Sam Curtis is an artist and curator based in London. Building relationships and trust are key to the conversations he fosters; from which unexpected collaborations grow. Working with a range of people from diverse areas of work and life, he develops projects that provoke, question or subvert our ideas around creativity, economy and labour.
For over 10 years he has used his day jobs as platforms or starting points from which to develop practice and projects. This has been a useful way to navigate precarity and has become a vehicle for inhabiting the grey areas and permeable boundaries between art and life. Informed by two years working as a fishmonger in Harrods, he now runs the Centre for Innovative and Radical Fishmongery, an organisation that explores how fishmongery intersects with art, individuals and society. During a six-year period working in education as an outreach tutor within the homeless sector, he co-founded and facilitated Seymour Art Collective (2009-on-going), a group of artists who have experienced homelessness. He currently work as a curator at the Bethlem Gallery situated within the Bethlem Royal Hospital, the gallery supports artists with lived experience of mental illness. Sam graduated from Goldsmiths MFA programme in 2008 and has exhibited across the UK, Europe and the USA.
C.I.R.F Centre for Radical Fishmongery
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Knives like Fingers
Knives like fingers (2018)
Reclaimed fishing industry steel cables, pure nickel, O1 tool steel and spalted birch
Artist Sam Curtis has worked with Artisan Blacksmith Leszek Sikon to produce a fishmonger’s knife made from reclaimed steel cables from the fishing industry. Curtis gathered the opinions and experience of fishmongers to build up a design of the ideal knife looking at length and shape of blade, cutting edge and originality. The design draws on a fishmonger’s expression that through repeated movements and muscle memory, their knife becomes an extension of their fingers. Sikon then worked up this unique knife using a Damascus steel technique to forge weld layers of the reclaimed cable steel with pure nickel and O1 tool steel in the middle for the cutting edge. The finish on the blade is Sikon’s Coastal pattern, an intentionally visible remnant of the labour of layers and layers of steel forge welded over time.
Leszek makes handcrafted bespoke knives and blacksmith products. Making hand forged knives and custom objects in only the highest quality materials is the core of his practice, precision in craft is fundamental. Nowadays shops are filled with mass made products that are cheap, disposable and poorly designed – customers have a hard time forming a connection to them. By combining modern design with tradition, he strives to create artworks (often in the form of knives) that speak of quality, in turn becoming precious to their owners.
Did anyone ever tell you that you’re beautiful when you’re following orders?
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Getting a grip series
Getting a Grip
In his series of works Getting a grip, Curtis has been asking tradespeople and freelancers to work to no brief and without a problem to be fixed.
The Getting a grip series are attempts by the artist to commission other workers, as artists, using their job-specific skills and tools to produce something unusual. The commission involves no specific brief or problem to be fixed, instead the question is asked: What can we do with the materials and tools of our trade if a space is created for us to think more openly about what we do and how we do it? The less commercially pressured space enables experimentation with new ideas and processes. Although the objects produced come solely from the creative minds of the makers, Curtis supports them in their commission, offering constructive feedback to help them push their ideas and work.
In his book The Craftsman, Richard Sennet discusses the phrase ‘get a grip’ and it's historical origins in the workshop and in the practice of a technical craft. Today we apply this phrase to our comprehension of complex situations or when someone’s emotional or mental state is called into question. The original meaning of the phrase suggests a set of relationships between an individual, material and technique. Several attempts in the Getting a grip series have not yet been fully realised due to the complexity of negotiating a job for which the customer has no brief to fulfil or obvious problem to be fixed