Paul Smith’s London flagship draws together the world’s top creatives for exhibition The Secret Life of the Pencil
A collection of close-up images made by Alex Hammond and Mike Tinney document that most accessible of creative devices: the pencil. Their 52 prints, in various materials, will be shown in Paul Smith’s Albemarle store until 3 June, and auctioned online in support of Children in Crisis. Sir James Dyson’s is printed directly on aluminum, so is Peter Saville’s; Anish Kapoor’s pencil is carved: ’like a little, one-off Anish Kapoor sculpture’.
As a product designer and a photographer respectively, Hammond and Tinney were confronted with a reduction of the design process. ’The part where you sketch, research and take inspiration from things was cut,’ begins Hammond. ’We went straight to producing something on a computer that then would be sent out to print. The most enjoyable and creative part of the process was the first to go.’
Relying on Tinney’s skill for hyper-real and detailed photographs, they set about creating beautiful images of the humble tool, but wanted more: ’We looked for a way to make a comment about the creative industry as a whole,’ notes Hammond. They called upon a few high-profile names - David Bailey, Sir Kenneth Grange, Peter Saville. ’They’re at the top of their game, these guys, very established creative heroes. The stories behind the images gave it a lot more depth,’ Hammond explains. ’Suddenly it became a bit more of a window into their creative process.’
Tinney adds: ’We just hoped these people still used pencils. Some old dogs that we expected were still working with them just weren’t and said, "I haven’t used a pencil for years!" It was nice to hear that too, in a way. For them to be honest was important, as we didn’t want them to give us just any old pencil. The stories revolve around the sense that there’s a huge body of work which the pencil is responsible for.’
Paul Smith was someone both Hammond and Tinney really respected. ’He loved the project so much he ended up offering to host the show,’ Hammond smiles. For Tinney, Stephen Wiltshire stands out: ’a savant who can see everything, fly over New York in a helicopter, hit the ground and then draw the whole city in one go. His pencil is tiny - the second smallest in our collection - it’s an inch and a half long. I imagine when he’s got tens of thousands of lines to draw from memory; he just uses one pencil to complete a drawing.’
Raising funds for Children in Crisis will complete the circle of this unique photography project, Hammond and Tinney agree. ’We started off with the pencils of creative heroes, and what these raise will go back into the education of the next generation.’