Meet The Boundary-Breaking Jewelry Artists Showing Alongside Ai Weiwei In Force Of Nature Exhibition
Force of Nature exhibition opens to the public today at Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery in London, bringing together 17 contemporary artists who have each vaulted the barrier between art and jewelry. Curated by jewelry editor and author Melanie Grant, the exhibition includes work by jewelry masters like Wallace Chan, Jaqueline Rabun and James de Givenchy, alongside emerging names like Satta Maturi, Liv Luttrell and Melanie Eddy. After Brilliant & Black at Sotheby’s this Fall, which focused on Black jewelry design, Grant’s second selling exhibition smashes through the creative hierarchy of art and jewelry, fueled by the theme of Naturalism.
“We are seeing a shift in the perception of jewelry as an art-form, which began when museums started taking it more seriously,” says Grant, who authored the 2020 book Coveted: Art and innovation in High Jewelry. She references the 2013 JAR retrospective at the MET as a turning point, and with art and design shows like PAD and most recently Salon A+D showcasing artistic jewelry, the very definition of art and who makes it is expanding. Grant herself has designed a cuff for the show, a spiky, bronze concentration of creative energy that feels like a metaphor for the whole concept.
“We’ve seen so much of society evolve in the last few years and the art space is no exception,” she continues. “We’re ready for more inclusion.” “I think it’s about time that jewelry historians reflect on the question,” says James de Givenchy of Taffin, “but the show will be a success even if visitors come out with more questions than answers”. In curating an exhibition that puts independent designer-makers on an equal creative footing with creative powerhouses like Taffin, Grant hopes to nudge the industry in the right direction.
That the work on show is art, seems a moot point (see Lydia Courteille’s gemstone Salamander brooch, top, and Sahara Skull cuff). Wallace Chan, the master jewelry artist known for his exquisite precious butterflies, agrees: “I have never felt art should be elitist. I grew up in poverty, but somehow a magical turn happened and art saved me. You don’t have to take away an art piece to take away a story.” Satta Maturi, whose elegant and empowering blend of Art Deco and African history is also on show, believes the jewelry industry should mirror society: “we live in a diverse world and should have as many voices, designs and stories as possible, told through jewelry design.”
And there’s no reason why that can’t be achievable. London-based maker Melanie Eddy describes social media as a democratizer, but cautions that: “if we don’t continue to advocate for platforms where a variety of voices can be heard, seen and championed, we will lose so much richness from this space.” In a similar vein, Dutch jewelry artist Bibi van der Velden founded her auverture.com curated jewelry platform in 2016, along with the Auverture United initiative to support independent fine jewelry designers in growing their businesses.
In choosing to celebrate Naturalism, Grant also chose to elevate the role of Nature in jewelry design and production. “It is very difficult to make jewelry without involving the forces of nature,” says de Givenchy. “It takes intense heat to melt metals, it requires pounding, pulling and filing. It is a brutal process that, by contrast, results in these delicate works of art.” Elsewhere, Ute Decker, a pioneer of Fairtrade gold, used her sustainable jewelry to tell a story exalting Nature because “working as sustainably as we can is certainly one of the most urgent stories of today.”
But for Wallace Chan, the link between Nature and art is intuitive. “If you listen, nature speaks to you. I understand the force of nature as love.” And with memories of lockdown and just a few minutes a day spent outside still fresh, perhaps the real force of nature is right there.
Six exhibiting artists explain how nature inspires and informs their work.
Bibi van der Velden
“I incorporate Nature through materials like scarab wings and mammoth tusk. My designs express climate change, animals and the life cycle, reflecting the work of the Dutch Masters who showed the natural process of living and dying.
My alligator earrings were specially made for the Force of Nature exhibition, I think they convey a fierce, modern glamour. Inspired by pre-pandemic travels to Africa, these prehistoric creatures feel ancient and almost mystical. They have survived natural disasters and threats from mankind, and with their strength, stealth and steely eyed determination, alligators embody the force of nature.”
James de Givenchy
“One of the first collections I made 25 years ago was called Les Galets (‘The Pebbles’), I revisited this theme for the show with a necklace and the ear clips. I have always been attracted to the way nature fashioned rocks into these perfect organic shapes. By putting the beautifully faceted Tanzanite in the middle or by adding a gold accent, I intended to create a disruption. The brooches are made with carved Neolithic pebbles to create a contrast between the natural flower motifs and their composition.”
“My color palettes, composition and form are all informed by experiences of places or reactions to gemstones that relate to memories. The beryl in this ring reminds me of both icy realms and cool ocean waters. Even though I am from Bermuda, winters in Canada, Kabul and the UK mean I am familiar with icy wintry landscapes. I spent over four years deciding how to mount this gemstone and Bermuda won out in the end. I set it in yellow gold to evoke sunlight and sand reflecting in shallow waters – this combination and the reflective qualities of the beryl immediately take me back home. My mother felt it too, it reminded her of the refreshingly cool ocean.”
“Two of our designs in the show are inspired by our current collection, Whispers of Meroe. They are an ode to the lost Kushite Nubian kingdom and its stories of power, resilience and opulence during ancient Egyptian times. The collection celebrates its bold queens, who were in themselves forces of nature.
Two of the pieces on show incorporate a deconstructed Art Deco style using linear forms. The Isosceles earrings, handmade for the exhibition, feature responsibly sourced African rhodolite garnets complemented with black and white natural diamonds.”
“Out of a deep respect for Mother Nature, I choose to work with Fair-trade gold and recycled silver. The Articulation neck piece is one long loop of recycled gold reaching to the knees. The wearer can then loop it in endless ways, making it different and unique for each person, each time they wear it. It engages with the active participation of the wearer, which makes it such an exciting piece to wear. For me, this is an allegory of human nature. We are all connected, yet we have many choices as to how we shape our lives. We are the artists of our lives.”
“I am always trying to push through my own cocoon, seeking transformation and rebirth. The butterfly is one of the creatures that I identify most with. When I first exhibited my jewelry creations in 2007, I brought with me a lot of butterflies. People remembered me as ‘the butterfly man from China’. I love superhero movies, if I were to play a role, Butterfly Man would suit me just fine. Mother Nature is the most talented creator. When I create a butterfly, I try not to imitate how it looks but to depict what it means.”
This article appeared on 18th November 2021.
Written by Kate Matthams.