In their secluded workshop, hidden in the beautiful mountains of the Belgian Ardennes, father and son team Rob and Jaap Thalen, otherwise known as Thalen & Thalen, specialise in making monumental contemporary works in silver.
They work predominantly in fine silver (999/000), otherwise known as pure silver. In fact, the duo cites purity as a guiding concept in their work, incorporating purity of both material and expression into every piece. Rob, who first began studying silversmithing as a child in the Netherlands, was joined in 2005 by Jaap, who had originally trained as an architect.
“At the end of my studies, I felt that there wasn’t enough creativity in a career in architecture,” says Jaap, “And the one thing I really wanted to do was to work with my hands. At that moment, we thought – ok, let’s try to start a business together.
Rob admits that at the time it felt like they were embarking on ‘a very crazy adventure,’ but the two now have a reputation in the world of fine art, as well as within silversmithing circles, for reviving fine silver as an attractive material to work with. This softer, finer metal fell from prominence with the rise of stainless steel and harder-wearing alloys such as sterling silver. The monumental yet delicate sculptural pieces that Thalen & Thalen produce are a powerful reminder, however, of fine silver’s sumptuous, tactile and subtle qualities. Most of their work is made using the ancient technique of raising, beginning with a sheet of metal and hammering gradually to ‘raise’ a three-dimensional vessel from a two-dimensional surface.
The pieces that Thalen & Thalen produce are a powerful reminder of the fine silver’s sumptuous, tactile and subtle qualities.
“It’s a simple and complicated process” says Rob, “You are spreading the metal but also shrinking it at the same time. There are no joins, no seams – nothing.”
Last year, their stunning piece ‘Si tu m’embrasse’ was on display in the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield in the weeks preceding and for the duration of Goldsmiths North 2019.
‘Si tu m’embrasse’ or ‘If you embrace me’ / ‘If you kiss me’ was created in 2015 from two large sheets of fine silver that were fused together and then raised into this extraordinary vessel by hand. Even its title demonstrates how the tactile attraction of silver as a material is integral to the pieces Thalen & Thalen make.