the smith, the deliberate striking of the hammer blow — all of these things were magical to us. The skills we witnessed overwhelmed us as being too rarified, too elevated to be attained. And yet, the simplicity of the tools and the availability of the materials whispered a different message: that we could be smiths, too.
What is special about the medium you work in? How does it inform the work you create?
There are many artists who identify with having either an additive or a subtractive process — adding material to or taking material away from a final form. Our work is metamorphic.
We begin our process with a piece of sheet metal and we end our process with a finished vessel. All that we add is our labor, and all that we take away is a drive to further perfect our technique. The faces of our hammers and stakes, the clarity of our vision, and the strength of our bodies are co-conspirators in our creative process. The metal is quiet compared to the influence of these factors. It rarely has an opposing view. In contrast, a particular hammer might clamor for attention and beg to be used. It is this dynamic that guides us through our work. Listening to the tool, feeling the inspiration, and acting upon an otherwise unassuming material until it becomes something more.
What do you love about your workspace or studio?
Without question, the hammer rack holds a place of honor in our studio. The hammers rest in the rack with their faces all turned toward our shared work area. The handles of the hammers are all different lengths and different colors, but lined up in the rack they appear like keys on a keyboard, or like some strange xylophone waiting to be played. The sounds of the hammers entering and leaving the rack are the soft percussive rhythm of a productive workday. And when the work falters or the vision wavers, it is the silence of the hammer rack that promises a solution—the rows of hammer faces, lined up, willing to inspire, and ready to restore the heartbeat of the studio.
What was the inspiration for a recent piece?
Our most recent series of vessels is inspired by the simple elegance of a dancing couple. The Dance series allows the viewer the space to have an emotional response to a single line of a piece without distraction. It’s not a series that overpowers with displays of technical prowess; it’s not an overly full canvas. It’s the slightly imperfect balance of two people meeting in dance, each having one foot perched forward and one back—the subtle, non-uniform spin of a pirouette that never makes it onto a stage; the grandeur of quiet love and compromise played out to the music that no one else could hear. And so far, we have been very pleased with the response the series has received.
Can you share a personal highlight of the 2014 PMA Craft Show?
There was a couple who visited our art booth several times. They were clearly debating the merits of particular pieces in which they were interested. They would quietly chat, depart, return, and chat again. We can't recall how many return trips they made, but finally they returned to purchase one of our pieces. When they indicated which one they wanted, they said, “we want you to know that we only collect glass.”
They had come to this prestigious art show intent on glasswork. They were collectors of glass artists. Glass is an amazing medium, and it is one that we both greatly admire. But our metalwork looks nothing like glass. It was significant to us that our artwork had captured them both. That they had looked beyond their preferred medium and found a place for metalwork in their collection. It was a highlight of the event for both of us.