Hsiang-Ting's work has had two directions; her thesis project, examining contemporary gender issues, and her In Bloom brooches, two evolving series of enamel work on wire forms. In Bloom springs from Yen's background in Chinese watercolor painting. The first series utilizes layers of graceful wire outlines to create the contours of flowers and leaves; opaque enamel fills in parts of the form, vividly bringing them to life. The layered outlines give the pieces dimensionality, raising the design towards the viewer. Thus with bare and subtle attention, Yen uses a minimum of material to yield maximum representation.
In Bloom Series #2 both builds upon the first and explores a very different direction. Inspired by the Gongbi style of Chinese water color, this second series of jewelry is explosively colorful. Now the flowers and leaves are more literal representations, gorgeously rendered in pastel pinks, blossom whites, reds, grasshopper green and magenta hues. Each flora has now been joined by a particular fauna; a monarch butterfly or hummingbird hovers or rests upon each piece. The more extensive enamel work changes the visual focus from the form and contours of the brooch, to the center, where the illustrated depiction is reinforced by the concentric circular forms that draw one's attention inwards.
For her newest incarnation of the Gender series, enameled panels with faces of famous persons are similarly arranged, like venetian blinds, as the centerpiece of an array of steel wire frames sprouting from the back like a Broadway sign. Yen creates these enameled portraits by first etching the outline of the portrait into the copper, then using enamel paint within the lines for the facial details. This is why the faces look like a sketch. Although depicting contemporary figures, the style seems to harken back to an earlier age. Turn of the century art movements, such as Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco seem to contribute their design sensibilities to the piece. Because of this conjoining of past and present, the piece possesses a poignant nostalgia, almost a sense of deja vu.
Bongsang Cho came to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, and brought with him a dedicated enthusiasm for metalsmithing, and an ethereal sense of grace and impermanency which gives a delicacy to his metalwork. He graduated from Hanyang University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metals and Jewelry, and has recently graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a MFA, where he utilized several modern pieces of machinery in the college's jewelry department, such as the laser welder, to break new ground.
Cho's aesthetic is derived from the mysterious connections he senses between the organic, the artificial, and humanity. The flower is for him a metaphor which represents the essential nature of life, and extends beyond flora to embodying human existence, its connections and its transitoriness. The roots of the flowering plant are the same as the hidden relationships which support each individual life. It is for this reason that, abstractly and in literal interpretation, Cho uses the form of the flower in much of his jewelry and sculpture.
In Bongsang Cho’s world, geometry is the language which connects humanity and nature, going from the inorganic to the organic and back again. Endeavoring to express this in the vocabulary of his art, he has produced several series of work which continue undergoing refinements.
Rocks, stones, pebbles. You might find gems buried in rock, or upon cracking one open reveal a geode, but beach stones are not generally synonymous with riches, nor for that matter fine jewelry. Yet Andrea Williams has achieved just that distinction, transforming a seemingly mundane material into elegant necklaces, rings and bracelets. She does this by maintaining the stone itself as the centerpiece, and accentuating it with fine inlay reminiscent of East Asian paintings or zany digital noise. There are other artists who utilize rock in their work, but often these are used like gemstones inlaid into gold or silver necklaces, or altered by carving the surface and inlaying semi-precious stones. The subtle beauty of Williams’ jewelry is that the earth itself, condensed and compacted, has become as both jewel and substrate.
Most of the beauty of Williams’ work is derived by constructing each piece of jewelry from the stone itself. Instead of using it as an embellishment, or mixing it with a variety of other materials, she will create an entire necklace from interlocking cored rock, a chain of stones, with the inner surface plated with silver. The grey-green of the stone blends subtly with the metal to cause eye-catching contrast with either a dark or light background, and the enormous size of each “link” makes the piece outlandish, but contained. If any component in this combination was off, it would be too much, but the restraint of the color palette offset by the scale of the piece forms a perfect storm of elements.
Williams feels her aesthetic matches her principles. Not of financial value or societal worth, but intrinsically simple and beautiful, with infinite variation, beach stones are the perfect medium for Williams to express her message on. The use of this particular part of the earth seems to mesh in sensibly with her sustainable ideas. As an environmentally-minded woman, she makes sure to source all her precious metals as reclaimed or recycled materials, and as of 2007 all gems she uses are lab-grown. “I try to make sure my personal choices add up. The beach stones replenish themselves, the metals are already circulating, and the gems I use are man made. The hard work—convincing precious metals suppliers to carry recycled metals, was already done when I made the decision to follow this path,” she notes. Williams buys from Hoover and Strong, who were one of the first companies to sell recycled materials, as well as Rio Grande. “There is a small premium over the cost of newly mined materials, but hey, it is my life’s work,” she opines emphatically. “I might as well do it right.”
Paper. It's usually something you write on, or put into your printer, or hold between your hands as a magazine or a book. Although the modern day has brought the material into use in the wearable art field, few have dealt with it so originally and spectacularly as Francesca Vitali, an Italian who immigrated to the United States. Although trained as a chemist, Vitali found inspiration in American propensity to shift careers within the course of one's life.
Craft was not unfamiliar to her, however; indeed, as a young girl she was already making jewelry. Paper was quickly realized as a useful medium for her early experimentation; she recalls, “The first piece that I have ever made of paper was a very long necklace made of strung paper beads, and the paper was from a clothing line catalog. I’m amazed I still remember that!” It was the endless range of colors available from magazines and other publications that lit her imagination. Just by re-using old paper products, she had a limitless palette to choose from.
Vitali’s self-taught techniques yield suprising results. Most of her pieces are composed of many tight composite folds, which then are wound around each other to produce organic and geometric shapes. Each fold exposes the color of the glossy paper, and Vitali makes sure to add in variation to make for spicy designs. A coiling spiral wave form made from gold and white paper, with a black border is threaded through with wire to make a necklace; the voluminous shape is as magnificent a pendant as any gemstone. The piece, Aspide, or Asp, is broad enough to almost be a pectoral. Vitali’s work uses weaving techniques to achieve this luminous final product. This series, A Mano Libera, takes a single long woven element which is then shaped in a manner similar to a freeform drawing.
Although he studied painting and drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago, his jewelrymaking skills were developed by practice, not through classes. His knowledge of wood initially developed with his work in furniture. His wife Juanita managed to provoke Reyes’s curiosity the day she asked whether making a wooden ring would be possible. “I drilled out a piece of wood and shaped it, seconds later it would break because of the grain crossing across the ring. So I dismissed it, but after letting me simmer a couple of days, she came back and asked, ‘Can you bend wood?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but wood can only bend within certain tolerances, then it breaks.’ ‘But what if you get it thin enough?’ she asked. Picking up a little piece of paper she started rolling it up, and that’s when it clicked.” Now, Reyes makes wooden rings inspired by that day, taking a thin sheet of wood that has been soaked in water, rolling it up on itself with glue, binding the wood upon itself. Taping it, he then heats it to set the shape.
“As a woodworker you’re told literally the world is flat, you gotta cut it, drill it and force wood. Now I realize that it’s not flat, and you can get wood to do things you never thought it could,” Reyes enthuses. Nothing eloquently expresses this more than his finished work. Reyes has spent years exploring the capabilities of wood, and a beautiful progression of pieces speaks to the all-encompassing curiosity he evinces for the material. Cornucopic winding bracelets are created from a single piece, spiraling around itself to suggest plasticity, motion and animation that turns the normal conception of wood on its head. Like coiling springs, Reyes’s work seems to store potentiality. If one looked at a time-lapse video of a growing tree, one would understand that living wood moves. It is this spirit, that stored energy, that Reyes conjures with each of his pieces.
Reyes continues, “I think for me, the most human thing a human can do is create. That is, as far as I’m concerned, what we’re here for. Some people create drama,” he laughs lightly, “Some people create different things in their life, and for me to have that feeling that you’re at the cutting edge of creating, well, you’re epitomizing humanity. You’re being what you’re here to be, you’re here to evolve, and to grow, and to be the best person, the best human animal that you can be in this world, and for me, creativity is at that cusp.”
Jewelry can be many things. It can be the armor you put on to project and protect your identity, to present yourself to the world behind sigils and talismans. It can be your identity itself on display, with flair and feature rather than protective, showing to the populous audience which is life what you appreciate, what you desire, what you stand for, and what you celebrate. It can be a modifier or a statement, a piece to draw judgement and inspire dialogue. Or it can simply look really, really good.