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Interview with MJ Tyson

Winner of AJF’S 2020 Young Artist Award

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AJF asked this year’s Young Artist Award winner and four finalists to tell us a bit about their backgrounds and their thoughts on the future of the art jewelry field. Their work represents a group of outstanding pieces of contemporary jewelry. This is the first of five interviews with the honorees.

MJ Tyson was chosen as this year’s Young Artist Award recipient from more than 135 international applicants. She receives an unrestricted cash award of US$7,500, which was generously funded by the collectors and AJF members Karen and Michael Rotenberg. The planned exhibition of her work and that of the finalists, slated for show in Platina’s booth at Schmuck, unfortunately won’t take place because of the cancellation of the Internationale Handwerksmesse this year due to the global coronavirus outbreak. 

AJF’s Young Artist Award acknowledges promise, innovation, and individuality, advancing the careers of rising artists. The competition was open to makers of wearable art age 35 and under who are not currently enrolled in a professional training program. Judging was based on originality, depth of concept, and quality of craftsmanship. This year’s jurors were curator Barbara Paris Gifford, historian Toni Greenbaum, and Chinese artist Bifei Cao, the winner of the 2018 Artist Award.

MJ Tyson, Inheritance: Nick
MJ Tyson, Inheritance: Nick, 2018, reconstituted jewelry, velvet, board, 300 x 270 x 40 mm, photo: artist

Bonnie Levine: Please introduce yourself to our readers. How did you become interested in jewelry, and what inspired your work?

MJ Tyson: Thank you so much to AJF, the jurors, and the sponsors of this award. I am grateful for, and overwhelmed by, this recognition.

I trace my deepest attraction to jewelry to an afternoon with my grandmother. She lifted pieces of jewelry from a box and as each one emerged, so did a story. For me the jewelry, the box, and the passing of stories are intertwined.

MJ Tyson, Inheritance 18
MJ Tyson, Inheritance 18, 2018, reconstituted jewelry, velvet, board, 280 x 380 x 30 mm, photo: artist

Tell us about the work you applied with.

MJ Tyson: This work centers on the life of jewelry beyond the body—jewelry that is kept, collected, and passed on. We pin so much to our precious possessions. We use them to extend our lives, to carry our stories into the future and our histories out from the past. Our possessions will outlive us, but they will not live forever.

I’m skeptical of the sentimental and nostalgic. I don’t believe in their idea of a fixed past. Through deliberate destruction, I test the limits of our ability to extend ourselves through objects. I’m finding that everything is in progress.

MJ Tyson, The Attic
MJ Tyson, The Attic, 2019, reconstituted jewelry, 180 x 120 x 30 mm, photo: artist

What excites you about the art jewelry field?

MJ Tyson: Community! I’m most excited about the places where artists exchange ideas about work in progress. Classrooms and studios are where the interesting conversations happen. I have the great fortune of being part of the RISD Jewelry + Metalsmithing community, which extends far beyond the school. I work alone in my studio outside of NYC, and the thriving community of artists, teachers, and students at Brooklyn Metal Works is my local hub.

MJ Tyson, Inheritance 17
MJ Tyson, Inheritance 17, detail, 2018, reconstituted jewelry, velvet, board, 320 x 200 x 30 mm, photo: artist

Any frustrations that you see or have experienced?

MJ Tyson: Frustration is a productive state. The way that I work now grew out of my frustration with the role of the jeweler. In my thinking, the thoughtful jeweler dispatches work with a sentimental projection: that it will be valued and collected and kept. I was not satisfied with my position in that sequence and was doubtful that the projection would be realized. I wanted to know what really happens to personal belongings in the world. As a result I now begin my process with objects that have already been valued, collected, and kept.

MJ Tyson, Pray for Us
MJ Tyson, Pray for Us, 2019, sterling silver, devotional medals, 230 x 230 x 30 mm, photo: artist

If you could write a master plan for your practice, where would you like to be five years from now?

MJ Tyson: Keep working, don’t stop. Dive deep. Read everything.

MJ Tyson, Dust to Dust
MJ Tyson, Dust to Dust, 2018, reconstituted jewelry, velvet, board, 230 x 130 x 30 mm, photo: artist

What does being a finalist mean for you? Do you think it will influence you going forward?

MJ Tyson: It’s an honor to be among this group of finalists. We’re working in very different ways, pursuing our own strange and distinct interests. How encouraging it is to be recognized for such personal pursuits, and to have this chance to share our work!

Thank you, MJ! Reader, watch AJF Live: MJ Tyson to see the artist handling some of her work and learn more about her practice.

MJ Tyson, Dust to Dust
MJ Tyson, Dust to Dust, 2018, reconstituted jewelry, velvet, board, 230 x 130 x 30 mm, photo: artist

Tyson’s work resonates on many levels—it’s about reuse, the past, and the present; the meaning of objects and their role in our lives; and nostalgia. It’s brilliant, emotional, and very unique. —Barbara Gifford, Young Artist Award juror

Each piece created a rough finished surface that reconstituted from recycling metal-based materials through a rough or bizarre construction. —Bifei Cao, Young Artist Award juror

This visionary artist developed a unique casting process to meld discarded bits of old metal objects into new jewelry formats. Situated within form-fit presentation cases, each necklace and ring addresses the perpetuation of life through markers of material culture. —Toni Greenbaum, Young Artist Award juror

MJ Tyson, Dust to Dust
MJ Tyson, Dust to Dust, detail, 2018, reconstituted jewelry, velvet, board, 230 x 130 x 30 mm, photo: artist


  • Bonnie Levine

    Bonnie Levine is co-owner of Hedone Gallery. She has loved and bought contemporary studio jewelry for many years, determined to become a gallerist when she left the corporate world. That has now happened! 

    View all posts United States
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