Wednesday, November 28, 2007

'Rock man'

Above: Two restoration projects - Picture deleted [req bg 7jun08tk]

Above: A commission for a Japanese client showing the progression to a spherical ball and will be used as religious worship aids

Above: One of the many machines at Ben's workshop

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Above: Rock crystal inspected for imperfections in Beazo-alcohol

Above: Crystal rock found in Madagascar

South London, UK

There is nothing Ben Gaskell likes more than to source a flawless piece of rock crystal, take it back to his studios and transform it through a new challenging project. He moved in to his premises in 1992 initially solely trading in rough material, importing from the vast Madagascan network he had built up and distributing large quantities to German and Japan. During a visit to Japan he identified an opening in the market and began to craft rock crystal spherical balls for Buddhists and other religions to use as religious aids. For a number of years his workshop produced only these highly polished balls before he began to take on new projects.

"It is important to be a market maker in Madagascar and to be known to offer the best prices, so in return you hear about the best pieces of rock crystal. Although this is proving continually difficult as the German and Japanese markets are becoming stronger and my last trip to Madagascar because of the children and other commitments was two years ago. This might have been my last had I bought the 800 kilo rock I was offered. It would have challenged the rock in the Smithsonian as the largest flawless rock crystal sphere in the world, but I only had a few hours to decide and although I believe you have to respond to things in a rush there was something not quite right. I wasn't going to hand over the six figure sum on something I wasn't 100% sure on, so I returned without it" Ben said.

Known locally as the 'rock man' his studios could be likened to a [deleted [req bg 7jun08tk]] base as high tech machines were squeezed in everywhere. "Some of these were used during the war to make prisms and periscopes for tanks, but now each one has it own specific task to do. The machine there will make tiny little holes and next to it is it's brains. Working on table tops would be pointless as they have to have large wheels for power, but also tremendous rigidity as there can't be any vibrations at all" Ben explains. The store rooms are like an Aladdin's cave, everywhere you turn there are beautiful examples of Siena marble, Imperial Porphyry, Blue John and of course magnificent rock crystal. Some of which are used to aid with restoration work which he undertakes, but many are lying there waiting to be chosen for the next project. He first inspects the rock in a tank of benzoalcohol to check for impurities "which could be created by any number of things including fluorides, but even one speck of black means that it won't work. The proof is in the pudding or in the tank" Ben said. The co-ordinates are then carefully mapped out to ensure no wastage and then work can begin.

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Ben is eager to make more contact with artists for future commissions he said "I enjoy new and exciting work, I can't even criticise the diamond encrusted scull of Damien Hirst as he is not a jeweler or a craftsman. it was produced by someone else and made in a rush with setters working twenty four hours a day in shifts, and I know what it is like to work in a rush on a project. The work was at a peak of high spending when people were shedding out huge amounts of money for Brit Art and this is why it worked. Although part of me hopes that it is broken up and the flawless E-coloured diamonds will be removed it will always remain a social post-it note". Ben is surprisingly humble despite a portfolio of impressive commissions [deleted [req bg 7jun08tk]]. It is clear that his drive is from his passion and enjoyment he gets from working with the material.

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