The irrepressable Miel-Margarita Paredes is a gift to us all, hailing from Wisconson. Her repousse and fabrication ingenuity have resulted in pieces that are as suited to gallers walls as they are to craft museum displays. Anyone familiar with repousse will instantly note the quality, skill and difficulty of the projects gives have life to – what we are observing here is a prodigy, able to produce work that takes many years of practice for others. In particular, her functional items are displays of skillfully finding the imaginative plasticity of the metal, such as her “Ruminant Pillbox”, her exquisite bird and octopus teapots, her toys, and her “Luna Moth Tea Infuser”. Fortunately, this artist’s career is just beginning, and her energy (a vital component of a metal worker) promises much more to come.
Artist’s Website: http://www.mielmargarita.com
A living artisan that completely bridges the divide between sculptor and jeweler, and whose work crackles with intelligence. After working for several years, she started gaining notice and has become justifiably successful. With her growing acclaim, she shows complete independence. Rather than devolving into a designer’s role creating redundant wealth-objects of increasing expense, she demonstrates a continued devotion to working the materials personally. Her latest series, Vestige, is breathtaking, and instead of gold she creates complicated formulations out of ordinary bone. Eclectic carvings are fused with the metaphoric bones of antique picture frames. The mark of a brilliant materials handler, the essence of gold retains its contemporary spare inkling through the remnants of gold leafing on old wood; the wealth on display is skill and the devotion of time. It generates a feeling of gratitude in me that the artist has chosen to direct her success towards a deeper pursuit of artistry, providing us with a living example of real creative integrity.
Something that comes to mind: for an artist who has reached the level of magazine articles and museum collections, you’d think she was ready to start her own design house. This is the curious place of an artist and creative labor in today’s economy. It’s simply not enough, even with full recognition. Trask’s name should be well known and collected among people who enjoy jewelry, as was Lalique, Tiffany or Jensen in their day. Trask should be raking it in and changing the way we look at ornament. However, any sensible placement as top market and the pride of the region where she works is prevented by the mean average of the global market. Though she should be able to ask anything she likes for her work, the scale of the market – its ability to import matching manufacturing but from a differing relative economy – controls the ceiling of prices, limiting recognition and reward for artistry in jewelry. Today top market jewelry, regardless of genius, is based primarily on the raw value of materials and somewhat in the perceived value of branding. In order to see natural innovation and real creativity surround our lives again, we would start choosing our local artisans for every service possible, a priority shift of buying less and paying higher prices for better goods. This would transform the way work is done overseas as well. Encouraging regional development – anywhere in the world – is accomplished by using one’s good taste and sensibility to choose goods that exhibit the human touch and essentially benefit the growth of culture.
One of her artist statements, for ‘Unnatural Histories’:
“This work arose from my unending fascination with the material world.
Deliberate arrangements of flora and fauna, mineral and vegetal, side by side, delineate multiple subjective taxonomies. One defines a personal aesthetic; catalogs texture, color, and light in a formal and intuitive manner.
Another system, one of sly, unnatural histories, is derived from a curiosity about the material world and conceptual relationships; associative meanings and actual elemental materiality. By abstracting particular materials my intent is to create an impulse to pause, and look again. To consider. The results are oddly metaphoric arrangements on an intimate scale that invite examination.
In that moment of engagement, perhaps one might reclaim a sense of wonder, visceral delight, or simply curiosity as to the purpose of such meticulous arrangements.”
Artist’s Website: http://www.jennifertrask.com/
An experimental photograph I made using one of my silver pieces.
It is well understood that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between the rise of industrialization in Japan and the explosion of an international philosophy of ‘New Art’. By looking at the mechanisms of this influence, I hope to demonstrate the New Art was much more like a prophetic vision than an ephemeral moment to enrich antique collectors.
In the accounts of Art Nouveau and its related movements (Arts & Crafts, Craftsman, il Liberte, Jugendstil, Secession, Arte Joven, Art Nova and Stile Liberty) one is apt to run across claims that it is a spontaneous development that marked a transition period between classical academicism and modernism. But this stand-alone islander perspective hardly accounts for its genesis or its end. The genesis came with the arrival of photography and access of the West’s artists to the finer crafts of Asia, especially Japan. Previously, Chinese porcelain had long been traded, but the style was vernacular and limited to like items. The arrival of documentation relating to supremely technical metalworking methods, sophisticated print and painting techniques, and essentially an entirely different cultural take on both universal design principles and representation of the natural world set off an inevitable alchemical reaction.
Artists I’ve spoken to about the subject explain that there is a root distinction in the composition of academic European and traditional Asian art. After the rediscovery of proportion during the Renaissance, the West had until the New Art period essentially pursued rules of symmetry – especially with regards to a horizon line, with the primary divisions of fore, middle and background. The history of western art has very specific reasons for this development, and essentially it revealed the collective psyche of a broad pan-culture. The approach to composition was both taught and essentially instinctual. When it came to decorative items, we find the same absolute principles: symmetry, relief and depth.
The shockwave of cultural confluence stems from a truly novel introduction within Eastern art: the concept of “infinite space”, which essentially allows elements of fore or background to interact with void. This had also developed to an instinctual level in that pan-culture, and is found mirrored in their philosophy and calligraphy. In fact, one reason speculated for this key element of composition is the use of pictographs for writing, developing an ancient practice of ‘floating’ pictures over the top of other pictures, creating a conceptual intuition for layering that was independent of relativistic proportion.
Once Western artists became exposed to the successful break in symmetry a new dialect of visual language spread like wildfire, transforming every aspect of art. Curiously, though so distinct and widely embraced it is easily identified today, this paradigm shift was short lived, and like the swing of a pendulum modernism rose with a hard return to symmetry, replacing decoration with line and simple geometry. It was as though nature was erased completely from vernacular language.
There are many discussions on this, which make for good reading. In a nutshell, the fine craft epidemic was made possible by the last generation of traditional apprenticed craftsmen, who were widely being displaced by the rise of industry. Essentially, young inspired artists and designers found at their disposal droves of highly skilled master craftsmen, who happened to be unemployed. Little did they know they were living in a fantastic, singular moment in time. Beautiful dreams sprang up in the form of cooperate workshops, intentional artisan communities, and free schools staffed by true experts in design and the arts. This was the last generation of its kind in the West, and is the reason why the housing, furniture and countless other items are unsurpassed even today in their quality and appeal. They are haunting, specific to a time, a place, and a lineage of authorship – they are downright talismanic.
One can hardly blame the hopes many had that it seemed possible for revolutionizing and improving the quality of life in every home for the founders of the various New Art movements. Unfortunately the economy of scale would make its presence known just as quickly, particularly at its apogee of unrestrained, nearly viral transformation of life in an opposite direction – the prolific outpouring of weapons of war that came to occupy the awareness and industry of that same, once hopeful world.
Following the global wars manufacturing had completely disconnected from skilled hand-crafting, its mechanisms actually unable to incorporate it even if it wanted to. Modernism took an even more severe turn, moving from streamlined to simple, and was embraced, as Corbusier put, as a way to ‘clean’ cities and lives of the madness and ruin of revolutions. Modernism represented a desire to turn away from the past’s hopes and nightmares, and erase if possible all grandiose discussion of the big picture. It was successful, to a degree, though ask anyone about the terms ‘marketing’ or ‘branding’ and you will hear a crystalline linguistic litany that is truly global, and discover what you already knew – that the predilection for living by a totalistic view has never departed.
The New Art appeared to our most creative thinkers to be the obvious direction for a new, international visual language and they threw themselves towards it with magnificent energy. That their prediction was shut down so abruptly should not be regarded as failure. They were absolutely right about the most critical of concerns:
1. The viewpoint of New Art was genuinely better. It was altruistic and holistic – a model that provided meaningful, enriching work for laborers, a clear and signature identity for artists, and affordable works of art for the everyday home.
2. The connection between tradition and technology was possible, and even likely. The only thing the model requires is an abundance of free time that was once standard in agrarian life, and the related family-community basis of living that integrates work, leisure, social belonging, house living, cultural distinctiveness, and allows for lifetime learning.
This possibility was prevented with considerable effort; it required tremendous, long-term outside manipulation by highly concentrated wealth through institutional education, economy and force.
3. The motivation of holistic artistry is infectious and inspiring. Life is better when the things we do, make and own have something we can relate to and enjoy. Inspiration from holistic sources generates tremendous energy. The evidence is in the record of New Art – for just a few decades time, their artifacts are everywhere, and are still repeated throughout the diaspora of information.
As with point no.2, this energizing behaviour that is the birthright of most anyone with enough free time is for now bottled up in trained specialists such as artists and designers. A broader scale of creativity is also prevented at considerable cost by “tremendous, long-term outside manipulation by highly concentrated wealth through institutional education, economy and force.”
Don’t write off the century-old visionaries of New Art just yet, not that their outstanding contributions ever could be forgotten. They may prove to have served as avant garde after all.
For your enjoyment, and as an aid to reflect on the impact and prophetic properties of visual language, I give you a few of the innumerable sword hilts of the Japanese samurai, called tsuba. Each instrument of death is the record of the love and life of a village metalsmith. Japan is an archipelago whose transformation from feudal life by the sword to nuclear accident in less than a century can help us create a clearer model of modernity. It can help to reconsider the Western spaghetti soup story of industrial transformation that leads to all manner of complicated and unfortunate conclusions. For all the talk, well, just look at these sword hilts and decide if we’re doing our best today. These are functional instruments, but they reveal much more, they reveal human life. True talismans, perhaps mixed in among these cultural arrivals in the West is the wordless incantation that led to the prophetic pronouncements and new iconography of the New Arts fever.
Among jewelers Barclay lived an interesting, though somewhat short life. His jewelry was informed by the times, with Arts and Crafts principles, introducing affordable items with the modern decorative style of natural subjects and asymmetrical composition that was known elsewhere as Art Nouveau, il Liberte, Jugenstil and other variations on the theme of a new approach. Taking a page from Georg Jensen’s style and working approach, his silver jewelry frequently revolved around nature, with workshops using high-relief repousse dies to produce stamped serial units for matching sets of bracelets, necklaces, brooches and earrings. He also created rhinestone pieces that bore a striking similarity to Cartier’s famous art deco emerald works.
He was industrious – the graduate from the Art Institute of Chicago branched into jewelry and decorative home items after success with his pin-up art, especially in commercial art. The war interrupted his jewelry when he was appointed by the Navy to develop maritime camoflauge schemes in the pacific theatre, and shortly after Pearl Harbor he began to paint recruiting posters. At the age of 52, on assignment near the Solomon Islands, his boat was torpedoed.
It’s proper title is ‘For the Love of God’ and it was created in 2007 by superstar artist Damien Hirst. It is so well discussed out there I don’t feel too many words are required, but it may be news to fans of jewelry. It does bring up interesting, long-running questions about how blockbuster fabricated concepts fit in, but that’s for my art blog. Something like this stimulates one kind of opinion or another, with visitor responses assembled at one exhibit into this amusing interactive site: http://www.fortheloveofgod.nl/ In any case, after the ‘spots’ show I really don’t want to say much about Hirst at all. There are a good thousand living artists that all could better use my time.
What I can offer that’s relevant here are interesting pictures of the skull making in process. I happened to run across an excellent article years back, and grabbed the images. This is fortunate, as I can’t find the article any longer (link would be appreciated). I do archive images regularly.
The artist Salvador Dali is an exemplar of that quality that enhances our enjoyment of the best of them – he was prolific. From countless paintings and drawings to his own deck of tarot cards, the man with the mustache is one of those artists that is known even to people who do not follow the art world. It is just as likely anyone that has heard of Dali know that he was a Surrealist. It comes as little surprise that surreal is one of the first adjectives that come to mind when it comes to his exploits in jewelry.
He designed these jewels in the 40′s and 50′s, working closely with their maker, Carlos Alemany. Known for living an extravagant life, he personally selected the gems (a pleasant activity) and attributed a symbolic value for each. The pieces now reside in the Teatro-Museo in Figueres, Spain.