Written by Wendy Walker
In 2007, jeweller/metalsmith Julie Blyfield became the first Australian jeweller to have her work – specifically two Paris Collection brooches from her 2007 exhibition at Hélène Porée Gallery in Paris – acquired by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs that is part of the Palais du Louvre. Anne Dangar (1885 – 1951) and Marc Newson [i] are each represented in the collection by four objects. With its finely considered nuances of form, surface texture and colour, The Paris Collection (2007) was one of several compelling and consecutive series of rigorously conceived and executed work that explored the sculptural possibilities of jewellery – a direction foreshadowed in the experimental Lazy Daisy pieces created for the solo exhibition Traces in 2001 and the Florescence neckpiece series of the following year.
Inspiration flows from many – albeit predominantly thematically-linked – sources that include, for example, the immediacy of quandong seeds gathered from Blyfield’s own garden, botanical collections in museums and herbaria in Australia and Europe, the embroideries of her grandmother and more recently the ravaged, blackened landscape of Kangaroo Island in the aftermath of the devastating 2007 bushfires.
For Blyfield, who relishes new challenges that present opportunities for problem solving, a significant turning point occurred as the result of a mentorship with Frank Bauer,[ii] during which she began to raise three dimensional objects from a flat disc of silver. The resultant Flourish series (2003) of striking gourd or seed pod-like vessels, brooches and neckpieces with heavily hand-textured surfaces triggered a stunningly fertile period of new work – notably the Pressed Desert Plant series (2005) of oxidised silver brooches painted in faded desert hues of ochre, soft green and yellow. “I utilised metal raising and chasing techniques,” Byfield commented, “to work and form the pure and sterling silver sheet into three-dimensional forms which are threaded, folded and interlaced together. By applying colour to these pieces I wanted to reflect the warmth and the faded, muted tones of the old plant specimens.” This beautifully resolved series – based on Pastor Johann Reuther’s early twentieth-century collection of pressed indigenous plant species at the South Australian Museum – was first exhibited in 2005 as part of Gray St Workshop’s twentieth anniversary exhibition at Galerie Ra in Amsterdam and subsequently at London’s Co[ ]ect 2006.
In a 2006 review for London’s Guardian Weekly, Germaine Greer was critical of the international craft fair Co[ ]ect, but enthusiastic about the work of Blyfield, “who lovingly explicates Australian plant shapes, especially in her sequence of unusually wearable jewellery called Pressed Desert.” Such gentleness and subtlety, Greer noted, “are not often associated with my birthplace.” As the titles suggest – Pierced Black Desert Plant, Spiky Desert Plant – this pivotal brooch series influenced (in a fruitful two-way exchange) a dramatic new series of vessels for Co[ ]ect 2007, in which the emphasis shifted from solid objects to more open and highly foliated forms.
Consistently experimental and never static, Blyfield’s latest body of work Natural Selection (2009) evolved from close scrutiny of Aboriginal and Pacific artefact collections in storage at the South Australian Museum, followed by a trip to the Simpson and Tirrari deserts in north-eastern South Australia, where Blyfield took photographs, made sketches and collected plant specimens (her customary approach to researching new work). While the brooches and neckpieces feature occasional silver and gold components, the focus is on organic material, including acacia wood, string, seeds and paper. As Blyfield observes, she is now making jewellery from the materials that she has so often referenced.
Implicit within Blyfield’s fluid, poetic forms are narratives – alternately personal and collective, contemporary and historical – of family, of European settlement, environmental degradation and disaster and the Indigenous Australian connection with the land. A parallel aspect of Blyfield’s practice which she finds highly rewarding has been her role (both formal and informal) as a teacher/mentor to emerging jewellers – for the Adelaide Centre for the Arts (TAFE), the Helpmann Academy, Gray Street Workshop, Haystack’s 2007 Summer School in the United States and throughout 2008, the Jewellery Cluster Group organised by Form in Perth, Western Australia.
In 2009, Julie Blyfield is one of fifty-five participants from twelve countries invited to participate in the Schoonhoven Silver Award exhibition, Poetry in Silver (3 April – 21 June 2009) in the Netherlands, that will also tour to the Design Museum Gent in Belgium and the International Design Museum in Munich. In March several of her vessels were included in Modern Masters at Munich during Schmuck 2009. For the fourth time, she will show with Amsterdam’s Galerie Ra at London’s Co[ ]ect. She has also recently staged a solo exhibition of new work entitled Natural Selection at Gallery Funaki in Melbourne.
[i]One of the objects is Marc Newson’s sculptural Orgone bracelet (1996). There is also an Orgone Stretch Lounge (1993) which is not in the collection.
[ii]Blyfield enjoys forging such relationships within the community and Frank Bauer travelled to Melbourne for the opening in March of her exhibition Natural Selection.
Julie Blyfield is represented by Galerie Ra, Amsterdam and Gallery Funaki, Melbourne. Her work is available from Charon Kransen, New York; Object Gallery, Sydney; Beaver Galleries, Canberra; JamFactory Contemporary Craft and Design and Zu design in Adelaide.
First published in the Craftsouth Bulletin, Issue 6, April-June 2009.