Melissa Cameron is one of our gallery artists here at Danaca Design. She brought us some lovely steel and enamel pieces recently. I have a pair of her steel and cable earrings and I really enjoy them! I’m looking forward to seeing her next batch of work.
Here’s Melissa’s artist bio, from her website:
Melissa is an Australian-born artist jeweller who lives and works in Seattle, WA. She holds a MFA in jewellery and metalsmithing from Monash University and BA with honours in interior architecture from Curtin University. Her works are included in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia (Canberra), the Cheongju City Collection (South Korea) as well as the Arts Centre Melbourne (Australia), and her pieces have featured in the publications Jewel Book, Art Jewellery Today 3 andLark Books’ 500 Silver Jewelry Designs.
I asked her some questions as well. I loved reading through her thoughtful responses, and getting to peek into her history and process.
How long have you been making Jewelry?
So I have two answers to that question, since I’ve only really been brave enough to call myself a jewellery artist after I went full-time upon graduating from my MFA program in 2009. But I began making jewellery in high school, (we don’t have middle school in Australia) so when I was in year 8 – or around 12 to 13 years old. We had a jewellery program there, that offered two courses in the basics; sawing, soldering, filing, roll printing, cleanup, polishing – I remember watching my friends sitting on the steps to the building, hands busy with wet-and-dry sandpaper. I also remember that I was really good at filing to ensure my rings looked seamless, and I liked a high polish on my work. Now not so much. So if you go with the high-school date, almost 25 years, off and on. But seriously? Five, or eight years including study, tops.
What’s your background? Is it in art, or something else?
I studied interior architecture at university, and I worked as a designer in commercial/retail design for the first years of my professional career. That’s where I became proficient at ArchiCAD and AutoCad, and that also gave me the free time and income to begin (or perhaps recommence) dabbling in making jewellery in my mid-twenties. I consequently don’t have an undergraduate degree in jewellery or metalsmithing, which effects how I work with materials, and indeed what materials I choose to work with.
Is there anything in particular that you like about jewelry as a medium?
It’s wearable and it’s in object form. I always find myself drawn to objects and space, things that are not available to the ‘flatter’ art forms. Jewellery works are required to be robust enough to wear, so just in terms of the structural requirements, jewellery has a lot of crossover with the design disciplines and architecture, which similarly have issues with human use and habitation, as well as external loads and forces like gravity.
This structural characteristic means that a jewellery work will generally outlive the owner, which to me is an appealing notion. While we might think we own it, we can only ever be the temporary custodian of a work, since jewellery is one of the few kinds of objects that is universally passed down. It makes me think hard about what it is that sparks the wearer’s – and a viewers – interest in a piece. What will be the most eye catching form for a work, and how long can and will an eye need to travel around it, in order to fully comprehend what it is, what it does and how it does it.
I realize that these thoughts lie outside the notions of sentimentality and preciousness – which I think often lie outside the purview of the maker in any case. We jewellery makers are artists, designers, general creative types, and our drive is to create because we are good at it and to that end we have been trained to take neophyte ideas and develop them and bring them into reality. We can make literally anything, so it’s worth considering what it really is we want to make, especially given the potential for the jewel to have a longer lifespan than the original owner/wearer. I think it’s important to consider what else the work speaks to (aside from jewellery concerns of beauty and adornment.) For example, what will the person who inherits think of it, and what will it say to them?
What are your favorite materials to work with, and why?
I enjoy using recycled materials for what they can add to the narrative of a work, but in terms of the materials that suit my hands and working methods best, I think steel is a great material. I use miles of steel cable and I like saw piercing mild steel, and the clean grey sandblasted surface that stainless steel takes on. It’s a great material to work with enamel on too, and you can solder and weld it. And because it’s not too precious, you know your hard labored artwork is unlikely to be sold for the metal price 😉
I find that jewelers tend to have one part of the process they love best, for some it’s sawing, for others it’s soldering. Do you have a favorite part of the jewelry process?
I love saw piercing. I could do that for ever. But I have to drill so many holes in order to do it, and that bit I could do without! I also enjoy the research and design process in my work – seeing a good drawing print out ready to work from can be as rewarding as finally taking a saw blade to the line-work.
What kind of imagery or inspiration do you use? Or, can you tell us about any recurring themes in your work?
The imagery and motifs depend on the inspiration, though the incorporation of pattern is pretty constant. There was a lot of architecturally inspired early work that used the quatrefoil motif heavily, but I moved out of that phase as I tackled other themes. My works are becoming more narrative driven, and these narratives are gradually taking on subtle political themes, like feminism and the want of empathy that I am seeing in society – it seems that we have become more knowledgeable about one another, yet less caring. So the works are serving a narrative in the motifs they are using (to the point of becoming less pattern-based and more representational), and in the pattern structure – significant numbers in a narrative influence pattern iterations and their internal organisation.
I use a lot of exploded forms as they work well with the steel-cable facilitated layers that I like to build into the works. I enjoy crisp lines and strict geometry – especially symmetry and radial patterns – and while that effects the aesthetic, it’s not a theme. I can work without them too. They’re not a crutch, honest!
Thank you Melissa!
We have some of Melissa’s work in the gallery right now. Come check it out!