The Swiss jeweler David Bielander is unique and so is his jewelry. In his current show at Gallery S O, he presents a broad array of his work, going back to the famous 1999 lips. There is always something intriguing, strange, and humorous about his jewelry, and the more you ponder it the more amazing it becomes. He has his own ways of thinking about what he does as well. It is all very curious and fascinating. How does he think of these things?
Recently, David Bielander was chosen by the AJF board to make the 2014 AJF membership pin. I can hardly wait to see what he does.
Susan Cummins: David, can you tell the story of how you discovered you wanted to make jewelry?
David Bielander: My first encounter with the world of making jewelry happened when I was 19 and had to make an unscheduled detour on my straight-lined and not at all naive path to become a groundbreaking fashion designer in Antwerp. A trial week in goldsmithing, followed by a four year apprenticeship as a traditional goldsmith. I did this because of the attraction of the resistance of metal and the handling of fire. But mainly because I was fascinated that everything I learnt was visible on the bench at the end of the day and also everything that I had thought I had learnt, but in fact had not internalized was also visible.
I did this not because I would have been interested in jewelry in any way. I have never been a dedicated wearer, I could not comprehend the notions of enhancing a person, of simple beautification, joyful decoration, or showing off materialized technical virtuosity or splendor, which I learnt would be the parameters of jewelry. Even not after having been the goldsmith for two years of the wonderfully kooky Georg Spreng.
Alexander Blank studied jewelry from 1997 to 2010 at a variety of different schools and finished as a graduate of Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts where he was a student of Otto Künzli’s. In a recent AJF blog, Blank answered questions about his experience of studying with Künzli, but this interview is about his first solo show in the United States. Ornamentum, a gallery located in Hudson, New York, invited Blank to present a retrospective of his work from 2006 to the present. It is an opportunity to see the development of his thinking and understand the recurring themes told through his passionate interest in storytelling. Blank is clearly a smart and talented maker with a youthful zest for life.
Susan Cummins: Alexander, you recently answered some questions for this blog about working with Otto Künzli at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, so I won’t ask you about your academic training, but can you tell us the story of how you became interested in being a jeweler?
Alexander Blank: Actually, I was not very interested in nor was I planning to become a jeweler when I started it. I wanted to become a photographer, but the one I chose to study with already had an apprentice, so I just simply inquired in the next shop down which happened to be a goldsmith. They took me as an apprentice, but I really was more interested in my friends, sports, and just hanging out at the time. I have to say that I was still quite immature.
Jewelry became much more interesting to me when I was in the advanced technical college in Hanau, Germany. There, I began to get an idea of what jewelry could be beyond well-crafted pieces, good selling ideas, and old school tradition. I felt there was more potential and other values beyond the material based intentions in the jewelry making. Suddenly I noticed that it was possible approach a jewelry piece to criticize, comment, use, and narrate everything I can imagine. That made me very curious, and I continued to study in Munich. To make it short, not much has changed from the younger version of me, but now I feel like jewelry has turned into my playground, and I have begun to love that game.
With Otto Künzli’s much-deserved exhibition up at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, Germany, it seems to be a good time to have a deeper look at his work as a professor as well as a maker. Five of his students—Alexander Blank, Attai Chen, Carina Chitsaz-Shoshtary, Melanie Isverding, and Mia Maljojoki have organized a show at the Galerie Rosemarie Jäger this month called Helter Skelter. Rather than discussing the theme of the show, I decided to ask these former students of Otto Künzli’s about his work as a teacher.
Klimt02 Gallery, in Barcelona, Spain, is having an exhibition this month with Mari Ishikawa. Mari is Japanese but trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and now lives there. She was a Herbert Hofmann awardee in 2000 and the Elizabeth R. Raphael Founder Prize winner last year. Mari has shown far and wide and brings her special point of view to the jewelry she makes. Her show Landscape became an opportunity for an interview this month.
Susan Cummins: Can you tell me the story of how you discovered that you wanted to be a jeweler?
Mari Ishikawa: I worked as an interior designer in Japan. It was quite interesting, but the range was too limited. Jewelry gives me more artistic freedom. At the same time, the relationship that exists between the object, the person who wears it, and me is more personal and more intense in jewelry.
Gravers Lane Gallery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is showing the work of Montana-born jeweler Ken Bova. Ken is currently a professor at the very active East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. This exhibition gave me a chance to find out a bit more about Ken and his work as a jeweler, an enamellist, and unexpectedly as it turns out, a reader.
Susan Cummins: Ken, can you tell me the story of how you became a jeweler?
Ken Bova: Interestingly (at least to me anyway) while in high school I bought a set of jewelry tools (pliers, a saw frame and a few hammers). I tried to teach myself how to make silver rings and bangle bracelets (without much success I might add) but abandoned it after entering college to study art. The stage was set before university, but I just needed the right nudge and opportunity.
I was working on my BFA with a major in painting and drawing when a professor hired me to help hang wallboard in a studio he was building. Part of this studio was dedicated to a small jewelry making space. In exchange for the help,
I was paid in part with six weeks of jewelry casting lessons. I was hooked. I was only a semester away from getting my degree when I decided that this was it—THE discipline I wanted to pursue as an artist. Because the school had no program in metals, I finished the degree in painting and then transferred to the University of Houston. I studied for a year of post-baccalaureate work with Val Link and Sandie Zilker before applying to graduate schools.
I was convinced I wanted to be a smith and concentrated on raising and forming processes. In graduate school, however, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the wearable—perhaps because of its intimate scale or maybe because working with the brooch format was comfortable and echoed my experience in painting. In any case, I gravitated towards jewelry, and there I’ve stayed.
By the way, I still have the very first piece of jewelry I cast, a sterling silver and tumbled jade stone ring.
Barbara Heinrich is a delightful example of one of the best production studio jewelers working in America today. Her current show at de novo in Palo Alto, California, gives us an occasion to ask her a few questions about her background and her attitude toward making jewelry. Barbara’s ability to turn a dilemma into an opportunity is one of her great strengths, and the energy she brings into the studio each day can’t be ignored as a key to her success.
Susan Cummins: Barbara, what is your background, and how did you decide to become a jeweler?
Barbara Heinrich: I grew up on a vineyard in Germany and always made jewelry from the time I was little. When it was time to decide on a field of study, I thought I should study something “harder,” such as architecture or product design, but my father convinced me to pursue what was most natural to me, making jewelry.