Camilla Gough on sculpture, the Mallee and hot water…
Interview by Lucy Feagins of The Design Files
Within moments of meeting, it’s clear that Camilla Gough has an incredible energy – her green eyes are bright and animated as she talks about her creative practise, and it’s hard not to be enthused by her beautiful work and such engaging, lively conversation! Camilla is truly the kind of person who is just completely present and focused during conversation – she looks you directly in the eye as she chats… and you get the sense that she’s really, truly listening! It’s hard to believe Camilla is a self-taught jeweller – her incredible skill and precise work speaks volumes for her determination to master her trade. After studying sculpture at the VCA, Camilla lucked upon a private commission for a customised watchband. It was this project that sparked her initial interest in jewellery, and encouraged Camilla to seek out the skills required to perfect her craft. Camilla views her practise as creating ‘small pieces of art’ – 3D objects that tell a secret story. She has a particular talent for storytelling. Camilla often coaxes highly personal stories from her clients and weaves these special details into their design. When working on custom engagement rings, she learns as much about her client as possible – she’s been known to request photos of the recipient’s home, favourite clothes and shoes(!) to really ensure that each piece truly reflects the wearer. Her style is clear and self-assured, yet it’s ever-evolving and full of surprises – no two pieces by Camilla Gough are ever quite the same.
Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture from VCA, my final year was on scholarship at Kansas city art institute in Kansas city USA. The path that led me to what I’m doing now wasn’t set from the beginning. There are a few specific experiences that directed me towards jewellery – in particular, a private commission for a customised watchband, which was the first piece of jewellery I ever made after finishing university. It was whilst working on this project that I taught myself the basics of making jewellery. The first time I made a collection of jewellery was for a Japanese buyer from a company in Tokyo that specialised in scouring the back streets of design conscious cities finding new design. A friend was wearing a pendant I had made which caught the attention of the buyer and he called me and asked if I had a collection for him to see. I told him to come by at the end of the week and in three days I made my first collection of jewellery, and it was pretty wild. I didn’t have time to consider a style – it just poured out of me as raw aesthetic. He bought the lot and I had my first show in Tokyo. I taught myself how to work in precious metals, slowly over about 16 years now I’ve taught myself the trade. I look at my work as small pieces of art, I decided from the beginning that if I was going to make jewellery I would only make my designs, it was to be my sculpture.
How would you describe your work?
Hmm… I always find this tough, especially when I’m standing at a party and someone asks… I don’t wear jewellery which makes it even more difficult! My work is very considered in all aspects, from the design, construction, and materials used. I definitely have a distinct style in my making and I think the manner to which I construct my work plays a part in this distinction. I seem to have two streams of style, mechanical, and fluid/organic. The work is entirely handmade, I’m useless at production, virtually everything I make is a variation of another. I make constantly so there is delicate evolution going on everyday with my work. It’s reasonably bold, but there is space in my work to keep it quiet.
The ring on the left was inspired by a bushwalking trip in Tasmania, and depicts the mountain range of Frenchman’s Cap. The ring on the right is entitled ‘Mallee Night Sky’ – inspired by the incredible star-filled skies in the Mallee, North Western Victoria.
Wedding bands designed for a couple who were married in Cape Town, South Africa and who then flew to Mudgee, NSW for a ceremony in Australia. The rings incorporate scenery from each of these special locations – on the outside Camilla has traced the outline of Table Mountain in Cape Town, on the inside of the rings, the scenery at Mudgee which formed a backdrop for the Australian ceremony. Luckily the couple share exactly the same ring-size! Apart, the rings are abstract – but when placed together they tell a story.
How do you structure your creative output – is there a common theme which links each piece of work? Do you develop ranges for the seasons, or is each piece entirely unique and set apart from the rest?
Almost everything I make is unique. My work is individually commissioned, and as I have a thing for making rings I’ve fallen into the wonderful market of love, engagements and weddings. I work with people’s stories. I want a client to leave my studio wearing something that represents the place they are at that moment, so the piece becomes part of them.
One of the main challenges faced by independent designer / makers is the challenge of working alone. How is your studio structured? Do you work alone or do you share your creative space? How do you keep connected to the design community, and who do you bounce off for valuable feedback?
I’ve worked in my own space for years, I like the privacy of my own studio, I don’t have problem with working alone, in fact I treasure it. I bounce ideas off friends most of whom are artists. A friend, who I studied with at VCA, Jason Patterson, has worked off and on with me from the beginning, we learnt the trade from each other. He’s an amazing craftsperson and my closest ally in jewellery. Another friend Sia comes for two days a week as my assistant, she herself is a craftsperson so is great with feedback.
Where do you turn for creative inspiration – nature, travel, books, the web? Do you pay attention to trends in the broader design world like architecture, fashion, etc?
I’m not dictated by fashion but at the same time you make for a current environment. I don’t actively seek inspiration, I find it in everything around me. Sorry that’s a vague answer – it stumps me every time, along with ‘how do you describe your work’!
Which designers, artists or creative people do you admire?
A long list of artists – Sally Smart, Louise Hearman, Ah Xian, Ilka White, John Wolseley, Anna Davern…
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
I’m always busy with a lot of small detail. I make everyday. I quite often meet with clients to discuss the design of their jewellery. The initial meeting with new clients I encourage them to talk about himself/herself or their partner so I can begin to formulate a thread of an idea to work with. I sit and think about design quite a lot. I always go for a run with my dog, Astro. Then there’s heaps of boring paperwork/quoting etc to figure out.
What would be your dream project?
Gosh I always dream… It would probably currently be; realising two sculpture and drawing installations that circulate in my mind. They’re both quite different and have no relationship to my jewellery. I love to draw, it’s something I have done since I could lift a pencil. My drawing style is very loose which is not like my jewellery. It probably would have made more sense to have specialised in drawing but I’ve always liked to keep it as mine. The line is immediate, which is very freeing compared to jewellery. I do need to have a space outside my workshop to do artwork, I find it difficult to combine the space.
What do you see from your studio window?
An amazing view over Flinders Street Station down St Kilda Road.
What music is on your daily playlist right now?
Radio National, and my friend Christopher Coe’s new Digital Primate album (plug) …
Your drink of choice whilst working?
Hot water, I ran out of tea about five years ago and still haven’t replaced it, and wine later.
“The best thing about my studio is…” ?
It’s my space.