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Wallace Chan: Titans - A Dialog between Materials, Space and Time

Wallace Chan next to Titans, Sculpture

“The large-scale titanium sculptures come from a lifetime of memories and experiences, including my early years creating carvings and sculptures inspired by Greek mythology. TITANS, named after a group of super-strong giants, connects my present to my past. The series also acts as a passage to the future; carved and sculpted with material as strong and resistant as titanium, my sculptures act as time capsules." - Wallace Chan says

One of the world's most celebrated jewellery artists Wallace Chan is less well known for his accomplishment in sculpture - an art form that he has been practising for almost half a century. Chan as a carving apprentice at the age of 16, was intrigued by opaque stones such as malachite, jade and coral and was inspired by Chinese motifs. He admired the marble sculptures of saints and angels in Christian cemeteries that he had started visiting the places and developing his skills. He has started making sculptures using just found and discarded materials such as concrete, copper and stainless steel and he was driven by a fascination with materials and desire to experiment with the strongest, most durable and lightweight metals, such as titanium. Titanium, named after the immortal ‘Titans’ in Greek mythology, is the strongest, most durable, lightweight metal. Wallace Chan has been overlooked titanium due to its cost and complex production process. After many years of careful research and experimentation, Chan developed a method of working with titanium initially for his jewellery and more recently for his large-scale sculptures. Today he employs a range of sculpture techniques: from modelling and casting to carving, welding and assembling, Chan creates titanium sculptures that are very rarely seen on this scale.

TITANS, curated by James Putnam, explores Wallace Chan’s contemplation on the relationship between materials, space, and time through titanium: a futuristic, space-age material that has long been the subject of his experimental impulses. Three brand new additions to the TITANS series, TITANS XIV, TITANS XV and TITANS XVI, are being exhibited for the first time in the unique environment of Canary Wharf, London. Wallace Chan is showcasing 10 of his large-scale titanium and iron sculpture for his exhibition TITANS: A dialogue between materials, space and time. Home to London’s largest collection of outdoor public art collected over 30 years with more than 75 freestanding and integrated architectural sculptures, Canary Wharf is located at the vast lobby of the iconic One Canada Square. The exhibition started on 21st February and will run until 8th April 2022 as part of their ongoing public sculpture programme.

I had caught up with the master during his Reception, Screening and Q&A of WALLACE CHAN and was lucky to ask a question or two. Read my interview here and I hope you will enjoy it :-)

Jewellery Pursuer: How did the word 'Titans' connect your present to your past?

Wallace Chan: In Greek mythology, the Titans were pre-Olympian gods. They were the twelve children of the primordial parents Uranus, the Sky, and Gaia, the Earth. The titanium metal is named after the immortal Titans. It is the strongest, most durable, and lightweight metal.

I began carving traditional Chinese motifs in the 70s. By the 80s I read a book about Michelangelo. It opened my mind. I saw the muscles, the tension, the strength. I thought there was another world out there and I needed to go see it. But I could not afford to travel. So, I went to Western cemeteries where there were sculptures of angels and saints. I went there, and sometimes I slept there just to learn. I also read a lot about Greek mythologies and made a lot of carvings and sculptures inspired by the stories.

What you see in my sculptures is not from today, but a lifetime of memories and experiences. The large-scale sculptures come from those memories and experiences, including my early years creating carvings and sculptures inspired by Greek mythology. Therefore, the word TITANS, named after a group of super-strong giants, connects my present to my past.

The art of Materials - large scale titanium sculptures

Jewellery Pursuer: What does the title "TITANS: A dialogue between material, space and time” mean to you, and how does it connect with each of the pieces in your creations?

Wallace Chan: I feel that the past and present are connected and that there shouldn’t be clear distinctions between the two. One way past and present are linked is through materials in the space we inhabit. I want to explore the conversation. Space is infinite, it is insignificant without material, and time is only meaningful when material exists. Each is dependent on one other. These are the fundamental elements of my sculptures. If you look at the materials in each of the sculptures, they show connectivity and contrast. Titanium is a futuristic material, and the red oxidised iron is a historically proven entity. Iron contrasts the titanium’s polished silver surface. Both materials evoke the passage of time; iron will eventually rust away while titanium can last forever. Putting titanium and iron together in my sculptures is a way of combining the most futuristic and the most traditional materials I could find. They make a bridge between past and future.

Jewellery Pursuer: What made you think of your amazing sculptures are "time capsules"?

Wallace Chan: My sculptures are made from titanium, which is probably a material closest to eternity. I am always looking for ways to transcend time. I know that both iron and titanium will outlive me. And when measured against each other titanium will last longer than iron. I yearn for materials that will continue to embody my ideas in the future when my physical body ceases to exist. One day, my body may not be here anymore, but my sculptures will continue to be my physical representation, embodying my spiritual presence. I can outlive myself that way.

Wallace Chan and Titans, Canary Wharf

Jewellery Pursuer: What has been the most challenging obstacle you have faced while creating these sculptures?

Wallace Chan: Titanium is notoriously hard to master, mainly because of its high melting point i.e. 1700 degrees Celsius. It is also very rigid. Even at its melting point, it is reluctant to move. So it is never easy to cast or carve titanium. Metal has mainly been used in the aerospace industry and medical field but has in the past been overlooked by artists due to its costly and complex production process. It has taken me eight years to experiment with the material in the early 2000s.

I first taught myself to work with titanium through my jewellery pieces. But I believe in pushing boundaries. To push boundaries is to constantly challenge what you know and what you can do. I am grateful for the knowledge, skills and experiences I acquired through jewellery creation, which has now contributed to the tension, balance and strength of the structure of my large-scale titanium sculptures.

Jewellery Pursuer: What led you to create this large-scale titanium & iron sculpture with this futuristic space-age material? What fascinated you to create with such material?

Wallace Chan: Titanium is light, strong, futuristic and timeless. It doesn’t oxidate easily. It is not only ideal for my jewellery creations, but also my sculptures. Sometimes, some ideas need more freedom and a bigger canvas, and that is when I turned to sculptures. Materials and ideas evolve, be they physical objects or intangible subjects.

Jewellery Pursuer: According to you, should titanium as a material be part of creating beautiful jewellery pieces in this industry?

Wallace Chan: I started using titanium for complex jewellery creations in the early 2000s and I have been creating with it ever since. I think it is quite obvious that I have been a devoted advocator for the use of titanium in artistic creations, including jewellery.

Jewellery Pursuer: Lastly, what is the next big thing we can look forward to seeing from you?

Wallace Chan: I am bringing a new sculpture exhibition to Fondaco Marcello, Venice this April, titled TOTEM, curated by James Putnam.

Jewellery Pursuer: How would you describe this huge creation of sculpture as?

Wallace Chan: I believe the title of my exhibition, TITANS: A dialogue between materials, space and time, says it all.

Titans and the viewers, Canary Wharf

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Big fan of Sir Wallace Chan!! Interesting facts! Thank you for such a wonderful article / blog

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