Eileen Townsend is a staff writer for Memphis Magazine and an art columnist for The Memphis Flyer.
Valdis Brože makes jewelry about the passage of time. His forthcoming exhibition, White Pate, at Latvia’s Art Gallery Putti, features Brože’s series of intricately hewn rings. Each ring reflects minute progression in the artist’s craft: shades of difference realized in careful form. In our interview, Brože spoke about the evolution of his craft, his love of ancient Baltic artifacts, and loneliness.
Eileen Townsend: Can you tell me about your background, both your early life growing up in Latvia and your career since you graduated from the Art Academy of Latvia?
Valdis Brože: I was born and raised in Riga. From a very early age I was interested in making jewelry. At first I made it from various found materials. I was like a little magpie being attracted to shiny objects. As a child I had sharp vision, attention to detail, and I liked making small objects—I carved detailed faces in small plastic balls. In my youth, I worked in archaeological excavations where I had the chance to explore ancient Baltic artifacts and jewelry that was predominantly made from silver and bronze. This changed my perception of materials, and I fell in love with silver. After graduating from Decorative Arts College in Latvia, which is a great school with an open and creative atmosphere, I entered Art Academy of Latvia, where I graduated with a degree in visual communications.
What does White Pate mean?
Valdis Brože: “White Pate” comes from a cartoon—a beautiful and melancholic story about how you can’t stop time, although it can stop us. Its lead character is an old man who has decided to leave his cell after many years, but the lost moments of time won’t let him go; they keep him inside. I created the doll for this character—it was a very detailed piece made of silver, mammoth tusk, and crystals. I created limbs that were connected by silver, which is a soft material. It was a big challenge to work with silver for this particular piece. Great precision had to be applied in the creation of the old man’s crystal eyes, which were supposed to be able to mimic natural blinking. I carved very thin eyelids from mammoth bone. The eyelids were supported with hinges that formed a circumference around the crystal eye. I spent three days working on the eyes alone. The making of this character was a starting point for me to make a brand-new jewelry collection about the time that I live in and the space that I don’t leave—just like the character in the cartoon.
With the pieces to be shown in White Pate, you seem to work with a lot of small variations on similar forms. How do you plan for each new piece?
Valdis Brože: I am a loner. Loneliness is part of my character. My works are like little sculptures. When I make them I open my world, allowing all my creative energy to pour out. When the piece has been created, it is ready to face the world and tell its story to anyone who wants to listen. It is very important to me to develop an inner world that tells a story for each piece. I try to put life in every piece—whether it’s a small hinge that creates movement or other details that make the object come to life. Sometimes, in the process of making, I become so attached to my pieces that it becomes very hard to separate from them later. I work a lot with colors. Sometimes I create an unordinary combination of colors, in order to give life and give joy to the ordinary. I don’t tend to make identical jewelry. I like to invent, so in every collection there are only a few elements that repeat themselves.
In this case you have used rings as your starting point. Have you done this kind of variation for other jewelry forms as well?
Valdis Brože: Yes, I use subtle transitions, hinges, mammoth tusk, and enamel in the design of earrings and brooches. I am not interested in simple compounds and they have to be very organic. Sometimes earrings come close to looking like sculptures, and that makes me wonder about people with tough ears, as everything has its limit.
What are your days in the studio like?
Valdis Brože: I start my day in the studio with green tea and then I dive straight into work. It is important for me to start working as soon as I walk in my studio because I am very productive in the mornings. I don’t like to work in the midday—that is when I enjoy my breaks or do something else. However my most productive hours are between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. This rhythm has always been very important to me.
What is the most challenging project you’ve undertaken in your career?
Valdis Brože: I have to admit that the biggest challenge for me was a recent exhibition at Gallery Putti—Amber in Contemporary Jewelry. It was very difficult to understand how to work with amber. The beginning was a real torture due to the traditional stereotypes on how amber jewelry should look. The image of streets oversaturated with souvenir shops of traditional amber designs just wouldn’t leave my thoughts. I had to stare at this mineral for one month before I could see its true beauty. I got to the point where I thought, “I will never be able to work with amber,” but somehow magically I found my dialogue with the mineral and this dialogue became very harmonious. When I began working with this material, I realized that it is a very powerful conversation partner, and requires just as erudite a conversation partner in return.
Which jewelers and artists do you look up to as inspiration?
Valdis Brože: I look at a lot of talented artists online and in exhibitions. But my biggest inspiration for new jewelry designs is my own previous work that makes me push forward and achieve something greater. I find profound logic in that. Of course it is very inspiring to see others who have found their unique language of expression.
How has your work changed since your last exhibition, Thin, Thin, in 2012?
Valdis Brože: It’s difficult to say. Approximately once per year I take a step back and look at what I have achieved—a moment of surprise because I always feel that I evolve and develop but the truth is that I just change a little. Everything is a little different. Essentially, I find new ideas and things in my work over time and think, “How did I not ever think of this before?”
You have spent a lot of time studying human anatomy to better understand how jewelry can be worn. How do you feel about having the jewelry in a static display in the gallery?
Valdis Brože: When creating White Pate I was thinking more about the static display than the wearing aspect, especially when I created my gold series. The most important thing in the exhibition is to find new language, which will be used for future pieces that will be more wearable. But, yes, I have spent a lot of time studying anatomy books. I was trying to understand the human palm from an anatomical perspective in order to create a perfect fit, or create a ring that fits on two fingers. I don’t usually wear jewelry myself. But I did wear a ring for a while for experimental purposes. I wanted to understand the curve of the finger, where the center of gravity in the ring must be located for the wearer not to feel it. The jewelry needs to “grow” on the wearer, become a natural extension. Of course the functional aspect doesn’t always materialize in the exhibition. Sometimes a decision needs to be made about whether the piece will be jewelry or artistic expression.
How do you hope someone wearing your jewelry will experience the pieces?
Valdis Brože: In an ideal situation, someone sees a piece of jewelry and feels the connection, as if it belongs to them. As if it’s a small part of the person itself. Jewelry fully blossoms when it encounters its person and meets everyday life. My works are like a bridge between the wearer’s intimate inner world and the public space. I want my jewelry to be adored and worn. I want it to create strong, positive emotions for the wearer and leave an impression on the observers.