Risk and Reverence
In this portfolio I have brought together the work of a group of artists who while pursuing a personal process of discovery embody the spirit of taking chances. I was interested in ingenuity freshness of vision, and authenticity. Risk and reverence as defined for this project must emanate from the choices that the artists make in their materials, techniques, and subjects and through the conceptual content of the work. I chose the artists accordingly. While some artists may seem traditional in their approaches, within their particular esthetic genres they take risks that keep their works intriguingly fresh. On the other hand, the jewelry artists who most depart from traditional approaches still pay homage to craft traditions. Regardless of their distinct approaches, each artist shuns repetition, preferring the challenge of the undiscovered. They may engage unique materials, alternate approaches, and divergent conceptions in their quest for creative clarity or they may seek to amplify traditional means in a contemporary context for the same purpose. The search for personal creative discovery and aesthetic social engagement is, at times, a perilous act, because risk is an integral part of change. Taking risks is often a process of clarifying one’s creative ideas. It is not necessarily something one sets out to do.
Several things became apparent as this project progressed. First, the work which I saw was more organic in approach than has seemed to be the trend over the last fifteen years. It is apparent that jewelry artists are rethinking the natural environment. On the other hand, the diversity of approaches and materials being used is not much of a surprise. It was interesting to find that much of the challenging work in the field is body oriented, and this portfolio reflects these concerns.
When thinking about the text for this portfolio, I did not want to use artists’ statements, which tend to be academically dry and somewhat generic. Rather, I decided to interview each artist represented. I was looking for two things from these interviews: first, some personal spark or epiphany revealed to them in the making of their work and, secondly, spontaneous associations between the spoken word and the photographic representation of the work. Out of the interviews I selected several sentences which would relate to an aspect of the creative process. There is an implied relationship between the text and photos, yet there is not a direct reciprocity. This correlation is not meant to explain the work but rather to augment the esthetic experience. Viewers must draw their own conclusions.
To discern how the concepts of reverence and risk apply to jewelry and the craft world of which it is a part, we must look at the contextual environment, the historic associations, and the social situations in which these works exist. I define modern crafts with the words reverence, object, and tactility. Though artists in general are good at negating set definitions, I believe that these ingredients are what separate crafts from the other visual arts and give crafts a specific province. The word which most aptly defines modern crafts is reverence. In the broad sense current crafts work shows reverence for historical and social order, but in a narrower sense it shows reverence for processes, materials, and uses. Even within the current discourse in which crafts is being reevaluated in the hierarchical social and aesthetic order, reverence is the key to defining crafts. Reverence – for materials, processes, and function – is what makes modern crafts special and separates it from the other fine arts. In this definition there can be no modern crafts without reverence. On the other hand, this does not make risk a concept alien to crafts. I believe risk as well as reverence informs modern crafts. While craftspersons, excluding hobbyists and makers of replicas, all take risks in their work, it is usually not the kind of risk that attacks values. It is more a risk in reckoning “will it go with what I think I do?” Yet it is the risk that artists take when they question these values which reinvigorates our thinking. While I do not believe that modern crafts can exist without reverence and that the crafts artists’ adherence to this conception is what separates us from a fine arts attitude, I also believe that the irreverence concomitant with risk taking is necessary to advance crafts.
A strong case could be made that the art and craft hierarchy provides the foil contemporary crafts persons need to separate artistry from artisanry. While contemporary crafts is not inextricably bound with the functional use of an object, there is still a bond with the process of making. Craftsmanship – knowledge of materials, perfection of technique – this is an essential pursuit. Technical skills develop new responses to materials that will lead to new directions in thinking as well as to invention. At this moment, at least, it is not possible to discard the importance of hand work because hand work is an important foil for ideas. The ways in which artists Jonathan Bonner (Klein), Leslie Leupp (Queer Objects) and Martin Puryear (Self), include materials and techniques in their works are definitely crafts inspired, while the objects they make cannot be associated in the usual way with crafts or fine arts. The objects are grounded in the esthetic of material and technique but they are not grounded in the historical common use orientations of craft. Thomas Gentille and Joe Wood make objects that cannot be assessed in the usual sense of jewelry, rather these works exist on their own, but they are still marked by a reverence for materials and technique.
At times crafts can be almost narcissistic in its self-examination, How much of crafts is about itself and how much is it about the society in which it is produced? Does jewelry about jewelry, for instance address any other issues? How does craft work take on more importance than this self-reflexivity might indicate? Reverence for functionality, processes, and materials can become a means of addressing ideas beyond the material. Reflections on technique, and treating such techniques metaphorically, can transport viewers to another time or place. One is able to quite literally relate to the physical world while touching on metaphysical concerns. Reverence then is important to ideas functioning from within the perspective of crafts.
The second word defining crafts is object. I do not think we can imagine starting to create an artistic work without referring to some historical object or some useful object with which we interact socially. We are constantly affected by our environment through touching objects, negotiating around objects, using objects, or changing the form of objects. These interactions affirm our presence and our usefulness; they are a process of taking our measure of ourselves. As well as being useful for survival jewelry, vessels, clothing, furniture, utensils, and architectural environments are our points of departure in confirming our physically perceptible boundaries as well as our self-worth. Objects also take part in the interaction between people as gifts, mutual play things, means of communication, and tools for shared work. The craft mind is intrigued by all these associations and interactions. This is the source of our creative intellect. It is the vocabulary for our expressiveness.
The third word that defines modern crafts is tactile. We interact with materials themselves. Hard/soft, hot/cool, rough/smooth, we are affected by these attributes, but we are also affected by how a material is worked. The crafts person is finely attuned to the properties of materials. When a craft person chooses a material to work with he or she wants to respond to it in a physical way. To perceive its properties in this fashion is often described by crafts persons as a sensual experience. This tactile response is important to our psychological make-up. When psychologists speak of human needs, psychological needs for social relationships, esteem and self-actualization are high on the list. Crafts plays a part in this actualization. Our ability to make things and tie them into a philosophical social context is part of “becoming what we are capable of becoming”. We need to hold, we need to touch to affirm our physical being.
To risk is to constantly challenge one’s artistic precepts. We do not normally think of risk when thinking of crafts but risk can be a defining characteristic of crafts. There are personal, creative risks, artistic risks, and even social risks. Personal artistic risk may engage new materials or conceptual associations. It seeks new criteria for esthetic judgments. Ultimately, risk is giving up to the materials and the process while seeking new vision and in so doing the craftsperson gambles with possible failure. It is risk that keeps ideas moving forward and it is reverence that brings us back to test those ideas.
For the observe, it is not always easy to see the personal risk which the artist takes. The process can be evolutionary, which may create grousing, or revolutionary, which initially may lead to chaos. Both processes eventually lead to a re-definition of the field. In jewelry we hear muttering about appropriateness as each new rule is broken, but as of yet no artist has been garroted with a necklace for improprieties. Sudden change is a rare occurrence and though there has not yet been any such upheaval in the crafts field so far, I would place no bets. But there are two such events (in the visual arts and in music, that I have witnessed) which illustrate this chaos point. They illustrate how unsettling such a change can be.
Philip Guston, who was an important abstract expressionist painter, broke a taboo when he “sprang his secret at the Marlborough Gallery in October of 1970”. While bringing new clarity to his painting he inadvertently crossed a line within the art world. He did not follow the critical creative norm in these new paintings. There was outrage. He was vilified by powerful art critics and banished from the gallery, from New York, and from the national art scene. Eventually his new paintings were understood and they brought new life to contemporary painting. Artists/craft persons are affected by his seeming indiscretion today as evidenced by the new, simply expressed, social figurative imagery.
Jazz musician John Coltrane had a similar effect on jazz when in the mid ’60s he began including overtones, squeaks, and squawks as a normal part of his saxophone playing. Traditionally considered bad form, Coltrane’s innovations are now a part of every player’s repertoire. His playing was a reflection of his philosophy which embraced disorder as a positive phenomenon. What seemed to be chaos was actually universal order, a spiritual reflection of the times. His impact was so strong that it rearranged the accepted possibilities of jazz style. What and how to play came to be defined as pre- and post- Coltrane. But, until this was sorted out there was quite a bit of turmoil in the world of jazz. Both of the examples above illustrate the destructive forces and the rejuvenating forces that a singular vision can unleash.
This sort of quick change is unusual. Evolution in thinking is usually an accumulation of small challenges and that is what we see in crafts. Jewelry is also being challenged in several ways: its association with the body, its ability to take on new social issues and commentary, its presumption of preciousness and permanence, and the primacy of technique. As new creative channels are explored, we see a shifting of assumptions.
One strategy of risk in all creative fields is the challenging of social norms. Social risk goes against established norms, subverting customs within society. A recent example of this is artist Andres Serrano’s photographs of bodily fluids. This territory is not frequently approached in crafts. Tapestry artist Laura Baird’s Jonestown Carpet is an example of such a transgression. Mass suicide is treated in a casual decorative fashion that sets up a dichotomy of emotions: revulsion and seduction. In this way it becomes an offense to our social conventions. This portfolio contains two artists who explore similar territory in their work: Barbara Stutman and Joyce Scott.
Students are often asked to be risk takers because they are encouraged to explore concepts freely. School is the time to take chances though students are not generally risk takers in the sense that I use the term. Students freely explore concepts as a person would try on new clothes, yet their personal values are usually not totally formed. In the process of forming a personal artistic value system, students may strive to be irreverent, but personal artistic risk taking comes later when values are set and to change or challenge them can be frightening. Their work should not, however, be dismissed. Student work can challenge the values within the field. If work stands on its own as a conceptual challenge to the views in the field, it matters little from what situation such work was derived. It still has a cleansing effect on ideas.
In September of 1991 the so-called Iceman was found frozen high in the mountains of Switzerland. His discovery generated much interest, in part because of the well-preserved artifacts found with him. These artifacts described a way of life, the position he held in society, and his proficiency at doing tasks. While we can marvel at his ingenious existence and our historical insights, we should also take some lessons from the social history he represents.
We, artist-crafts persons, are no less than Tyrolean adventurers today, leaving behind artifacts that will describe our contemporary society to the future. However we have the luxury that the Iceman did not. We are able to examine ourselves and our own artifacts. What discoveries can we make? The most obvious discovery would be that we have lots of time on our hands, we are a society of leisure. We are able to pursue culture and spend time in activities not essential to basic survival. Most of our utilitarian things are made by huge technological production machines, while hand work is reserved for the production of objects of contemplation. The crafts person is free to explore ideas, reflect on history, and explore the relationship of objects to our lives. We may also discover that this is a time of diversity. It is difficult to apply rules and laws evenly. We cannot define boundaries. Simple artistic classifications cannot be applied across the board. Ours is a time of reflection on spiritual order and also a time of questions concerning artistic freedom. The craft object is part of this debate. This is a time when our civilization has advanced to a point that useful things made by hand are not necessary for practical living. Yet the useful object is the glue that bonds and helps establish our sense of place. We have in current craft work examples “of individual style, national style, and period style, illustrating the aims of an art history which conceives style primarily as expression, expression of the temper of an age and a nation as well as expression of the individual temperament”.
Crafts persons are harkening back to a particular historical period of tool technology. We are clinging to the dawn of the machine age. Our responses to tools are simultaneously tactile, expedient, and romantic. Certain tools can accomplish goals with a certain expenditure of time and effort and also connect our sensate being to the process.
There is a false view that historical hand methods of production add up to quality and mechanized manufacturing methods do not. Mechanization has become synonymous with saving money and finding ways to standardize and cheapen products. It has taken on connotations of product simplification and sterilization, distorting the word quality to the point that it means sameness. Machine manufacturing in this country is not associated with individual creativity; however mass production and mechanization are not to blame. The quality of design in products is set by management and manufacturing engineering and automated tools can be the means for any end including the production of finely made objects. Alberto Alessi stated in his lecture at the 1993 Cincinnati SNAG conference that it is possible to have a symbiotic relationship between design and manufacturing. At Alessi s.p.a. the artist is sought out first, then comes the object, and then all manufacturing processes are brought to bear on producing the object as conceived. Just as a hand tool leaves its special mark on material, so does the highly sophisticated machine. As artists we can be attuned to the machines’ characteristics and the additions that they make to our esthetic vocabulary. It is the artist’s hand on the machine, the artist’s control of the processes that transforms producing into creation. As David Damkoehler, one of the artists in this exhibition states: “Before going to the lathe I do a lot of drawing to figure out the machining, but when I work with the machine I try to creatively push what the machine will do.” Laura Marth, speaks of the warmth of the metal as it is being worked on the lathe as being an essential sensual component of her response to the material: “the metal almost seems to take on life.” Joan Parcher is attuned to the possibilities that manufacturing can provide. Her manufactured elements are a testament to the creative results possible in such a relationship. She combines the coolness of machine work with the richness of her materials.
Crafts persons should be open to the possibilities that current technologies offer. The computer is changing our relationship to machines. New sophisticated modeling capabilities have given flexibility to processes and simplified the access to preciseness. Minuteness of detail can be spelled out simply on a computer screen. No longer is testing, retesting, and endless adjustments to the material needed to achieve accuracy and fine detail. The advantages to artists will continue to grow. However, a lack of such resources should not be a hindrance to artistic imagination either. A dilemma that confounds many ex-students, who upon graduation no longer have access to the well-supplied tool shop of school, is how does one work with minimal tools and no cash? What can be accomplished with the most primitive of tool technology and still be relevant to society? While it is important to look to the latest technology as one creative conduit for ideas, it is also important to look to the simplest of technologies as possible production methods. In less industrialized cultures one can find the most astonishing objects made by simple methods from materials such as tin can lids. In Mexico many crafts are made by the simplest means but speak highly of freedom of spirit, exuberance, and social issues. For example, the most astonishing copper work is coming from the small town of Santa Clara Del Cobre. Huge vessels, three feet in circumference by three feet high, magnificent even by our technological standards of perfection, are made by the simplest of means. The process starts with a block of copper. The craftsmen form it hot, into sheet on a fat steel plate on the ground. They then do the final forming and raising on a simple steel stake driven into the ground. A multi-curved vessel can be formed by these simple methods. If a handle is to be part of the design, it is formed from the same piece of metal, drawn out from the side, no soldering. It is instructive to look at these technologically simple cultures for inspiration, but it is even more instructive and relevant to find this in our own culture. How can a person living in this culture of the Internet, find true relevance in, for example, punching holes in tin with a nail? There can only be relevance if the artist creates it. “Folk art often incorporates symbolism and attains seriousness without seeming academic or pretentious.” It has a “friendly aspect, a welcoming aspect”. This can give an edge to particular idea. A number of artists in the upper Midwest are working in a similar, naïve folk art genre. Judy Onofrio, one of those artists explains: “Anything goes, and I will look for whatever material works. I have a whole case of percolator tops off of coffeepots that may become beads.” It is a choice born of both necessity and emotion that brings materials and tools together in the crafts person’s hands and the power of the imagination that determines the voyage.
The crafts field is divided along material lines – clay, glass, wood, fiber, metal, etceteras; plastic is yet on the fringe. These categories have a lot to do with what we expect when we enter a craft exhibition. In an exhibition of glass we know what to expect; similarly upon entering an exhibition of clay we know what we are about to see. But particularly in the categories wood and metal, complications cloud the issue. In the subcategories of wood furniture and metal jewelry we may find our expectations shattered. In a recent exhibition “Sculptural Concerns: Contemporary American Metalworking”, a surprising number of pieces were made from materials other than metal. Frequently one finds oneself using the word attitude to categorize such work, as in “it’s a metals attitude”. How might we define a metals attitude? What are the tactile, sensual clues that might help us distinguish such an approach? Is it the love of finish, dullness, brightness, texture, is it hardness, temperature transference, or is it coolness and hotness to the touch that establishes this attitude? Is it the difficulty of working, or the need to use many tools? Maybe it can be found in the versatility of working or the stability of the material. Or is it the many ways of working that spawns devotion? It is probably a different mixture of all of these ingredients for each metals worker. In jewelry it is more than the material, the way of working is also a defining factor. This is why it is difficult to categorize contemporary jewelry by materials.
Many different materials have always been used in jewelry production. Preciousness, of course, is a component that sets jewelry apart and preciousness can be associated with metals, minerals, and the avail, ability or scarcity of materials from which jewelry has traditionally been made. But modern jewelry deals with other considerations too. Every time a jeweler begins a piece they have to question the appropriateness of use, of materials, and of process. Additionally they must consider the use/function as it relates to historical precedents. How does this object fit into the tradition? What is this objects relationship to the body; what category of object is it; is the piece meant to be wearable; and are the chosen materials suitable? It is how the individual artist approaches and answers these questions, at both the conceptual and material level, that gives a full sense of what the genre is about. In other words the interrogation of this attitude begins to give a more accurate picture of contemporary jewelry.
Jewelry objects have a unique position because historically jewelry has had greater associations with spiritual or contemplative qualities than the products of other craft areas. The idea that jewelry should have overt conceptual cultural meanings is not a modern notion. Jewelry has traditionally been used for cultural identification and as a sign of social status. It has served as a way to consolidate and to exhibit the wearers wealth. It has been used in religious ceremonies, and for amulets and reliquaries. Some jewelry was given specific spiritual attributes like milagros. So it is not surprising that jewelry has maintained some of these functions and even taken on broader ramifications in contemporary craft. Anne Fauteux expresses it thus: “Jewelry has always been a tool, this is the starting point of my refection.” As it increasingly addresses social issues and philosophical meditations, jewelry’s focus on the object as the harbinger of ideas positions it to challenge traditional ideas of use.
While it may increasingly serve as a vehicle for the maker’s exploration, jewelry is still related to the self-perception and esteem of the wearer. Even though wearing jewelry purely for its decorative qualities and as an indicator of wealth and social status is generally out of favor, most people still expect even the most radical contemporary jewelry to contain a measure of preciousness as a part of its metaphoric formula. Yet, while preciousness may still be a given in many cases its locality has changed. Preciousness is no longer dependent on the scarcity and/or expense of materials. It may now be located in the way the materials were handled, the amount of effort put forth by the maker, or the ideas expressed in the piece. Preciousness in jewelry may give an idea poignancy through irony rather than through the value of the material from which that object is made. Can Deborah Krupenia’s surface treatment which is indebted to Japanese metalworking techniques be seen in the same light as Bruce Metcalf’s canonization of the lowly fuzz ball? Is it admiration we see running through both and does this admiration confer preciousness? Is Craig Calhoun’s admiration for the way cloth works much different from Thomas Gentille’s regard for egg shells and burl?
The traditional small scale that characterizes jewelry amplifies preciousness. Of all the crafts, jewelry specializes in the esthetic of fineness of detail. Bruce Metcalf aptly puts it: “Jewelry exploits incident and demands close examination.” It is a quality on which jewelry relies to give small things importance. This characteristic has the ability to make a scratch important or distracting and it also has the capacity to make a piece of jewelry with the proper mix of materials and detail a statement of purity and sensuality.
What keeps work that takes risks from just seeming odd ball? In some cases the artist may stretch our ideas of correct social behavior to an extreme: i.e. Craig Calhoun, David Page, or Charles Lewton-Brain. In work that turns the usual sense of propriety upside down, humor is often a part of the conception. Would we really wear underwear around our neck as Craig Calhoun’s work suggests? A piece may deal with a clumsy subject, be grossly formed, and have a goofy juxtaposition of imagery, but the skill of execution demands that it be taken seriously as seen in Bruce Metcalf’s work. Much as the Hopi Kachina Koshare brings out moral issues and rights and wrongs, through antics that mock normal behavior, such ironic work can bring issues forward.
Some of the jewelry artists in this portfolio engage themes such as rape or murder that may seem inappropriate to the field. Appropriateness is one of the behavioral standards of society that seems both a social set up and a social binder. Without moral codes and etiquette we would have anarchy, but some rules just seem too difficult to follow. Both Joyce Scott and Barbara Stutman exploit this area. Joyce Scott uses fairly conventional processes to ease us into her difficult subjects. Traditional bead techniques, careful labor, and humor soften the blow. Though the use of humor can easily mask intentions, in Scott’s works it is precisely what makes the subject stick. We can accept such objects and enjoy them, but we may be troubled by their insidious stab to our conscience. This discomfort is, dare I say, relished. Stutman’s work is the most difficult to embrace; there are no veils, no classicism, and no asides. Our assumptions about wearing these pieces are challenged. Yet the work is riveting – dark, fetishistic rag dolls of irony.
The creative process may begin with a grand vision but it is nourished by the observation of small things. An artist’s consideration of the seemingly insignificant keeps an idea from being overstated. Because of its small size jewelry encourages the artist to concentrate information. In addition, jewelry can lend preciousness to multiple ideas. In both Joe Wood’s and Thomas Gentille’s work the search for purity of vision, like the compressed gasses of the sun, give off much light. Their brevity of form, humbleness of materials, and straightforward presentation thrust viewers into the realm of the metaphysical. Their jewelry stands by itself and relates to the body only in the wearer’s desire to possess it.
Creation from destruction, the consummate phoenix tale, is especially potent when encountered in jewelry. Kathy Buskiewicz and Jan Yager take precious material, destroy it, and transform it into precious idea and they take things that are repugnant and give them new identities. In these cases the care that is given to something of little value adds wealth to it. This again is invokes the spirit of Koshare the Hopi Kachina. Actually wearing these pieces is almost subversive. Is it appropriate to wear a crack vial as ornamentation?
Anne Fauteux, Charles Lewton Brain, Jocelyn Chateauvert, and David Page encourage the wearer’s participation. Historically jewelry has been used in cultural ceremonies, but these artists engage patrons in a more private performance, a ritual invented by the makers. The objects seem to have magical qualities, fantastic narratives, or even the ability to imbue wearers with mythic character traits. As a part of the artist-client relationship, wearers give themselves over, allow the seduction of their intellect, and sanction the performance. Clients relinquish a bit of their self esteem as the objects cross and break conventional barriers and defenses. The aim of these works may be to simply tickle the fancy or to make fun of one’s prudishness. Ultimately the performance need not be carried out; it is enough to recognize its latent power and its point. The potential of the performance in a small package can also be a part of the magic of preciousness.
Historical precedent offers an anchor For contemporary concerns. Bruce Metcalf quotes from Renaissance jewelry and architectural motifs to make new connections in form. Sandra Bonazoli re-configures the chatelaine, offering a commentary on contemporary life in the form of women’s contingency tools for survival. New and odd forms can be savored as both eccentric and affirming and elegant forms from, perhaps, a more innocent time can furnish both poignancy and humorous irony as illusions of propriety and the puritanical are juxtaposed with the practical.
“Death and Eros.
Working toward the same end.
Evolution toward freedom and union.”
Eros and the chthonic have always been jewelry’s turf. Working with the natural forms of plant life and the human body, Valerie Mitchell and Shana Kroiz create connections to sensual, almost biological forces, the source of both tension and balance in life. The softness and hardness of growth and expansion, and the collapse and rigidity of death are concepts expressed well in sculptural forms. We perceive objects that seem to expand into the visual space around them, as vital and full of life. Forms that seem to be defeated by the visual space, collapsing in on themselves, equal death. We wish to touch these complex structures as if through sensation we may come to understand ideas of life and death. Sensuality here, comes from the use of both earthy color and voluptuous visual connections to the corporal. Though social conventions may make such explorations difficult, these artists do not shy away from such life affirming investigations.
While Mitchell and Kroiz challenge our philosophical views of sense experience, Glenn Lehrer, one of the new family of free-form gem carvers, focuses on the material, revealing through light and carved form previously hidden sensuality. This work exudes bravado as well as an admiration for material and in the end it seduces. It is both adventurous and traditional. This touches on our historical desire to possess wondrous things; is this a correct feeling in our contemporary climate of correctness? Count me in.
Judy Onofrio’s processes and materials seduce in a different manner. Eros is approached from a novel point of view in her work. Using traditional techniques like Joyce Scott’s, her work becomes a sculptural avowal to the erotic. Lushness, sumptuousness, voluptuousness, in much the same way that we find pleasure in repeating these words so Onofrio builds erotic drama. The process of beading becomes the source from which we derive meaning. Ultimately her jewelry is about the possession of indulgence.
In the work of other artists we are struck with new approaches to materials that seem to dismantle our conventional expectations. While tightly structured and narrowly focused jewelry can be in lesser hands nothing more than technical achievement, Joan Parcher’s and David Damkoehler’s use of material beckons us to freedom and fresh thinking. Their message is taken to a metaphysical level through their use of industrial materials that are not usually considered a part of the esthetic canon. Though less industrial in approach, Jocelyn Chateauvert’s works exhibit a similar appreciation for the magnificence found in more commercialized materials.
Some artists speak more directly to the specific concerns of jewelry. Joan Parcher and Sandra Enterline are both quintessential jewelry artists and they seek purity of form in straightforward technology and brevity. Even their findings demand consideration. Their work is jewelry not because it meets the criteria of smallness with attachments for wearing, but because the idea of jewelry is at its core. Through strategies that are not specific to jewelry, such as the contrasting of natural form against manufactured form, the pieces always claim, first and foremost, an alliance between the body and the object. Yet, while both Enterline and Parcher celebrate the medium, their approaches are very different. Parcher challenges it, makes fun of it, and questions it. Though essentially modernist, Sandra Enterline’s work is grounded in classicism. There is a stillness in its austerity, a silence. Jazz musician Miles Davis called a similar stillness the most important part of his work, the lack of sound, or the time between the notes. Within this silent void we hear the “cosmic hum”.
In pursuit of purity of vision and inspiration, artists Deborah Krupenia, Valerie Jo Coulson, and Suzan Rezac seek both exquisite technique and the influence of different cultures. Their works are a repository for their distilled personal experiences. A reverence for Japanese techniques informs Krupenia’s work; but in their execution the pieces are a blend of Western Puritanism and Eastern Zen cultures, at once tense and serene. The dynamic relationship between East and West is kept in control through their straightforward design. These pieces sustain a sense of intrigue. Coulson finds her inspiration in transforming elements taken from architecture into new forms. The celebration of these new forms is the center of her work and the distillation of culturally familiar sources into a small package becomes a symbol for an emotional experience. The work is both a technical tour de force and a passionate outpouring, bringing to mind the precision and expressive ambiance of the music of Beethoven. Suzan Rezac’s work is a blend of manner and a reverence for jewelry traditions, which produces an opulent tranquillity. Currently she finds her inspiration in her garden, as she translates the fragile beauty of flowers into delicate sensual necklaces. Similar qualities can also be seen in the work of Glenn Lehrer, particularly in the artist’s admiration for both material and seduction. This work, too, is both adventurous and traditional.
In contrast, Lisa Gralnick curbs the display of personal emotion. Her pieces seem to seek the rational behind emotion. Disparate accouterments combined with the mechanical unfold as stories and the satisfaction from this work is found in the details. Meaning is gleaned from a wide field of imagery and that meaning is perceived as poetic impressions. Though very much of the present, the seriousness with which they are made imbues these works with a sense of history. This, too, can be seen as irreverence masked by the legitimacy of historical context?
Simple construction techniques can be used to attain the same directness often found in folk art. Simplicity can also work ironically. David Page ignores the invention of welding and seamless ways of joining pieces together, choosing instead the use of cold connections. The transitions between two pieces of material are visible and recall previous times and methods; yet, the materials are of the present. The pieces are caught in a time warp and they seem to hold a seductive story within even as they engender apprehension. Sly humor is attached to this head gear and we would prefer to see them as alien objects. Simplicity can have its own charm. Arline Fisch’s necklaces balance almost elementary construction with control. They may seem oversimplified to some but the directness of construction and the weight of conviction make them successful. Pop rivet connections and springs for movement, counter and resist the tendency to overcomplicate, found frequently in the field. The colors are light and joyful; the objects are a medicine against pomposity.
Whimsy seems to have its own territory in the crafts world. Though some of that whimsy may lead to the childishly pointless, such an attitude does not have to be simply a goof. Sophisticated use of whimsy can also serve as satire or an ironic aside. Whimsy is often nothing more than an adult’s simplistic view of the child’s world as a safe haven. However children see the world much more in a Dickensian way, in which fear is always lurking. Adults have even gone so far as to create a city of the wishful without fear, ugliness, or difficulties: Sun City. In such a place even a palm frond fallen on a lawn is seen as an affront in this perfect world. Laura Marth’s work is a palm frond on that lawn. Her pieces give respect back to the whimsical.
There is an interwoven pattern of risk and reverence, in divergent contexts, in this discussion of work. It is valuable to understand the forces at work in craft jewelry to see how choices determine development. There is plenty of risk-taking in the field of jewelry and though these risks may not always seem to be large they revitalize the field nonetheless. Meaning in contemporary jewelry may spring from the same source as meaning in the other arts but jewelry by its nature is somewhat reverential and inward looking. These two phenomena come together to give a personality to contemporary jewelry that is particular to this moment. However, jewelry artists should keep in mind all of the associations in their social/philosophical path. “Out of this philosophical chaos new alignments will emerge between arts, crafts and technology and new ideas will emerge.” The essence of advancement is the assimilation of new engagements.
Daniel Jocz is a metalsmith who resides in Cambridge Massachusetts. His work has been shown internationally and his pieces have been reproduced in American Craft, Metalsmith, and Ornament. He has also written on metals and crafts criticism for numerous publications, including Metalsmith.
Dore Ashton, Yes but . . . A Critical Study of Philip Guston (New York: Viking, 1976) 171.
Heinrich Wolfflin, Principles of Art History; The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art, trans. M. D. Hottinger, (New York: Dover, 1932) 10.
Robert Silbermam “Serious Folk,” American Craft (December 1994) 4.
Mary Caroline Richards, Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1964) 52.
Andrea DiNoto “Interesting Visions,” American Craft (August 1992) 50.
Curtis La Follette, interview with author, Hudson Massachusetts, March 1994.