Hot Slag Foundry.
Exploring molten metal as a free-from process may be an art form you are not familiar with, but it is happening in Pembrokeshire right now.
Working in her Pembroke Dock mini foundry, Dawny transforms salvage and recycled aluminium into abstract and figurative art. Always fascinated by liquid dripping, Dawny started her Fine Art studies in painting , moving on to working with liquid plaster, which she then painted silver, but , after experimentation, found the medium for her – aluminium. Using tin cans (not ideal as you need a tonne to get just one bowl of metal), waste pots and pans, frames, engine parts, gear boxes and then wheels Dawny developed her own miniature crucible in a cast iron pot within an insulated oil drum. Latterly she has had a bespoke system built for her in her workshop studio and using propane gas she can now feed this with as many as 8 car wheels one after another to work with. The Hot Slag Foundry was created and Dawny has perfected the technique of keeping the molten metal at the crucial 660c temperature to work with – once the metal is the consistency of single cream she works fast and intuitively to create her designs in a bed of foundry sand. Too slowly, and the metal sets in the spoon , becomes like porridge and goes hard, but it can then be put back in the crucible and used again.
Initially Dawny would find her materials in skips and will still rescue a wheel if she spots one, but now she finds them dropped off at her premises or supplied locally. If the aluminium is in the form of bits of windows, pressure cookers or car parts she will be able to scoop out bolts and other unwanted bits and then cleans the remaining metal with magnesium powder to obtain the silver she loves to use. If this all sounds very dangerous, then be assured that this artist is dressed in protective gloves, jacket, apron and mask made from suede – she told us of an occasion when she was leaning over the heat, closed her eyes and found her mascara fused together so she then could not open them – Dawny also wears a bandana when working to make sure no sweat drips into the molten metal. She told of how she removes the slag from the top as the metal melts, to uncover the beautiful silver liquid beneath –
if angels made gravy that’s what it would look like!
The larger and free-standing pieces need to be welded together so Dawny attended a basic welding course with Mitie, and had also gained ideas from visits to the foundry in Clunderwen – this took great persistance as for months she was not allowed access, but eventually (after several bribes of pasties and cans of lager) she was allowed in for a few viewings – fascinated by the whole process, she eventually took their instruction to go away and get your own foundry quite literally…
. As well as the delights of her wonderful views across the Dock,Dawny is a regular traveller on the ferry to Ireland and takes inspiration from the water and swell of the sea , photographing the waves. One of the larger pieces weighs four stone and this art form is evidently a physical challenge as well as quite a challenge to exhibit.
Dawny published a portfolio of her work up to 2009, called Liquid Love, and is now almost ready to produce volume 2. I would recommend browsing through this to enjoy the astonishing range and diversity of Dawny’s work – it can be seen on Blurb publications – in addition to the art you can also enjoy the frequently changing hairstyles of the artist! We found the works such as the gorse trees, ingots and figures especially fascinating. An installation of figures in the window spaces at Margam Park really caught my attention. Shortlisted as Welsh Artist of the Year a while ago, Dawny is well-known and is regularly commissioned to produce works , which have ended up in galleries and homes across the UK, France and in the US and Italy.
After some time away from working with metal due to breast cancer, Dawny became involved in art therapy, both as a patient and therapist, qualifying and discovering a new talent for teaching others. She runs workshops and told us of some wonderful experiences working one-to-one with people in recovery. She is now planning to offer local workshops so keep an eye on her website for opportunities in Pembrokeshire. These will be called “Hot Slag Sundays” and will take participants through the whole process. Dawny knows that the foundry working will become too physically demanding one day so she plans to return to art therapy then – a truly inspirational woman. I loved hearing Dawny tell of the life-enhancing experiences she has shared with others through her art and her categorical belief that we are all creative in own way, and how she likes to see people give themselves permission to let go and express themselves through art. One very touching reminiscence that Dawny shared with us was of a lady so scared to try art it took her several visits to join the group and she was terrified of trying anything. Dawny overcame this barrier by blindfolding her, giving her a spoon and pot of paint and lots of paper – over 30 times she called out “start” and “stop” while the lady made random dancing figures on the paper. Amazingly, amongst the images that looked like someone had made marks while blindfolded, there were 6 exquisite figures capturing dance and the joy it can bring! This particular person went on to study Fine Art – a truly life-transforming experience for her and for Dawny.
She has also been involved in some great community art projects using her 14-foot trailer – the Scrap Shack – touring estates and enabling communities and school groups to try out aluminium art. With a pull-out sand tray, the designs could be made safely and then the artists watched Dawny as she completed the dangerous bit with the molten metal on the trailer. Some of these works were created using alginate for body casting – Dawny was a dental nurse long ago!
Don’t miss this exhibition and look out for the workshops too…