Monday, August 3, 2015

How Has Your Work Evolved

We have been asked, "how has your work evolved", many times throughout our careers. Despite our previous tome on politically correct artistic influence, the real answer is that all artists are guided on a daily basis by a wide variety of internal and external influences. This rarely results in a straight linear path in the evolution of the creative output. 

This question of "evolution" is often confused with the artist's refinement of a particular technique. 
The resulting answer usually amounts to, "I started painting squares and circles and I wasn't too good at it. Now I paint squares and circles with great precision."

In our case the "technique" is experimentation, collaboration and hybridization. 
Here's the executive summary for those of you who are in a hurry: A long time ago we started experimenting and collaborating and creating work with a hybrid of materials and techniques. We weren't to good at it. Now we're much better at it. 

We’ve been making jewelry as part of the output of our design studio since 1972. It was a very small part in those days. In 1989, we decided to focus the studio much more on jewelry. This shift was a reaction to the then growing art jewelry movement. All of a sudden jewelry design became the creative Wild West. Traditional concepts of jewelry and adornment were being challenged. Bold experimentation with materials and techniques was expected. This environment suited us just fine.

We came to this new movement well armed with over a decade of formal art training and a broad experience with a wide range of materials from the studio’s industrial design practice.  The studio was also heavily involved with the mining, gem and mineral trade at the time. A significant part of our output was lapidary work with an emphasis on commesso (intarsia) techniques.

This jelly fish design was typical of the type of work the studio was producing in the late 1980s. We often worked with plant and sea life forms using a fair amount of custom cut gem material.

In tandem with the more experimental work, the studio still produced a regular stream of more conventional products such as this ring with custom cut tourmalines. This was mainly an acknowledgment that we wanted to keep eating.  During this period, we were also mining almost all of the gem and mineral material used in our work

By the early 1990s, we had developed a purist aesthetic that relied almost exclusively on stone with little to no metal. This approach won considerable critical acclaim but proved to be too advanced for the public taste. Many people simply did not understand why there was no silver or gold in the pieces.

This reaction led us reluctantly back to using more metals. To satisfy ourselves we decided to play more with unconventional compositions and materials. During this period, we made considerable strides in mixing metals, plastic, wood, stone and resin into the designs.

The experimentation we were doing with materials also exposed us to a growing list of metal specific techniques. By the mid-1990s, we had expanded our metal repertoire far beyond using a single metal. During this period, we produced a considerable body of work using everything from marriage metal, keum bo, mokume game and Damascus.

By 1998, our reputation for working with a wide variety of odd materials was well known. Because of this, we were approached by the Mitsubishi Corporation to develop jewelry applications for a new laboratory-grown opal product that they were introducing to the US market. This ring is one of the promotional prototypes produced for that program.

During the early 2000’s the studio output was both flamboyant and restrained. These dual paths served both our creative needs and the demands of the marketplace.

By mid-decade, we had arrived at a middle ground and were producing lines that featured a highly eclectic blend of materials in a somewhat standardized context such as this bracelet. The form of the bracelet allowed us to mix a highly varied range of materials into each segment.

Throughout this period of focusing on jewelry, we continued to produce small sculptures and functional objects. These objects, such as this martini glass, exhibited a considerable overlap of the jewelry and metal working techniques we had been developing.

At this time, we were also very interested in using completely non-jewelry related industrial materials in our work. Electronic and computer components featured prominently in our work from this period.

It was during this period of working with industrial materials that we discovered polymer clay. This material proved to a transformative intersection in our work. Early polymer work used the material as a counterpoint in traditional compositions.

As we progressed, the work became bolder, and the polymer began to stand on its own as the main element of the work.

In parallel to polymer clay, we are also currently re-examining ancient metal working techniques, specifically from Asia and the Middle East.  These ancient techniques are being melded with modern technologies and materials such as micro pulse arc welding and polymer clay to create a hybrid style.


Blog Carnival is a monthly exercise by the members of the Association of International Metalsmiths.
Volunteer members post their own perspectives on a common theme, giving the reader a view into the minds and lives of how artists from around the world relate to the same topic. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The politically correct guide to artistic influence.

Welcome to another installment of Blog Carnival, where an International group of artists gangs up on a singular idea for your amusement and edification. This month we probe the depths of artistic influence.

Many of our creative compadres will muse about Nature and long walks on the beach, and all myriad other things that influence their art.  We, on the other hand, create in a vacuum. We are influenced by Nothing.

Thus, we never assimilate an idea from another artist, living or dead. We are wholly original and create totally new forms, concepts, colors and designs that have never been seen on planet earth before.

We are deaf, dumb and blind to history, other cultures and other avenues of artistic expression. We never employ any creative element or idea that is from another peoples or place. Even though we have traveled the world, we see nothing, retain nothing, employ nothing.

We are like sieves, our lives flowing freely through us, while we are aware of only the correct and appropriate experiences to our race, color, creed, religious and sexual preference. We fully respect that others of our race, color creed, religious and sexual experiences could have had similar experience before us, and thus have a prior claim on artistic influence. We have purged all memory of our lives from our art.

We don’t “borrow” from nature. After all, this is just another form of theft. We refuse to perpetuate the exploitation of nature for the arts. Nor do we unconsciously steal ideas from other forms of creative expression such as music, writing, vegan cooking or reality TV. Our art is honestly created from nothing.

We have undergone extensive formal training in the arts. Proudly, our many instructors and mentors have had absolutely no influence whatsoever on us. We have never explored any of their ideas or followed along any of the paths they have been on. Nor have we shared with others what was taught to us.

We take the high road and remain pure unto ourselves. We’re creators, not haters.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Favorite Things

This month’s Blog Carnival** is “Favorite Things”. The actual mandate was only to show photos of some of your favorite things. Which immediately put us in touch with our very most favorite thing – breaking the rules.

As we were scurrying about on this assignment trying to determine “favorite” things, it turns out that our favorite “things” aren’t things at all. It’s the meaning and memory attached to the things and what they represent in terms the intersection of our lives and the lives of others.

Everything we surround ourselves with has a story behind it. The banalest objects often represent a deeply felt moment in time. It is these moments that define us as people; the “things” are just the footprints of the journey we are on.  Come by for coffee some time and we will tell you the full story, but for now here is a synopsis.

Cookie Jar
Belonged to Corliss’ mother. Corliss’ nickname as a child was “Cookie”  for her propensity of sneaking cookies from this jar.

Cow Jumping Over the Moon
The first thing I did to modify our house when we bought it in 1982 was to make this window.  It was (and still is)  an expression of our attitude toward life in general.

Frog Soap Dish
A birthday gift from Corliss. All couples have pet names and inside jokes between themselves. Frogs are one of ours.

Brass Die
This is a custom die that was used to make a commemorative bookmarking the completion of the Pertamina Oil Refinery in Jakarta Indonesia, at the time the largest refinery in Indonesia. The die was presented to us as a special gift and acknowledgment of the work we did on the project.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle
This is a natural history specimen that we were given in payment for work done for a very old and prominent California family. The family is a member of a very select group referred to as “pioneers” families. These were early settlers to the territory during the time California was owned by the King of Spain. This specimen was collected by a family member circa 1840 prior to the American Civil War.

Micro-Deburring Tool
This list would not be complete without at least one tool, in this case, one of my own invention.  It works like a champ for deburring small jewelry sized holes, and I use it constantly.

L’Art Statue
I love the stylized naiveté of this piece. It serves as a reminder of how far our perspective on art and its intent has shifted in the last 100 years.

Pan Flute
I approach our entire house as one big art project that I have been working on for the last 33 years. It is a reaction to the often sterile interiors I encounter in modern architecture and a conscious attempt to encrust the entire interior surface of the house with art and decoration. In this case, the space under the kitchen sink. The project will never be finished.


A trifecta of meaning - a gift from Corliss, an allusion to yet another inside joke, and an acknowledgment of a remark we have heard from visitors to our home.  “Looks like a cross between the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Addam’s Family house.” Yep.

Balinese Wood Carving
A masterwork of Balinese wood carving acquired from a prominent California collector who needed to “clear some space”. These folks were only slightly ahead of us on the way to encrusting the entire interior surface of their home and were quite happy to help us out with our project. 

Cast Iron Skillet
Passed to Corliss from her grandmother, it has been in constant use for at least three generations. Not many things made today will ever be able to say as much.

** Blog Carnival is a collective ongoing project of EtsyMetal Team, an international group of metalsmiths and jewelry designers. Each month, members share their perspective on a common topic, giving you the reader a comparative view into the creative mind.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Brass Ring

This month’s Blog Carnival is “My Jewelry Box”  Show us what you have in your personal jewelry box along with the stories or meanings it has to you!
“ Slam Dunk!”, says we. 

After traveling the world and collecting jewelry for over 50 years, we’ve got some good jewelry and great stories to go with it. So off we go to the jewelry “box”  to find a few interesting  tales. We had never looked at our cache of jewelry in this way before. Before long we were completely lost in a dense forest of memories.

In the middle of all this reverie, Corliss slid a large brass object out from the bottom of one of the boxes. “What’s this,” she asked, not recognizing the piece.

What indeed.

“I made that when I was ten years old,” I replied.  “How cute” Corliss gushed, “your first piece of jewelry!” Well,….not exactly. 

At age 10 I was living on the streets of Toledo, Ohio fending for myself. Derelict adults, homeless kids, street hustlers, criminals and worse were the norm in my world. You learn to be very wary of everyone. Despite any measure of bravado, the sense of your vulnerability is never far off.  The “ring” was, in fact, a weapon. It was a ten-year-old’s notion of brass knuckles.  I imagined that when attacked, it might provide me some advantage. It wasn’t long before I had a chance to test that theory out.

There were very distinct and separate black and white areas of town back then. White or black, wandering into the wrong part of town could get you killed by virtue of being the wrong color. Every day I had to pass through the wrong part of town to get to the downtown area where I supported myself by engaging in petty crime.

I had developed a relatively secret habi-trail of alleys, backyards, easements and other navigable paths to move undetected through one area to the next.  There was substantial comfort in the anonymity and aloneness of it all. Then I ran into Gavin.

In truth, we ran into each other coming around the corner of a downtown alley.  I remember how fast we sized each other up at that moment. What a professor would explain to me years later as a “fight or flight” reaction.  All I thought was “Black kid, my size, attacking, punch”.  I hit him square in the face, and he went down.  To my surprise, he stayed down. He was severely stunned. A few seconds later I felt the pain in my hand.

I looked at my hand and realized I had been wearing the brass ring. It felt like my finger was broken. I sat down on the pavement next to the black kid who, judging by the look on his face was just as terrified of me as I was of him.  “I’m John, do you wanna fight some more or be friends?”   “I’m Gavin,” he said, “let's be friends.” 

This encounter was the first either of us had ever had with anyone of another race. We became fast friends over that summer, each of us happy not to be alone on the streets. Both of us knew that we could never tell anyone about our friendship. That made it all the better. It was just for us.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

An eye on the future, a foot in the past

This month’s Blog Carnival** topic is “industry changes in the time that you have been in business”.

That covers a lot of time and territory in our case, over 50 years, half a century, to be more precise.  The short answer to the question is “everything has changed and nothing has changed.  How we make things has changed, why we make things, not so much. What this really means is that technology changes, people don’t.

Its comforting to have a nice tidy view of the universe like this, but in the studio, where we live, this can all get really messy fast.

Example: We employ some of the most cutting edge technology available to the jewelry industry for design and manufacturing. We also invest considerable time, energy and money studying and practicing ancient jewelry/metalworking techniques.

We appreciate the latest technology for the relative speed and ease it brings. We also appreciate the skill and understanding that comes from practicing ancient techniques.
It is not lost on us in our 21st century studio, that texts from the 17th, 18th & 19th centuries contain a wealth of useful knowledge on tools, techniques and materials.  This even extends to studio business practices.  Yes, we have the Internet, but who, how and why people buy art really has not changed much.

Back in the studio this all translates to a mash-up of ideas and methods, a hybrid of the old and new. The one thing that never changes is that everything is always changing.

** Blog Carnival is a project of EtsyMetal Team, an international group of artists, who share perspectives on common topics

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Uncle Chet Makes A Bomb

I don’t know how it is at your house, but around here New Year’s is the symbolic season of change when everyone in the family entertains good intentions for the coming 12 months. “Don’t worry”, we tell ourselves. It will all be over soon and we can get back to whatever we were doing before. 

New Year’s resolutions seem like such an inconvenience. Here we are, happily skipping through snow at Christmas time, eating like pigs, wallowing in gifts….having a good time!  And BAM! - New Years!! THIS SHIT HAS GOT TO STOP!!!! 

In atonement we will then go on an obligatory purge of gruel and sewer water for 3 or 4 days in the expectation that our bodies will shed 30 pounds just to end the 3-4 days of torture. It never ends well.

Now we do things differently.

Instead of looking in the mirror and thinking about all the major life changing things we’re GONNA’ do in the next 10 days, we look at the cumulative behavior of our immediate family over the last year and make a list of all the stuff we’re NOT gonna’ do. Not accomplishing most of the items on the list is made infinitely easier by the exemplary results achieved by family members who have gone before us. 

Even so, forearmed with best intentions and a list of things to avoid doing, we still manage to discover new and even stupider things to do. It’s a growing list, this New Years thing – a work in progress. 

Around this time of year we get an unaccustomed and unnatural urge to clean the studio. We looked back, took stock, and tried to recall why we had accumulated 234 pair of old shoes over the last 18 months. Surely it was a spectacularly brilliant artistic epiphany at the time. Our deep meditation on the meaning of 234 pair of shoes was interrupted by a phone call from Uncle Chet. He was in the throws of a not dissimilar dilemma.

Having caught the New Year’s bug going around, Uncle Chet had determined that he too had good intentions, and must divest himself of the myriad objects and treasures that had found their way to his garage/vault. This was colossal!  Uncle Chet considers it a mortal sin to throw anything away. His preferred disposal method is to transfer his unwanted stuff to someone else’s garage. This keeps balance in Uncle Chet’s universe and ensures that if he eventually remembers why he accumulated the stuff in the first place, he knows where to come get it.  Uncle Chet was wondering if we could use a half-gallon of “yellow liquid.”

This prompted one of those hurried discussions with one hand over the phone receiver you have between you and your spouse.  “Its Chet…want some yellow liquid?!...Dunno, whatisit?…. Who knows? Muriatic acid?, chlorine?, urine!........ its Chet!.... OK, I’ll find a use for…  NO!!!!  

Back on the phone this all came out as, “Uh…Uncle Chet we already have a big bottle of yellow liquid, we’re going to have to pass.” Chet replied we were the last call to a long list of family members who were all remarkably well stocked with yellow liquid at the moment.

This is when it occurred to Uncle Chet that he could at least save some of the containers. He would just fill all the partial contents into as few containers as possible.
This seemed to be going well until he got to the yellow liquid.

According to the police report, Uncle Chet, added “blue liquid to a half gallon of yellow liquid. Suspect then noticed the mixture becoming warm, and then quickly getting hot.  The mixture then began to bubble and smoke.”

At this point Uncle Chet allegedly ran out of the garage with arms waving and screaming for everyone to evacuate the house. This did not strike anyone as particularly odd...its Chet.  So, everyone assembled on the front yard as instructed, just in time to watch the garage explode in a huge fireball. This piqued the curiosity of the neighbors who joined us on the front lawn and wanted to know if someone was filming a movie and if any celebrities might be hanging around.

Everyone, including the town’s police and fire department, seemed quite disappointed to learn that celebrities were nowhere to be seen, and it was just Uncle Chet blowing up the garage. No one was injured, no celebrities were sited and nobody knows what the yellow or blue liquids were.  

Uncle Chet got a stern talking-to from the town authorities and then released to the custody of Aunt Robin. Chet had asked to be remanded to county jail for a few days but the authorities weren’t feeling lenient.

We have since added “Don’t mix blue and yellow liquids” to our New Year’s resolution list. Note to selves: If blue and yellow liquids ARE mixed, invite some celebrities over first, just to be safe. Lesson learned. 

Disclaimer: This is our January blog entry for EtsyMetal Blog Carnival, where various artists post their experiences on a shared topic. Unfortunately the characters and events depicted in this post are all true and no one's name has been changed since there are no innocent parties. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

NEVER ask an artist this one question.

Its Blog Carnival time again that international festival of intensely personal nonsense and babel brought to you by EtsyMetal.

As artists, we travel around the U.S. and the world a lot. We get to meet many interesting people, many of whom are also interested in what we do. We are sincerely grateful for and appreciate people's interest in our work, particularly when said interest is not instigated by police or tax officials.

Over the many years we have been doing this we have noticed that one question gets asked more often than any other.  Oddly enough, the question is almost never asked by other artists.   The question: "What is your favorite piece."

Asking this of an artist will often elicit a blank stare accompanied by muted stammering as the artist tries to process the unfathomability of the request. If the artist also inserts a finger into any orifice of their body (nose, ear, mouth etc.) while stammering, this is a sign that you have thrust a substantially large stick into the spokes of the artist's mental processing. It is probably best to back away quietly at this point.

Non-artists often find the artists response to this question equally unfathomable. It's a simple enough question. Except that artists don't think this way. At All. The disconnect is one of perspective and relationship. For example, any artist can tell you which is their favorite piece produced by another artist.  They can tell you this because their perspective is external to the object and simply based on personal preference of aesthetics. There are no other considerations or relationship with the object.

Now switch places with the artist who made the object. The relationship and perspective changes radically and is no longer dependent on aesthetics at all.  Intention and execution are often the standards of measure. You can see this at work with many artists by complimenting them on a piece. Many will respond to a compliment by pointing out where they failed with intention or execution.

The other big disconnect is picking a point in time. For example, many artists will say that their "favorite" piece is "the one I just finished."  This comment is far less connected to the aesthetic preferences of the artist as it is about the process of giving birth to a creative expression. For an artist to point to a single item and say, THAT ONE is my "favorite" is to stop time and completely deny their journey as an artist. The foundations of that journey are evolution and discovery. The criteria for intention and execution constantly change. Thus, many artists will express  that items they were satisfied with or found acceptable at one stage of their journey are no longer so because their perspective has shifted with experience.

So, if you must know, "what our favorite piece is?"  It's the one you want to buy.