Fred Rich Enamel Design

Paul and Angie Boyer talk to renowned enamelling artist, Fred Rich

Fred Rich  Enamel Design

Having long admired the exquisite work of craft master, Fred Rich, it was a pleasure to meet him and hear him speak at last year’s Guild of Enameller’s Annual Conference in York. Born in Andalucia, Spain, Fred’s family moved to England when he was just four years old. Now one of Britain’s most dynamic and exciting art enamellers, the distinctive style and technical expertise of his work is legendary.

Fred studied in London at the Central School of Art and then at Sir John Cass School of Art in the late 70s and early 80s, before setting up his own workshop. From the very beginning Fred started to develop his own enamelling technique and style, which he describes as “a cross between cloisonné and basse-taille” – enamel on an engraved, carved or etched surface, which involves an incredibly labour intensive process.

Fred is very much a multi-dimensional craftsman; designer, draughtsman, artist, master enameller, carver, engraver and silversmith. “Many of my larger pieces require all of these disciplines,” he says. “I start with the form, a vase for example. The enamelled design has to be scribed onto the surface before 22 carat gold wire is applied and soldered on. This ‘draws’ the design onto the vase. However, each piece of gold wire has to be cut and bent to shape before being soldered on. This can mean that hundreds of small pieces of gold wire are used in one design.

Fred continues, “Once the design is in place, the metal is hand carved in relief. This not only removes the firestain from the metal, but gives the enamel definition and vitality, and the resulting play with light makes a huge difference to the pictorial effect – transparency gives the whole piece life.”

“The application of the enamel is an extremely painstaking process,” Fred explains. “Several layers of enamel have to be applied, working in sections at a time, and each layer has to be fired on at extremely high temperatures. The surface of the enamel is then ground back to reveal the gold wires and then the piece is given one last ‘flash’ firing to leave a brilliantly glossy and smooth surface. This whole process can mean that larger pieces are fired in the kiln up to 40 times!”

We asked Fred what first attracted him to enamelling, why he chose this particularly delicate and intricate craft and what inspires him in his work. “Colour has always been an important part of life for me. I did jewellery design at college and was able to experiment with many types of coloured material and effects, but I found the richness and depth of enamel to be absolutely amazing.  Because light reflects through enamel, it seems to glow and gives the feeling that light is emanating out of it. To me, anything with enamel on it has a type of magic or mystery about it - the lustre and quality of colour is just not possible with any other medium. 

“And in terms of permanence and durability, enamel is the most satisfying. The colour that you see today will be exactly the same three hundred years from now. As far as what inspires me – anything can be inspirational. Obviously one is inspired by the beauty of the natural world. I tend to draw a lot from realism, but ideas are often woven into my work and form an important part of how I view a piece.”

Fred has won an impressive number of awards over the years and we were interested to know whether he feels such accolades are important to designer makers and their businesses. “Awards are certainly very nice, but I think you have to take adulation in the same spirit as failure. Neither should be allowed to interfere with the internal integrity of your work. I believe that maintaining a level of craftsmanship - and striving to push your abilities to the next level – provides the ultimate satisfaction.

With work in private and public collections across the world, Fred works to commission much of the time, something that many makers aspire to do. But to attract such prestigious commissions, they must first of all establish a name for themselves – so how did Fred achieve this? 

“My name has been established by word of mouth. That is typically a slow process, but I was very fortunate to be given a show at Garrard in 1995. I was given free reign to create whatever I wanted and spent two years making pieces that allowed me to express my ideas, competencies and skills. With that show I was able to fast-track my development and it probably took ten years off the typical process of establishing a reputation through commissions. It undoubtedly gave me the confidence to be able to work in large scale enamelled silver and led to even greater ambition. 

Fred’s work is universally admired, collected and treasured, so whose work does he admire, from times past or present? “I admire René Lalique (past) and Kevin Coates (present). Their freedom in the use of materials is unparalleled and the way they are put together creates an inner presence or being, which inhabits their pieces. From a craftsmanship point of view, the judicious use of different materials is strong, unique and brave whilst still being exciting and precious.”

As co-sponsors of the Guild of Enamellers Student Bursary Award we see a wide range of work by absolute beginners as well as more established enamellers, so we asked Fred what advice he would give to young designer makers trying to make their way in the creative world today. “Bursary awards are always helpful stepping stones in a young person’s career. Perseverance through thick and thin and a belief in yourself are, in my view, crucial to success.”

And for those who are more established in their craft, how they might keep their work fresh and appealing? “It sounds simple, but you must not allow yourself to become complacent and you must keep your ideas fresh. You cannot cut corners with enamel and I do get hyper-critical with my work; it’s the only way I know how to maintain and elevate my own standards.  

“One good thing about enamelling is that the process is so pedantic that I find myself working in  a kind of ‘automatic pilot’ mode. Although still focused on the job, the back of my mind stays open and allows me to gestate new ideas. Working on the piece at hand often provides little bits of inspiration for the ideas floating around in my head. While I work, the ideas come flooding through and one thing leads to another. Suddenly, I find that I have the answer to a problem that I had been working on, or a spark comes that ignites a whole new creative process.”

The pieces Fred creates now will indeed become the antiques of the future. So how would he like people in the next century to describe his work, when they look back in time and discuss the treasures of the current era? “I would hope that in a hundred years time, people could relate in some kind of way as to what the piece is about. I put a lot into my work and each piece has its own story. I would hope that, in the future, people would still be able to discover some kind of meaning in a piece.”

Fred Rich Enamel Design

Image: The Dragon Candelabra are fabricated in silver and have a tapered lozenge form which is recessed and enamelled to give four panels. As the form rises, the lozenge shape turns into two scrolls, which again, are part enamelled. Between the two scrolls there is a dragon on the left hand candelabra and a sea serpent on the right; they each hold an arm between their wings which terminate in two candleholders with enamelled drip pans. Above the arms, the dragon protects a gilded apple and the sea serpent protects a gilded shell. The ‘dialogue’ between these two monsters as they stare at each other with their ruby or aquamarine eyes creates an important dynamic between them.

The inspiration behind these candelabra has come from two of Gaudi’s most famous works, namely the dragon gate from the Güell Pavilions, and the mosaic ‘Salamander’ from the Park Güell.

Height approx. 37cm.



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