Susan Cummins has been involved in numerous ways in the visual arts world over the last 35 years, from working in a pottery studio, doing street fairs, running a retail shop called the Firework in Mill Valley and developing the Susan Cummins Gallery into a nationally recognized venue for regional art and contemporary art jewelry. Now she spends most of her time working with a private family foundation called Rotasa and as a board member of AJF and California College of the Arts.
Galerie Rosemarie Jäger is having a series of shows of work by couples who are both jewelers. This current one is the 99th show the gallery has held since it began in 1989, and includes not only the couple Helen Britton and David Bielander, but also their studio mate, Yutaka Minegishi, so it was called The Bride, the Groom and the Best Man. Helen, David, and Yutaka present their work in a video showing their life, their work, and the show. The music is by David and Yutaka, who often play music together. It is a fantastically effective way to learn more about them and I want to thank them for putting it together.
Susan Cummins; Helen, why did Rosemarie add a best man to your couple’s profile?
Helen Britton: David and I were really thrilled when Rosemarie Jäger asked us to be in her Couples in Jewelry series. We had met Rosie on a number of occasions and her reputation as being a super professional gallerist was well known to us. And of course our dear colleague Yutaka had worked with her for some years, so we also knew through him that making an exhibition with Rosie would be a good experience. The three of us joked around a bit in the studio with the idea of being the bride, the groom, and the best man, but as David and I didn’t know Rosie so well at that stage, we didn’t want to assume anything; it was more of a funny idea. When Rosie came to visit and realized our studio situation, she suggested the combination herself, if I remember correctly. Interestingly, almost simultaneously, the three of us were invited to Tokyo to teach the summer workshop together, so after so many years of quietly working together, our little collective was finally becoming known to the world.
So you have all been working together in the same studio for many years. How do you interact, David? Do you share the same tools? Food? Resources?
David Bielander: Sharing an artistic practice is intimate and sensitive, with all its ups and downs, joy, excitement, pride, success—and also failure, crisis, doubt, embarrassment, envy.
We have shared a working space for 20 years and a single spacious atelier for 13 years. This is like growing up together as siblings, which means getting to know each other on a deep level where we can learn from each other, speed each other up, observe, and share knowledge, experience, and tools. These are the usual advantages of working in the form of a collective.
Being a couple privately but also sharing a studio is also beneficial. To be a collective with Yutaka (and Dirk, a photographer, as well) keeps the studio on a professional level at all times. We move in parallel worlds, and there is still always a surprise waiting from the others, which is highly energizing.
I think the photos that we have provided in the form of a Quicktime film will answer this question better than I can in words.
AJF has interviewed both Helen and David in the past during exhibitions at other galleries, so I want to concentrate on Yutaka Minegishi, the Best Man, during this interview. Yutaka, can you tell us your background and how you decided to study jewelry?
Yutaka Minegishi: Well, I studied at Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry in Tokyo. Then I left Japan and became a guest student at Fachhochschule Pforzheim for a year, then a full study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich for six years. This is my 21st year in Germany.
I have always been interested in art/antique objects since I was very small. I wanted to make them myself. And I wanted to make them from an idea by myself. I also liked objects like furniture and bicycles very much, but I thought that it would not be possible to build them alone. I guess that was the reason I chose to study jewelry.
What is your daily routine in the studio? How does it relate to Helen and David’s?
Yutaka Minegishi: I have another job at the Art Auction House so I am not in the studio as often as Helen and David. I miss the time there. But honestly I am not the kind of person who has a fountain of ideas. I am slow. Therefore working at the Auction House keeps me balanced. At the same time I see lots of art objects daily, which is good for me, too.
My workbench is between theirs. Isn’t this the right place for a best man? Seriously, we are all good friends. We shared our working space in the small room at the Academy while studying, and then founded our studio 12 years ago. The most important thing is that we are all so different from each other. Three different continents and three different characters.
Most of your work is small, carved rings made from a variety of materials like wood, bone, and ivory. To me they are related to the Japanese tradition of netsuke carving. Do you see the relationship?
Yutaka Minegishi: I only make rings and they must be wearable. The functional considerations limits its size.
I’m not sure about the relationship with netsuke. My grandfather and father used to collect them. I love looking at and touching them, too. But when you look at the working process and its aim, we are very much different. Most netsukes have very complex forms. Traditional Japanese craftsmen are very proud of their techniques. When I look at my rings, I think they are much simpler technically and formally.
I learned traditional Japanese goldsmithing techniques such as mokume gane and inlay. But I decided not to use them when I came to Germany. I thought that it was too easy. What I’m trying to do is very simple. I am trying to reduce the material as much as possible. I don’t draw or make models, but always work directly with the material. I do not have any final form in mind. In the process of carving, some lines and edges appear, some meet and a new surface appears, and then some disappear. What I do is try to find the most beautiful line, surface, and form in the raw material.
Why are rings so fascinating to you?
Yutaka Minegishi: Because rings are closest to the body. You wear them, touch them, feel them, and see them. They’re very personal.
Carving is a slow process. Do you think of it as a meditation?
Yutaka Minegishi: I hope not. As I said, I am digging hard to find the form with full concentration. Sweating in the dust. But I might look like it during my work because of my nationality.
Where do you find the inspiration for your forms?
Yutaka Minegishi: Daily life.
What have you seen, read, or heard recently that you can recommend?
Yutaka Minegishi: The Bride, the Groom and the Best Man!!!