When I began my fine arts education at NSCAD University in 2007, I set out to be a painter. I had long dreamed of it. For years I had romanticized the painting studios I would catch an elusive glimpse of every so often when my parents would drive down Hollis St. past the University. It was a strange feeling to eventually find myself set up at an easel in that studio I had once peered in so longingly. But my dream didn’t quite unfold the way I had imagined.
In my second year at NSCAD, I enrolled in a jewellery course as an elective. I thought it would be a nice diversion from painting, and I needed to fill some credit hours. The course was a nightmare; I fumbled around the metal studio with unfamiliar tools that felt completely awkward in my hands, and the torch seemed like an untameable beast. I thought about dropping the course, but quitting wasn’t really something I liked to do, so I struggled through to the end.
Looking back, I still am unsure of what compelled me to pursue further classes in the metal studio, but at some point along the way, I must have decided there was something about it I enjoyed. Maybe it was the obsessiveness it allowed me to indulge in through the precise and tedious, often repetitive tasks it required. Or perhaps it was the challenge to explore and learn to understand a material: how to move metal, how to shape metal, how to control it. I began to forget about painting; I let it sort of slip away until months passed since I had last picked up a paintbrush.
Throughout the rest of my degree, and even after I graduated, painting became a leisure activity. I painted in the summers when I didn’t have access to the metal studio, and sometimes I painted on weekends, on the odd occasion I found some spare time. I missed it, but I tried not to think about it. I felt sad to have left behind something I was once so passionate about.
In May 2014, I hopped on a plane and headed to Italy. It was a solo adventure that would change the course of my art practise. This trip was almost three years ago now, but I think about it often; what I learned while in Italy has impacted the approach I take towards creating, and finding voice through my work. I attended a workshop at Alchimia, a renowned jewellery school in Florence, where I found myself in the presence of the most magnificent artist and instructor, Lucia Massei. On the first day of the workshop, she stood before our small class holding a paintbrush in one hand, and a torch in the other. This moment marked a turning point in my art practice.
At Alchimia, all of the “rules” that were ingrained in my mind about paint and metal disappeared. There were no boundaries surrounding materials, no separation between two disciplines I adored, but pursued so separately and exclusively. I learned how to apply paint directly to sheets of metal; I burned it; I made it bubble; and I heated it softly, gently, to set it. I was awestruck. The title of the workshop: “Pigments on Metal: Explorations of Mixed Media” was like the magic combination of words that made sense of something I had been searching for, but could never fathom or articulate.
When I returned to Toronto (where I was living at the time), I continued playing with paint and fire. I experimented relentlessly. I began to scale up the size of my work, and started to explore my metal work off of the body, creating craft objects instead of functional jewellery. My sculptures occupy a very ambiguous space; the details and intricacies are sure evidence of a jeweller’s hand, yet the pieces don’t appear to be (and are not) wearable. I have a deep appreciation for traditional technical processes. However, I am fascinated by the place of ambiguity my work enters upon manipulation of scale, and context.
The forms of my sculpture work eventually led to the development of my line of production jewellery. I had put aside my jewellery practise for a couple of years to focus almost exclusively on sculpture, but returning to it felt good. My production line does not involve paint, but the lines have a similar sense of movement present in my sculpture work.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between my jewellery and sculpture work. I was starting to question whether these two avenues of my work were growing apart and becoming too separate- just like my painting and metalsmithing practises once were. However, last week I completed a large statement necklace -a wearable art piece- that made me realize I had grown closer to my big goal than ever before. The necklace is functional, with lines that curve gracefully around the neck, and fall in a series of playful, cascading waves. Paint adds a glimmer of color, peeking out with the movement of the piece. It is constructed in a smilier fashion to the way I approach and connect larger components in my sculpture work. In this single piece I saw my love for jewellery design, sculpture, and painting come together.
My art practice has been a winding road, full of many stops and starts, and detours. Things don’t always unfold as planned, but the route is filled with so much discovery- as long as you stay open to it. Although I am happy with the way I have unified many facets of my practise in my latest neckpiece, I will never stop pushing forward, questioning and pushing the boundaries of what I know to be familiar. There is really no end to this journey.
The one thing that stands out to me about this latest piece is how full of movement it is. I hope to carry this element into the design of my upcoming spring/summer collection of jewellery. Stay tuned for some fun new pieces that will catch the lingering light of the longer days ahead.
Thanks for reading! :)