David Parker on Art Deco, tension setting and Hurstbridge…
What was the first piece of jewellery you ever made?
It was a wooden ring, which I carved out of a piece of merbau or jarrah when I was about 16. It was just something I was playing around with. My dad was a carpenter and a builder so we had a shed that was full of tools. I think that’s something that gave me a big head start in jewellery; the ability to understand how and why tools worked and what they did. My early creative ideas were made from wood: sculptures, boats…that sort of thing. One day I decided to make a ring, which broke when I got a little bit older so I don’t have it anymore. I do have a pinkie ring that I made for myself at my first jewellery job. It’s pretty rough and ready but it’s great to still have it.
Did you study or train?
I trained. It was all hands-on training. Going to school to make jewellery was never really on my radar, I didn’t even know about it until much later. I first worked in a shop in Hurstbridge, which is near where I grew up. I was interested in making jewellery but had no real idea of what was involved in the process. They offered me one day of unpaid work a week on a Saturday so that I could see how things worked, gain experience and maybe get my foot in the door for an apprenticeship. I got to know a lot of things about jewellery—the bare bones. It wasn’t about making whatever you want, in the trade you’ve got to make what you’re told to. That’s not always a lot of fun…. But it’s good for discipline.
Eventually, I got an opportunity to do a month with Michael Wilson, on Little Collins Street. I really enjoyed it and I got to see nice handmade work being made—there was not a lot of casting involved and it was a really skills-based workshop. He offered me a full-time gig and through that I came into contact with a lot of really great jewellers, who were very willing to share their skills. It was a great place to work in terms of building technical skills.
After four years I felt like I needed to move on and see what else was around. I went to work for Adrian Lewis in South Yarra who did a lot of society jewellery, fashion shows and big expensive pieces. I was there for three years.
During this time I started to hear about a place called e.g.etal. I heard a bit about how they worked, catering for designers who wanted to make their own style of work. I looked into it; during that time I’d sort of been making my own range and developing a style of my own. One day I figured I had enough to show them and get some feedback. I met with Ali Limb at a cafe and had a chat and she saw my work. She liked it but thought it would work better for the shop if it were a precious range—if I was using 18ct gold instead of silver and that sort of thing. It was a bit daunting at that stage because it’s quite a big investment. I put it on the backburner, something to think about…
I happened to run into Ali at a mutual friend’s studio one day and she said that they’d been trying to find me because they were opening a new gallery in Flinders Lane and launching a precious collection and they’d like me to be a part of it. I jumped at the opportunity and the rest is history. From e.g.etal I’ve joined a few more galleries and have been making my own jewellery ever since.
Can you describe your creative process? How was it developing this after having worked as a jeweller predominantly making other people’s creations?
I think it was a natural development for me. A lot of it came from being more attracted to square edges or a more cubic look while making other pieces. Often when you’re making a piece by hand the starting point is usually a square shape and from that point a lot of people want to round it off and make it nice and shiny and half-round this and thin down that…for me, I was always constantly frustrated because I had to take something that I thought looked great and continue to work on it until it was something that wasn’t overly appealing to me…so these square edges and what they represent have always been in my work and have been a big part of the way my creative process has developed. From there I really wanted to develop new ways of looking at things and a new way of portraying jewellery. I’m interested in forms that are a bit more contemporary. My creative process originally developed out of the desire to explore these forms. It was picking things up—say, a stone for example—and asking how it would work in a new setting…wondering how to set a stone in a ring and make something really interesting that people haven’t seen before. My creative process also considers how I make something that really appeals to me.
I’ve heard you refer to the art deco elements in your work. Is this a conscious decision to work with certain elements of this style?
It didn’t start as a conscious thing. Initially it was more about a style I was pursuing, which comes more from art deco architecture more than it does art deco jewellery, which is quite ornate. When I started I made what I liked. I don’t consciously try to incorporate art deco forms into my work. If it was a conscious thing I think it would immediately date my work within that period and undermine the contemporary aesthetic that I pursue. I think this contemporary element is more important than the art deco element…it’s very important to me that the work looks like its contemporary…as in modern or of this time.
Are there conceptual or thematic ideas that link your work?
Making jewellery in a ‘modern’ sense is really important to me. I feel like there is a lot of jewellery and a lot of ideas that have been around for a very long time. I wasn’t exposed to the same ideas as RMIT, NMIT or Box Hill graduates so my jewellery education very much comes from the trade side of things, which is definitely not a bad thing. I was lucky enough to be on the really good side of trade jewellery. Conceptually I seek to take things to the next step in time…something that’s really of the moment, rather than something that’s relating to things in the past. I always try to make something that looks forward. I think that’s also where the influence of art deco forms comes from: for me, that period is one of the few periods where people were actively striving to jump forward on the way to a new aesthetic or concept.
Do you find a stone, sketch a design and then make it? Or do you draw a design and find a stone to fit it? Does the process change?
Initially ideas would spring to mind and I would pursue them. Then it developed into finding a stone that I really liked and making something around that. I think in the last few years its gone back to being a bit more considered and a bit more conceptual—seeking to create pieces that incorporate structures and ideas that I really like. I enjoy the challenge of working out how to make these ideas work within jewellery.
…taking a broad concept or aesthetic and applying it to jewellery as a medium?
Definitely. A lot of my ideas come from outside of jewellery. Sometimes ideas will just flash into my head. Most of it probably starts around the setting and the setting technique. From there I try to marry that into a band so that it’s not just the ring and the setting, but it’s something more homogenous, something more sculptural. The pieces that give me the biggest buzz are the ones that could almost be little freestanding sculptures themselves …
What techniques are important in your work?
I find tension setting to be something that I continually come back to. It’s also something that people tend to connect with and something that fits very well with the idea of my work that I have. Having said that, it’s not the be all and end all. There are certain things it won’t work for so I’ve got to be flexible enough to employ other techniques in order to convey what I’m trying to say. Initially trying to find a new way to present the stone was a big part of what I was trying to do. Over the years this has eased a bit. It’s still important but there is probably a limit to how much you can explore that without getting too crazy or unrealistic in terms of design. I like my work to be accessible to people, I don’t want it to be so out-there that people can’t wear it. What I like doing most is making engagement rings and wedding bands, things that are significant to people and that they’re going to have for a long time. Having said that I definitely make concept pieces to try certain things out and explore new avenues. This lets me push the envelope a little bit further and see what’s possible: what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. A great idea can seem great in your head, but it may not come out in the making…
Tell us about your studio.
My studio is above Pieces of Eight. I’ve been here for around 6 months. It’s a bit of a change to be working here, rather than on my own in my studio at home. Being in the city means being immersed in a totally different environment. It’s a really different vibe; there are a lot of things happening all the time. It’s definitely been a really big change and a really good change. There is so much creative stuff going on, whether it’s in the gallery or whether it’s the girls in the office going over marketing, or blogs, or other artist’s work that comes through. Its been a big eye-opener, not so much the actual studio space, but what’s around it. I like to keep my space quite tidy and minimal – which is probably not much of a surprise when you see my work. A lot of jewellery studios can be crazy with stuff everywhere but I find cleaning my bench lets me refocus on the next piece and gets my head ready to go.
Where is your work heading?
It’s a difficult question for me because generally each individual design is a step in a slightly new direction. A collection may come together out of a single idea…but that’s something I try not to push too much. I find that if I push a concept to put together a new collection then a lot of it is not great work. Sometimes an idea stretches into multiple pieces and that’s great but more often for me it’s a process that goes from one piece to the next. When I first started my work was very big and chunky, with big stones and an awful lot of gold. Now it’s kind of refined itself down a little more, the pieces are a bit slimmer. It’s not necessarily more refined or fragile but it’s become something along those lines…I try not to plan the next few pieces too much.