On the occasion of the exhibition “TRIPTYCH: Life, Love, Death”, the blog of LA Joaillerie introduces the artists participating in the exhibition. To open this series of interviews, let’s meet British artist Zoe Arnold.
– How/why did you become a jeweller ? How would you qualify yourself: a jeweller designing wearable poetry or a poet making jewelry ?
Growing up, I had thought I would become a sculptor, having always preferred contemporary or conceptual sculptures and installations to the flat world of the painting. Even so, I still enjoy art that has some craft skill to it. Something that is well made will always draw my attention and my admiration more than art which is merely made to shock. It is very hard to shock people in the art world today, and the way to stand out is now to have depth and meaning but also some craft to your work. I have always been drawn to detail and smaller scale, so Jewellery was a natural progression. I hesitate to label what I do, since my tastes and way of working changes from year to year… I am sometimes a jeweller, an artist, a poet, a designer. I make what I want to make.
– Your works are sometimes composed of found objects or artefacts. Is it a new orientation ? Would you say that you are a collector before being a maker ?
Part of me is a collector, but recently I have realized I am a curator. I am interested in composition of objects, be that within my work, or a cabinet or drawer. There is
something hypnotic about arranging things, carefully pouring over them and finding a place for them to sit…the place they are meant to be. Even so, I am a maker before I
am a collector, the urge to create is very strong, I only really collect things I can see using in my work, even if I keep them for years.
– What is your favorite stage in the creation process ?
I enjoy the thinking and the daydreaming stage. When anything is possible, held in your mind as flights of fancy that slowly crystalize into an idea, which then turns into an urge to make.
– When starting a creation, do you usually consider the object as a piece you could wear yourself ?
Not really. I make treasures, but I don’t worry about whether they will be worn. I make them for my self, for an imagined collection, but I don’t often intend to wear them. I follow my compulsion to make the piece, to express some emotion or form, which will give me some sense of completion when finished. I am driven by this, seeing my vision created before me. The jewellery side of it has never been my interest, only the materials and invented treasure. Much as I love collections in museums, I am happy for other people to wear them, but it rarely interests me, I just like looking at them.
– You qualify your works as «as much individual works of art as they are wearable sculpture». Does this imply certain compromises in terms of design?
I don’t believe I compromise my designs for their wear-ability or vice versa. I try to make sure they are comfortable, durable enough and not too heavy, but other than that, my idea comes first. It would depend on your point of view; do you value the wearable side above that of the art? I know many people would, but I don’t. It is not my main intention. I own many things of beauty that are impractical or past their use, but still hold them in high regard.
– According to you, what is the aim and/or function of jewelry ? Do you consider it as a specific language ?
Jewellery has three functions:
- To please the owner or wearer.
- To interest or attract a viewer.
- To project an idealized version of the wearer to the world.
For me, the maker, the piece is simply to please myself. It does not take on these other functions until it is being worn by someone else, until then, it is not Jewellery, it is an object.
– Do you like handling materials, working with your hands ?
Materials are the pallet of textures and colours I get to choose from when I am designing. They often influence the idea heavily. I can fall in love with a material for a while and use it in many of my pieces, tying them together. But I often have an emotional connection too, I love the soft dusty surface of zinc, and the light reflective qualities of mother of pearl. Each allows me to create a different feel to my work, rather than working only with precious metals. Working with my hands is what is so enjoyable about what I do. I need to make the works myself, I don’t have a helper, it’s so personal.
– Do you wear jewelry and do you remember the first jewel you wore ?
I own very little Jewellery, and I wear even less. I am not sure if this is because I am quite a practical person, I am mostly in my workshop or seeing close friends I don’tneed to dress up for. I am more likely to want to hoard my treasures away for myself than show them off to other people… I do wear the engagement ring I made every day, with a heavily flawed diamond in it, and the wedding band my great jeweller friend Beth Legg made for me. I look at them often throughout the day. The Jewellery I do own is mostly from my childhood, a small chain of blue hearts purchased on a holiday with my family, I can still just about wear it and it brings back memories of hot evenings by the sea. I also have a little set of three enamelled brooches. Three squirrels that belonged to my nan, I used to look at them carefully when I visited, they did feel like treasures but somehow they lost their magic once she gave them to me…they were suddenly possessions and no longer to be longed for.
– What do you dislike the most in jewellery ?
I suppose I dislike how people still revere the big name brands, I would always choose the small artisan over the larger company. I think people have forgotten how to look with their own eyes and are blinded by advertising and hype. I am not a fan of making jewellery to show off a persons’ wealth, it can do so much more than that, it can tell a story, provoke a feeling or memory. I am not interested in producing settings for giant stones, I find that distasteful.
– What do you think is the most challenging in creating jewellery today ?
I find it a challenge to find interesting places to sell my work. Many of the great contemporary Jewellery galleries around the world have closed in the last few years, there are plenty of people who would buy our work, but the world of contemporary Jewellery has been quite secretive, we are by nature more contemplative, we don’t scream loudly about our work and we should. The throw away society doesn’t value the slow nature of craft, it doesn’t understand how long it takes to create something that is not mass produced. We need to slow down, consume less and enjoy quality and depth.
– Do you favor any particular type of jewelry and why ?
I have always enjoyed making brooches. I suppose they are less imposed upon by the body, they do not need to fit a finger, or hang from a neck. They are less vulnerable to being damaged through wear, and so allow for unusual designs. Not many people wear brooches however, people should wear more brooches !
– Are you influenced by other artists or art forms ? Where do you find your inspiration ?
I do my best to stay away from researching other jewellers, and try instead to find my inspiration from other sources. I love the strange kinetic sculptures of the artist Jean Tinguely, the boxed worlds of Joseph Cornell and the atmospheric animations of the Brothers Quay. All are slightly dark, but also deeply humorous. I am very much influenced at the moment by museum collections, and specimens gathered by past explorers. Things gathered together and curated, arranged and catalogued. They bring me great pleasure.
– What do you think of the growing importance of new technologies and 3D design in the Jewellery field and education ? Do you believe that learning traditional techniques is important ?
Any new technology is exciting and does open up new possibilities. I understand why students are taught these skills because for many they will be vital for their future employment; however, my work does not lend itself to designing on a computer. I find this way of working is limited to how skilled you are with a program and doesn’t perhaps allow for happy accidents. I would not have enjoyed my time studying if I had been forced to sit looking at a screen, having said that, I do find the technology intriguing, but for me, hand skills will always bring me the greatest pleasure and sense of achievement. We should have both, teaching our students a rich variety of skills can only help to open their horizons and encourage all talents. We must not get stuck in the past, but we must realize the value of traditional techniques that could easily be lost.
– What do you think is the future of jewellery, both as a creator and a wearer ?
Jewellery has changed so much over the past few years. Much as has happened in the contemporary art world, now anything seems possible. There are some very distinct and varied styles of jewellery, and the Internet has opened up opportunities for people to sell their designs direct to the public. It is in many ways an over saturated market, although one that is apparently still growing. People will always be drawn to jewellery, to something that sparkles, it is human nature, the magpie in us. As a creator I will keep making, I am driven to make, quietly in my studio, the outside world passing by makes little difference to what I do.
– What do you think about the growing place of women in the jewellery field (not only wearers, but creators, teachers, gallerists, scholars, curators, etc…) ? What is it like to be a woman evolving in the art world today ?
I find this a difficult question. I would need to have the point of view of a man also, to be able to answer it. I only know the world I have experienced. The jewellery world I have seen has always been dominated by female figures. In majority, most of my class were female when I was studying, most of my tutors were women. Women buy my work and my fellow jewellers are mostly women. Gallery owners are often women too. The only places dominated still by men are in the workshops hidden away inside old buildings. Men who trained as apprentices in specific fields, the engravers, stone setters, stone dealers, hallmarkers, casters. These areas are mostly male dominated, I find this interesting and quite sad. Historically making jewellery was a man’s trade, and in the more traditional settings it still is, but the world of art jewellery is completely different, it’s more open and diverse.
– How did you approach the subject of the Triptych exhibition ? What did you like about it ?
There is always something pleasing about things in threes. They form a pleasurable tension and visual story. A beginning, middle and an end. I considered making one piece to hold all three concepts but was ever drawn back to a set of three pendants. Three pendants to be worn individually perhaps as talismans. The subject of the triptych suits me, since I often make frames in which my works can sit, environments to house the jewels when they are not being worn, and which provide a context. My talismans are housed in an archive box, as if preserved by a museum and catalogued as antiquities.
– Can you tell us more about the piece(s) you have created ?
1. Birth. This is made from blackened silver, 18ct gold, mother of pearl and antique gambling chips. This is lighter in form than the other two, to me, full of hope and promise. I found out I was pregnant when working on this project and I also lost my Grandfather so the themes were particularly meaningful.
2. Life. All three pendants echo each other’s forms; vaguely cross like and with a sacred feel, though I am not religious. This pendant is made from blackened silver, a zinc sheet holding the impression of a flower, with a very early glass photograph set above it. The unknown lady leaving a ghostly likeness on the glass surface. Four rough ruby slices, “Corundum” with their flashes of Fool’s Gold surround the image. Life is fleeting and should be treasured. Too many of us walk our path as ghosts and miss the subtle beauty in the details around us.
3. Death. Dusty zinc forms hand textured and arranged around a simple oblong of jade. Death obviously provokes sadness, but also reflection and memory. Each zinc shape has been hand textured, each dent a moment in time, the ticking of the clock or the marks we leave behind us…
– What are you working on currently ? What’s your upcoming project ?
Well, I am currently working on growing a baby, my most ambitious project so far. I have yet to understand how this will influence my practice, but for now I will use this time to take a step back and re assess what I do. I am looking to work on some collaborations, and have a project in mind which involves a more reflective way of working, relating to the ideas and designs that for whatever reason never get made. We will see…