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The Jewelry of Vivienne Jones

Earth Meets Mind

by Barbara Isherwood - © Metalsmith Magazine - Spring 2002
"I make jewelry the way I draw," says Vivienne Jones. "That's one of the great thins about metal, you can do that." That Jones cites drawing, a very direct and personal mode of expression, as the closest parallel to her jewelry, seems fitting. Her reputation as one of Canada 's preeminent artist-jewelers stems from a body of work that is likewise spontaneous, intimate in scale, and highly expressive.

Hope, 2001
sterling silver, 18K gold, pearl(s)
height 3 1/4"
Photo: Isaac Applebaum
Feith, 2001
sterling silver, 18K gold, Keshi pearl
height 3"
Photo: Isaac Applebaum

It was, in fact, through drawing that Jones got into jewelry in the first place. Looking for a direction to pursue after a year of foundation studies at Swansea Art College in South Wales , U.K. , she first thought of graphic design. However, a perceptive instructor, observing the small scale and detailed nature of her drawings, suggested jewelry. Although the idea of jewelry as a career option was new to her, Jones immediately saw the connection to her aesthetic. "The scale, I could relate to. My interest had been in line, and I saw this as line coming alive and having its oven life off the page. "The fluidity of the metal was the other appealing factor. "It's elemental, quite ethereal in what it can do," she says. "It didn't have to do with ornamentation. It had to do with magic things you could do, in that scale."

Jones completed her professional training in England at the Birmingham Polytechnic School of Jewelry and Metalsmithing, graduating in 1976. She came to Canada shortly after, to visit a sister, and never went back. As much as she loved Britain , she saw that making a living there creating her own work would be difficult. She took a job in the jewelry industry but made her own work right from the beginning. Response was good, and a few years later she was able to leave the day job behind. Throughout the 1980s Jones operated an open studio/retail outlet. The accessible storefront location helped her establish a steady clientele, as did word of mouth and numerous group and solo exhibitions. Although she has lived in Canada for twenty-five years, Jones views her aesthetic as being rooted in her Welsh background. " Wales infuses my sensibility. It's so evocative, unspoiled," she says. "It has a presence. Maybe because people have been there for a long, long time. The land remembers." Looking at the work Jones has produced over the past two decades, one sees that the natural forms that are part of her heritage have taken a deeper hold over the years, spreading and growing stronger like a tenacious Nine.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, organic forms shared the stage with angular elements. A generous sprinkling of gold and silver details in irregular shapes were applied as surface decoration in a seemingly random fashion that made perfect design sense. Imagery was suggestive, rather than explicit. Iconic motifs such as ladders, doorways, stars, flowers, spirals, and snakelike forms and occasional words evoked a wide range of possible associations fantastic plants, alien landscapes, remnants of ancient civilizations, entrances to secret worlds, wizards' talismans, or the cluttered compartments of one's mind. By leaving space for the wearer's interpretation, Jones paves the vv ay for a sense of attachment to the jewelry object as a conveyor of personal meaning.

Melange (necklace/bracelet), 2001
sterling silver, 14k, gold, bronze, copper, pearls
23" long
Photo: Isaac Applebaum

In recent years her work has been inspired by the natural specimens she picks up while walking objects that, although tiny, are capable of expressing significant messages about the world we live in. "I've tried to use those forms in my work, so we can treasure them, without just copying them," says Jones, who combines these organic shapes with those of her own design, to produce a hybrid offspring that resonates on various levels. Her approach acts as a metaphor for her perspective on humankind's relationship to nature--namely that even as we worship it, our reverence results in intervention and alteration, not necessarily for the good--we pick a flower it dies. A truly unspoiled wilderness is one that is untouched by humankind.

The physical characteristics of Jones's jewelry echo the organic origins of its conception. Surfaces tend to be uneven and unpredictable and speak of earth and the effects of time. Castings often retain their "skin." Fabricated metal is textured and frequently patinated. A sense of increment, either implied or real, pervades. Working primarily in sterling silver and gold, Jones's self-described "organic approach" to creating is intuitive from the start. The process can begin with a drawing, a piece of her writing, or an inspired doodle produced while talking on the phone. Doodling while the conscious mind is otherwise engaged facilitates access to the bank of ideas and images that dwell within the unconscious. Images in Jones's sketchbook recall the methods of the Surrealists, who attempted to produce drawings that emanated directly from the unconscious, through such devices as automatic writing and self-induced trances. By allowing fragments from her unconscious well of imagery to take material form, Jones purposefully exploits our collective memory and history, creating objects that arc enigmatic vet familiar at the same time.

Maple-Key (pin), 2000
sterling silver with 14k gold
height 4 ½"
Photo: Isaac Applebaum

Positioning herself firmly in the Surrealist camp, she has clear ideas about where her aesthetic lies. "It's not contemporary memory--­I'm not using industrial imagery as a source. And I'm trying not to go the primitive route either. I'm more in the Middle Ages, up to Victorian, when the jewelry had significance." It is jewelry's ability to be a medium of expression that Jones finds engaging. "Jewelry is known for the power to communicate values," she asserts. "And you don't just leave it on the wall at home-you can wear that."

Given that "the feeling created by the piece is, for Jones, the most important aspect of the work, her disinclination to get too caught LIP in technique is not surprising. Although she emphasizes the importance of good craftsmanship, it's strictly as a means to an ends. At this point in her career, her methods have become fluid. Working spontaneously, she builds upon a fabricated shape. Pins are a favorite form, for the freedom of expression they allow: Often the starting point is a long, stafflike shape. This connotes growth and movement, which she sees as metaphors for positive change. She adds to this basic shape, using the "building blocks" she keeps on her bench small metal parts, originally fashioned in wax, then cast into sterling silver; castings from organic forms, stones; pearls; and tiny found objects, waiting to find their way into a piece when the artist's instincts tell her the time is right.

Bronze Twig, 2000
bronze
height 3 1/2"
Balance. 2001
sterling silver 18k gold, pearls
height 3"
Photo: Isaac Applebaum

"It's very much like collage," says Jones, w ho works spontaneously. "There's always that element of growth and movement, and some elements of Surrealism that I often play with, but with a more realistic organic form." The free-­flowing quality of her working method has parallels in the doodling process. Likening her torch to a pencil, Jones admits to really enjoying the soldering process. "A lot of people are afraid of soldering. But it's what I do that gives it that extra element of surprise."

Finding a way to keep things interesting, both for herself and for her audience, is a challenge that Jones maintains is essential. Having to prepare work for an exhibition is one route to this end. In her last solo outing, "Memory: Recent Work," in the fall of 2000, the unexpected came by way of a series of bronze and sterling twig pins, so lifelike as to be almost indistinguishable from the real thing. "I've wanted to make twigs for a while," she .says. "They're detailed copies I've made in wax, then bad cast. That to me has integrity, in a way that casting directly from a twig doesn't." The series was prompted by our innate desire to preserve the ephemeral beauty of found natural objects and the feeling of connection to the earth they awaken within us. As Jones points out, simply removing such objects from their environment and sitting them on a shelf doesn't always work. "You bring it home, and it doesn't feel right." There is also the issue of permanence. Unlike metal, jewelry made from seedpods will eventually disintegrate.

The range of colors Jones has been able to achieve with her patinas is truly startling, with shades ranging from a silvery pink to blue-green, deep red, and darkest chestnut. "I'm intrigued by making it look less and less like metal. That's the great thing about silver it's so versatile. You can't do that with gold." The reduced emphasis on applied surface detail seen in the twig pins is evidence of the subtle shift in Jones's aesthetic. She points to a pin that incorporates an unadorned cast from an apricot pit as an example of this new direction.

Pod Form, 2000
sterling silver with 18k gold
height 3"
Photo: Isaac Applebaum

While her more boisterous work continues to be an important component of her oeuvre, it now shares the stage with pieces displaying a more pared-down approach. Balance, a brooch created in late 2001, unites clean lines and keshi pearls in a pleasing asymmetrical arrangement. Elemental Garland , a sterling silver necklace from 2001, is composed of rounded and elongated shapes, drawn from nature and Jones's own psychic garden. The forms are given a gently darkened finish, suggestive of the effects of age and weather. Tiny incisions and bumps are the only surface interruptions, yet the piece retains a sense of liveliness through the unique character of each element.

Jones's bracelets occupy a particular space in her artistic world, acting as allusions to the jumbled state of our unconscious minds. Melange, a bracelet/necklace of sterling silver, 14 karat gold, bronze, copper, and pearls, is a delightful hodgepodge that combines discs, rings, and bands of assorted sizes with abstract and organic shapes reminiscent of found objects and vegetal debris dug up from the garden. "They're emblematic of that clutter of memory that we have-nonspecific feelings, and bits of things," says the artist, who staunchly defends our right to cherish that which is magical and unexplained.

The human tendency to be intrigued by the mysterious is what compels us to examine her pieces repeatedly, as we try to guess at their hinted meanings, or read into them our own. Some of her chimeras are reminiscent of the weird products of the Surrealists' exquisite corpse game. [1] In Faith, an antlerlike form, grows from the cast impression of a fruit pit. In another pin, a sterling silver stalk sprouts a pearl that resembles an animal hoof. These pieces recall a comment a friend of hers once made that Jones's jewelry "looks like the way thins do in dreams." That her jewelry can act as the receptacle of our dreams, as well as her own, has led to many commissions for wedding rings and other special occasion pieces. Rather than see this work as a compromise, Jones views it as a welcome opportunity to create a piece that will have long­-lasting meaning and play a significant part in someone's life. Since clients come to her because they appreciate her aesthetic, she has the creative freedom she needs to execute a piece that satisfies both herself and the buyer. Rings are the most frequent items requested by clients, and years of working in this form have led Jones to develop a distinctive approach to this most intimate form of jewelry. Lines wobble, suggestive of molten metal or twisted branches. Details draw the eye around the surface--while the tiny gold details that have been a staple of Jones's vocabulary are still there, now sometimes just small markings within the metal, or the actual shape of the ring itself, act as the visual path around the piece.

In recent years locally found fossils have worked their way into Jones's rings. At first, she set them as she would a stone. Then she cast impressions and shaped them into rings, the surfaces of which are enriched by the ripples and crevices left by tiny creatures who inhabited our earth eons ago. As with the twig pins, the fossil impression rings speak to the paradox of our being able to appreciate nature only, through changing it. "I really think that these tiny little pieces of jewelry can capture those kind of ideas," Jones asserts.

In the pin Faith re-born ... or, can you see the future? she expresses her hope for humanity. A tiny plastic baby with outstretched arms perches on a crescent-topped staff, in front of a spiraling shell silhouette in iridescent silver. The baby evokes the qualities of innocence, purity, and new life, symbols of reassurance for these troubled times. "Ultimately, I always take the approach of being optimistic," says Jones, who is proud to literally w ear her views on her sleeve. "It's an opportunity, in this world where everything is becoming so homogenized, to still make a statement."

Barbara Isherwood is a Toronto-based writer and broadcaster on visual arts and craft

[1] A collaborative game using a folded piece of paper, on which artists would draw without having seen the preceding contribution.
Quotes are from conversations between the author and Vivienne Jones, September 27, 2000 , and September 30, 2001 .


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Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.

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