The beauty of time passing

A clock designed specially for you? Spring forward and choose it
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The Independent Online
You are about to be reminded that the modern house has no shortage of timekeepers. Tonight or tomorrow morning, as you wearily put forward the clocks on the video, fax, oven, microwave, hi-fi, etc, you may feel that the last thing you need is anything else to mark the passing of the hours. Yet, while the timers on the video and the rest of the kit may be reassuringly accurate, in the looks department something is surely missing.

This is where Gordon Burnett comes in, for his metal timepieces are everything a digital display is not: colourful, imaginative, inspiring. He uses anodised aluminium, in which dyes impregnate the surface of the metal and are then sealed in permanently, to give him a startling range of hues to work with. "My clocks are a cross between something functional, and a painting or print," he says. "They occupy wall space, but they're not wholly serious in telling the time. They don't tell the time sloppily, of course, but they're something you can look at over a long period and continue to get something from."

Gordon's interest in clocks began in his second year at the Royal College of Art in London, where he was doing an MA in jewellery. Not surprisingly, the clocks he made at that stage were small and ornate, but once he left he scaled up his designs. That led to commissions from several businesses to create one-off pieces for their head offices. "The largest clock I made is in the Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow, and it's 3 metres in diameter. It's made of glass fibre. I designed it, but it was made by a company in Derby. The largest number of clocks I've made was for a bank in Holland; they had 38 of the same type. But I've also made them for Next and WH Smith." Not to mention Aberdeen City Council, the Bank of Dubai, the Canadian Tourist Commission, and so on.

You don't have to be a company to lay your hands on one of Gordon's anodised aluminium timepieces, however; he's more than happy to create something special for an individual. The first step in commissioning one of his clocks is to discuss budgets, bearing in mind that prices start at around pounds 200 for the simplest piece. The next step is to work out where the clock will hang, as this will influence the final design. That doesn't necessarily require a personal visit from Gordon, which is fortunate if you don't live within stomping distance of his home town of Aberdeen. "Looking at photographs would be fine," he comments. "Working in a domestic situation is the same process you would go through when dealing with a company. It's trying to create something that reflects the personality of the company or individual, and the ambience that they're trying to convey."

Expect to wait around six to eight weeks for your finished piece, since Gordon is also a full-time lecturer at the Grays School of Art, part of the Robert Gordon University, where he studied before he went to the RCA. It's an association that is proving to be fruitful for the designer, giving him opportunities and encouragement to experiment with new techniques and create innovative pieces for exhibitions in Scotland, Australia, Japan and elsewhere.

Take, for instance, his foray into the world of CAD/ CAM (computer-aided design/ computer-aided manufacture). This enables him to "construct" clocks on his trusty Apple Mac at home, which are then made on the computerised milling machine at the university. By feeding images into the computer - video footage of the seaside, patterned paper, even his other clocks - Gordon can create unique and fascinating surface decoration on the aluminium, which is emphasised by the way it is folded into light-reflecting shapes.

So does he believe that craftspeople in general will be using computers more and more in future? "I think there's beginning to be a place for them, but the cost of the manufacturing end of it is the tricky bit; the milling machine at college costs about pounds 50,000." This certainly puts them out of reach of individual craftspeople, although, as Gordon points out, designs can still be passed on disk to manufacturing companies for them to make up. There's an ironic twist here. Gordon is prepared to work with complex computer programs to create beautiful timepieces for others with not a digital display in sight (and a well-hidden quartz movement). Think about that as you scour the house tonight for the instructions for how to change the time on the video-recorder.

Gordon Burnett can be contacted at 34 Osborne Place, Aberdeen AB25 2DA (01224 642061; fax: 01224 263636; e-mail g.burnett @rgu.ac.uk)

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