At her New York opening last year the Curator said to me ‘Wendy‘s astonishing’; she had conquered him with her Picasso’s Ladies. Picasso himself may be almost old news in part of the world, but in Wendy’s hands her jewels inspired by his ladies suddenly made him seem red-hot. At her sixtieth birthday party opening, also last year, in Pallant House, Chichester, another Curator told me ‘It’s sheer delight’. He had fallen for the clusters of birthday cakes made by Wendy and her daughter Miranda Watkins. They were an extraordinary fantasy of chocolate and gold, white and purple, some sprouting feathers, some real and succulent to eat, all of very witty. They were quite unlike any other cakes ever seen, and Wendy, a good cook, had dreamed up this Installation with Miranda, as joint artists in residence, to brighten the distinguished Georgian rooms. We all know that academic experts dislike superlatives, but these museum friends cannot resist Wendy.
I think the secret of Wendy’s success is her perpetual youth, her intoxicating appetite for change. Who would have thought she would have cut the steel screens she installed in the V&A Museum in 1997 not with acetylene, but with jets of high pressure water, just to show the excitement and joy of new technology. Now, for her Millennium exhibition, she has decided not to present a grand retrospective survey, but to make an exhibition containing a group of entirely new exhibits worked with a newly researched material coating called nanocrystalline diamond. Its thickness is measured in a scale of one millionth part of an atom, which may sound frightening until you begin to enjoy its provocative luminescent glow.
This year, she won the competition for the Millennium medals, organised by New Millennium Experience Company. One of these is the centrepiece of her show at CAA. It was presented to HM the Queen on 31 Dec 1999 for the dome opening celebrations. Other medals are destined for the Prime Minister, and Heads of State who visit the Millennium Dome at Greenwich, distinguished recipients of a marvellous creation. Wendy’s medal designs were partly inspired by the architectural drawings for the dome. But the Queen’s medal is a unique concept.
Its central form spins with uncanny precision. The stainless steel disc is held between two half spheres of zerador, a transparent, totally inert ceramic now being used in the latest generation of telescope to explore the universe. The chemically milled disc is coated with nanocrystalline diamond (NCD), a process at the forefront of medicine and electronic technology developed in Poland by Professor Stanislaw Mitura. The universe is represented by two 18-carat gold rings to suggest eternity. Two optical glass domes complete this astonishing mix of materials, combining modern science and ancient hand skill. He medal is a glimpse into the future, worthy of the New Millennium. To hint at the richness of its invention have used words like filigree, stars, precision, reflection, elegance and understatement. Most of all I have to use the word ‘brilliant’ about the treatment of light, the originality, the manufacturing skill and yes, the artist herself.
I am not alone in this assessment of wend. Last year she made the Columbus Screen for Canary Wharf, Time Piece for the restorations of the Victorian theatre foyer Reading, street furniture at Eton made but not yet installed, and she was elected a Royal Designer for Industry at the Royal Society of Arts, and a Fellow of the London Institute. And she participated in at least six big exhibitions. And she sold a jewel to the V&A Museum in London, and another to Aberdeen Art Gallery in Scotland. And she has half a dozen large commissions on her books. Good going for a person in one year!
In her youth she once told me she dreamed of being an artist. The word ‘craftsman’ is too often used with the word ‘humble’, however fine the work; and craftspeople themselves are too often dismissed, however successful they may have been, whilst contemporary artists retain their fame posthumously. Wendy has now proved, if proof were needed, that she is a true artist. Her steadily increasing major commissions are a material sign of her changing social position. She has leapt over the artificial chasm which wrongly separates craft from art, and all makers admire her for doing so.
- CAA Exhibitions