Vicki Mason has been wearing jewelry since she was two and making it since she was six or seven. Born in New Zealand, she lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. Mason completed her undergraduate studies in New Zealand, and her master’s degree (research) in Australia, at ANU. Making jewelry fulfills a need she has to create objects that can be worn, that hold special meanings. For Vicki, jewelry has the capacity to provoke a viewer to respond or interact with a worn jewel, and therefore the wearer. A dialogue is opened up—jewelry then acts not only as a portable tool for the communication of ideas, but as a social object.
Descriptors like innovative, funny, beautiful, masterful, cool, challenging, refined, and eye-catching are just some key words that describe Kim Buck’s work. In this interview, his thoughtful answers reveal much about what has sustained him over a long career; there is much to learn here. Ever evolving, Kim is a maker fully engaged and enmeshed in the world of jewelry.
Vicki Mason: You had extensive jewelry training in your early years as a maker. What learnings have stayed with you from this time and shaped your practice?
Kim Buck: Everything I do now is not only directly connected to my education as a goldsmith, but as much connected to my growing up in my father's workshop. My father is a machine engineer and had a factory where my brothers and I spent our time after school. Most of my work has an innovative aspect. I’m interested in finding new ways of expressing my ideas.
Your interest in making jewelry about jewelry characterizes much of your recent work. What key themes, issues, motifs, and ideas are you drawn to question through your investigations and making of jewelry about jewelry? Can you give some examples illustrating your work in this area?
Kim Buck: First of all, it’s very important for me that my jewelry be easy to wear. Ninety-nine percent of my jewelry works well worn. One percent of it is more like tableaus about jewelry, but I still call those pieces jewelry because otherwise they don't make sense. Copy (2007), Diamond Ring (2005), Life Savers (2014), It's the Thought That Counts (2001), and more are good examples of this.
Works like your tiny popcorn machine designed to pop a single (square) kernel of corn, Sponge-o-matic, and your Holloware object suggest that humor plays a role in your work. What do you think humor, as a psychological construct or phenomenon, brings to jewelry?
Kim Buck: Traditionally, jewelry is serious business, so I guess I can’t help it. It’s not something that I try to do, it just turns out like that. I think about my titles a lot; sometimes the titles come first because a funny title or euphemism came to mind. I made an exhibition that I called The Newest Testament and a piece I called Give Us All Our Daily Bread. These are examples of changing something we know just a little bit—like tripping people to stop and think. I guess humor is a good way to catch people’s attention.
You use a form reminiscent of dumbbells or fishing weights in your series Life Savers and Crossing Borders. Where does this form come from, and why does it resonate?
Kim Buck: As I tell students to say, when they don't know what to say—it's an aesthetic choice. It’s difficult to argue with that. It has somehow become a signature for me, with a bulky eye also seen in Precious Stones. In Crossing Borders, I had to have a for casting since I cast them one by one with “potato casting.” The form of the pendants is simple and it’s easy to calculate the weight; this was important so that one beer can was enough metal for one pendant.
The pendants in your Life Saver series are shown in images worn on the body as well as grouped together housed in a series of clear covered boxes/cabinets. They appear to have an “on” and “off” character, being both wearable and sculptural at once. Please talk about this installation and the sequential nature this co-dependency implies.
Kim Buck: The Life Savers pieces are jewelry about jewelry. We all know the almost physical feeling of having forgotten our ring or other jewelry that we usually wear. I see this emergency box hanging in your hallway so that you, in a hurry, can put on your Life Saver. The photo with 64 boxes is from the exhibition and not really important for the meaning. Materials and aesthetics are recognized from life-saving equipment. Life Savers are both a statement and a piece of jewelry.
Can you tell us how a work or new series of works comes into existence? Do you work from an idea that is then translated into drawings, models, etc., or do you go straight to your materials, for example, or develop works that follow from one to another?
Kim Buck: My ideas come in many different ways. Sometimes I think of a good title or saying that I can use, then think about how to visualize this and what technique does it best. Sometimes I come up with a technique and find out what it can express. For many years I have made a lot of social comments, it's easy these days to find topics.
Most of my work has a technically innovative aspect that I spend a lot of time with. I like to find or invent techniques or combine known techniques in a new way to be able to express a specific idea. I don’t sketch much; I never make “drawings” that I save. I do have a notebook, but it contains mostly written notes of ideas not to forget. I know what to do when I start working, even though it very often changes a lot along the way.
You run a gallery alongside your studio/workshop. How do you maintain a balance between making your own work, traveling, developing new projects, holding exhibitions, and selling work through the gallery?
Kim Buck: Good question. I always feel the balance is off. The Most Secret Gallery was an experiment because I missed certain kinds of exhibitions in Denmark. I didn’t have many exhibitions in the gallery; it has always been an expense rather than an income. I realized how much work it is just to arrange a talk, not to mention an exhibition. The time always goes from making. Financially, I’m so lucky to have a rare lifelong grant from the Danish Arts Foundation, which is an important supplement.
Do you still design for Georg Jensen, and how has this work influenced your own work, if at all?
Kim Buck: I’m not a designer for Georg Jensen anymore. Not that we parted officially, but it faded out. I still design for other companies, though. I like this way of working. I like the boundaries, etc. When I get an idea, I think about what direction to give it. Commercial or my own personal work. I more or less work with it the same way, so the influence goes both ways.
Environmental consciousness and questions surrounding issues related to mining and resource use continue to come to the fore for makers of jewelry. Do you ever think about the sustainability of the materials you use?
Kim Buck: The Precious Stones project and the Crossing Borders project come from these issues. I think quite a lot about these things. In my studio, I have found ways to not use harmful chemicals or processes as was common before—this is one thing that I find most people forget to look at.
You’ve been a goldsmith, designer, and jewelry artist for a long time now. What advice can you give to those just starting out?
Kim Buck: When I look at my own career, I can say that work discipline has been the most important factor. If you don't work every day, you don't have a continuous flow in your work. I work very fast when I make my work—it’s how I survive, it comes from experience, which comes from working a lot.
What’s next for you, workwise? Any big projects on the boil?
Kim Buck: I have several projects I’m working on. As always. One is Made in China, which is a porcelain project. I go to China in two weeks to work on this.
Do you wear any jewelry?
Kim Buck: I usually wear small brooches or pins.
When you aren’t working, what do you love to do?
Kim Buck: Maybe the most difficult question ... I never actually looked at what I do as work. But I do like sometimes to do nothing. I have an interest in mechanical musical instruments and have built a couple, and I’m working on a very large one at the moment—but that may be work.