Sometimes a chance meeting or conversation throws you. That happened to me recently when – in passing and in a completely different context – I was introduced to Fay Palkimas.
When I asked Fay (as you always politely do) what she did for a living she said, “I’m a sculptor. I cast iron.”
Of course I was intrigued. And even more so when I called round to see her at home in Blackley a few days later and the conversation was about ‘melting 50 kilos of iron and pouring.’
Now I know this is stereotyping and perhaps not exactly politically correct, but Fay is petite and very feminine. Not what I’d expect from an iron sculptor. So petite in fact that just one of her sculptures was much taller than her when she stood beside it, explaining the technique to me as we talked.
The sculpture is cast in iron, combined with charred wood and set into a concrete base. Two things. First it’s quite beautiful and second I’d hate to have to move it without a fork lift truck. Other works are smaller, very different in context, but absolutely fascinating.
“I’ve always been into wood – my dad and brother are joiners. And making things. When I was a kid I’d make origami, draw a lot. But just kids stuff, normal stuff. I’d never been into art, visiting galleries and reading reviews.”
But that changed when on holiday in Barcelona with her best friend Alex and Alex’s parents five or six years ago. She was asked by Alex’s mum, “What are you going to do with your life?”
That sounds a little harsh, but until then Fay, by her own admittance, had done very little other than work as a waitress. Leaving school at fifteen (her 16th birthday followed in August), she got a catering job, then another, then another. This had led her to the ripe old age of twenty-three and prompted the question from Alex’s mum.
A suggestion followed that Fay enrol for an art foundation course at Manchester College in Moston, which she did, whilst cutting her catering hours down to accommodate. Fay loved it. “Basically we were doing everything. Life drawing, 3D, woodworking, enamelling, a bit of metal work. We were given a lot of materials and told to go and play with them.”
Fay had no intention of going on to college or university, but her tutor at Manchester College found a degree course at Carmarthen School of Art: Casting, Carving and Construction. With still no intention of upping sticks from Manchester, it was just two weeks before the course started that Fay asked herself, ‘why not?’ and packed her bags to move to South Wales.
That was Fay’s potted history up until then, but since she has not looked back and recently completed an artist in residence year at Carmarthen, following her degree, before coming back to Manchester a couple of months ago.
So… Fay tried to explain the processes she learned during four years in South Wales. There’s no room here to even start to talk about the technicalities involved in casting which Fay explained. I just about about grasped it at the third attempt. “My tutor at Carmarthen was fantastic. A guy called Andy Griffiths. He was always arty, stone carving, all sorts of stuff. But he’s passionate about iron.”
A great phrase I told Fay. ‘Passionate about iron.’ I said that I might use that as a title to this piece.
“We learnt how to build a furnace, make moulds, cast in all sorts of materials. We learnt how to melt. Make moulds out of mud and clay and dung. But mostly silica sand. And did all sorts of crazy stuff. You can pour melted iron into anything. I’ve seen iron poured into cheese, a water melon. They’ve done stuff in the past where they’ve poured melted iron into a car and watched it explode. It’s violent, the metal throws back out and it’s a big jet of fire.
We’re working with some friends on planning workshops and demonstrations. You can pack a furnace into the back of a van and assemble it anywhere, it can take a week to set up and fire up. But then there’s also a performance aspect to it.”
My mind flickered to Health and Safety regs, but hey, I’d like to be close enough to experience that.
Fay’s speciality, style, whatever you can call it, mainly involves casting iron into old pieces of wood. “This sculpture was an old oak joist, maybe two hundred years old. It came out of a skip. I enclosed part of it to form a mould, left the rest of it out of the mould. The molten iron reacted with the wood, then when it cooled I charred the part of the wood that wasn’t in the mould. I like to char.”
Other pieces are the result of pouring directly onto wood. “It’s all about the reaction of the metal being cast into the wood itself. Reacting with it and burning it away.”
Again I have to say, the results are stunning.
“I’ve exhibited in South Wales, but it would be good to get on the scene back in Manchester now,” Fay said. I don’t think that there will be a problem with that.