A life-changing decision has seen Kevin Grey go from a car worker to one of Britain’s most-acclaimed artists – with his masterpieces in silver fetching over £40,000
Kevin Grey is one of Britain’s brightest and most talented silversmiths. He’s a three-time winner of the coveted Goldsmiths’ Company Award which recognises the nation’s most creative and original artists in metal. His work is becoming much sought-after around the world from New York to Sydney with his highly distinctive pieces fetching up to six-figure sums from galleries and collectors. Not bad for a Brummie who until seven years ago had spent his working life in car factories! But in 2007 that all changed when Kevin threw in his job to enroll on a two-year degree course at Birmingham School of Jewellery. “I’d had enough of working in a factory,” he explained. “I’d been in that environment for 25 years and knew I wanted to do something different with my life.” He hasn’t looked back since.
When we met up, Kevin had just completed a major New York commission and was preparing to fly to the US city where his work was being shown in the prestigious Maison Gerard gallery’s Collective 2 contemporary art design fair. Kevin was joining an elite of contemporary artists selected for the exhibition. “The market is very big in the US, so having my work at Maison Gerard is very important,” he said. In fact, a Kevin Grey piece could set you back up to $100,000 in the US, and even if you were to commission the artist directly yourself, you’d still be looking at upward of £40,000 for a typical-sized piece. But then we are talking about one of the UK’s most critically-acclaimed silversmiths. Kevin’s background has always been in working with metal, but in a very different context in a career spanning 25 years in the automotive industry. Mind you, he’s always been at the creative luxury end of the business, producing bespoke items for Rolls-Royce, Bentley and in the final six years of his car career for Worcestershire sports car legend, Morgan.
“During that time I started attending an evening class at the Jewellery School, and that’s where I first worked with silver and produced my first piece. I loved the colour of silver and the way it hammered. ”At the end of the year-long course Kevin decided to make the leap of faith to quit his job and study full-time for a degree at the school. It was a big gamble for the father-of-two who lives near Kings Norton. After graduating, he remained at the Jewellery School for a further two years as an artist in residence, which basically means he had access to the school’s facilities and studios in return for giving up one day a week to teach other students. “This was a crucial period which allowed me to build up my design style and my collection of work.” In 2010, he unveiled his first collection at exhibitions in London and Birmingham to critical acclaim and awards from both Goldsmiths’ and the Design Council. On a more practical note, his first work was snapped up by a collector. “It was a shame to see it go because it meant so much to me, but then I thought, hey, I can always make another! “Silver has always been seen as a domestic metal, whether around the home or in jewellery. It hasn’t moved across to the major art side because most silversmiths just can’t afford to invest in the amount of silver they need to make the larger pieces.” As well as looking dramatically different, Kevin employs an industrial welding technique from the automotive sector previously unseen in the silver market which allows more creative design and working of the metal. He describes his style as ‘Scandinavian in concept’ focusing on simplicity and asymmetrical shapes.
ARTISTS’ HOLY GRAIL
While he no longer works out of the Jewellery School, Kevin is still based in a studio in the Jewellery Quarter. “I get up in the morning and know that I’m really going to enjoy myself at work. It is very rewarding to know that people love what you are doing and want to invest in you.” Looking to the future, Kevin is seeking to achieve that holy grail of all artists – to have a regular flow of work while also maintaining the creative uniqueness and exclusivity of what he produces. “Creating pieces is a long process. It can take many months through the design to the finished work. The whole process evolves and changes from piece to piece, so that when it is complete it really is like the unveiling on a new portrait.” A masterpiece of the future, we have no doubt!