Katherine Bowman on A Minor Place, fabric and Mirka Mora…
Tell us a little about your background and what led you to what you are doing now?
I started making jewellery when I was a child. It started off by using tools in my Dad’s garage. I pulled apart an old television and started making with wire. I had very rudimentary skills so I applied for Gold and Silversmithing after school and I never got in. But I was accepted into Melbourne University doing a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Fine Art History. I kept making during that time and travelled. I decided I still wanted to do Gold and Silversmithing at RMIT as I felt I had gone as far as I could teaching myself and I wanted a formal education in it so I applied again for the course and got it.
How would you describe your work?
There must be a sense of touch and tactility to my work and that’s why I seek out more organic textures. I think that sense of touch allows people to make their own stories with the work or about the work. I think that’s the whole point of making, to have a response from a person.
Are there any particular stones or metals you like to use?
I predominantly use silver and gold. I have a preference for Australian parti sapphires, because I know where they come from and how they have been mined. I think gold is a very beautiful material. It has a lustre that I can achieve with that metal that I don’t see as much in other metals. So my love of gold is not it’s monetary value but the inherent properties of the metal itself.
What common themes link each of your designs?
I think I reference fabric a lot in my work. My maker’s mark is the warp and weft of fabric. The warp is the threads running down and the weft is what makes up fabric. It’s based on a notion by cultural theorist Trinh T. Minh-Ha, she talks about ‘to weave is to speak’ so a culture’s identity can often be understood by their textiles and how they wear and adorn their jewellery and clothing. I think it’s very interesting to work with metal which is a hard material, but through the casting process I can make it appear soft and more tactile. That is a theme that runs through everything I do with jewellery. All my pieces are handmade and reflect a philosophy of the handmade. I manipulate every single wax, so it has something different to it. Everything is considered.
Your work feels almost ancient, like an archaeological find. What has informed that part of your style?
Again I think that is a really big part of why I make jewellery. When I was studying at RMIT, Robert Baines said to me that I had perfected the ‘wonky’. At first I thought that’s terrible but then, for me, it became a very strong part of my aesthetic. It is based on two things. I did a doll-making workshop with Mirka Mora, 20 years ago. I learnt from Mirka that if everything is the same you don’t see any individual components. If you have two cups hanging in your cupboard and they are different, you will see the shape of one against the other but if they are the same you don’t even pause to see that it is a row of cups.
For me, there’s something beautiful about ancient jewellery because it has been handmade and hasn’t come through a specific manufacturing process. When something is made by hand you see the marks of the tools and if you carve a ring by hand it’s never perfect, but that is perfection in itself. I try and make something new look like it’s old, like it has an energy and life of it’s own that came through it’s own creation. That is very important to me.
There’s so much jewellery in the world, but there’s only one me. The jewellery I make comes from everything that I know. Hopefully the end result carries some of that. It needs to look old and like it’s lived through the process of it’s making.
Is your creative process ordered or organic?
I suppose it’s organic ordered! It’s very much both. I think because I have been doing this for a while now. Now I make I just work I don’t have to psyche myself up, it just happens. But if I am doing something that is important, I have to sit down and read, then I draw, with whatever I do – painting, jewellery, sculpture.
Everything I do comes from a thought process. I think very deeply about things. I collect lots of images, and I put them into sketchbooks. I draw the images and then work out what is important about them. It’s very ordered. But in the same breath, I make without thinking.
When I make it’s very important that I don’t labour too much. That allows me to capture these forms that look quick and easy, like a child. I try really hard when I make to be really present with the material.
It’s the way I teach as well. You have to be present. Look at what you have made and see what it is saying to you. It’s like learning from what happens rather than saying ‘it has to look like this’.
I come from an academic background and my friend Nick said to me many years ago, what are you trying to say, and say it as simply as possible. I was referencing all these things then I thought I have to find my own voice. I do that with material too.
What have been some of your favourite special exhibitions, projects or collaborations you have been involved in?
For me, the work I produced for my Master of Arts, my Black work, was very special. It’s the biggest body of work I have ever produced. It really allowed me to explore scale and subject in a bigger way. My exhibition of paintings is special to me because I am self-taught. That body of work I love! It was shown at the Warrnambool Art Gallery and in Melbourne.
My jewellery business has taught me lots of things. Often people say I am compromising myself by doing production jewellery because I come from an art background but I feel like it has really allowed me to see things in a different way. If I can make a wedding ring well and someone wants to wear that for the rest of their life, then that’s a big achievement for me and as significant as doing an art exhibition. I see it as an important part of what I do.
Do you work alone or share your creative space?
I share it with Millie.
How do you stay connected to the wider creative community in Melbourne and internationally?
I stay connected through my peers, who are also my friends. Also by reading and looking at different blogs and magazines. I buy a lot of magazines – World of Interiors, Freize and Paris Vogue are my favourites. With blogs I always visit You Have Been Here Sometime and my favourite blog is a woman in Paris called Katherine Willis. She is a painter and sculptor and does installation work. I look at her blog every day. She links to Crashingly Beautiful. I always find myself looking at The Sartorialist. He has a lovely eye. But what I like is that he photographs all these obviously wealthy people but then he will see someone more ‘normal’ and they capture something for him and he includes them in the same breath as someone who is a fashion editor etc.
Where do you find your creative inspiration and is it a formal process?
There are two ways. The first one is by reading, I find it very visual. As I said before, I start by researching then drawing. I have done this for 20 years and I can’t seem to shake that! The other way is that I love walking. That’s a very informal way of creating installation work, it’s a big part of my creative process. I start my day by walking or if I am stuck I go for a walk. I never listen to music when I walk but I am interested in birds. I like to hear bird calls. I am getting better at identifying them. It’s nice to let the world in and not to dictate all the time what you are listening to. I like to hear the trees moving and incidental sounds. It makes you realise the world is large.
Which designers, artists or creative people do you admire?
Louise Bourgeois, has consistently inspired me since I first saw her work. Also Kiki Smith, another American artist. I have found her inspirational for years. She is a mixed media artist – printmaking, sculpture, painting. Louise works in a similar way. I find both of their practices inspiring. I love the painter Marlene Dumas. I love ancient Roman jewellery. When I went to the Louvre, I spent all my time in the Egyptian section, pre-Cycladic art and early work from Afghanistan. I find that as inspiring as almost anything else.
What would be your dream project?
My dream is to exhibit every year or two and spend a year working towards that. I am considering doing a PhD and explore through storytelling through objects and the importance of narrative in art. Art is about people and communication and life – asking why do I do what I do, how do these objects inform not only each other but where they are positioned within the culture I live in. My dream project is to push myself to explore concepts that will hopefully inspire new work. If I can do that, then I feel like that’s where I want to be.
Outside contemporary jewellery what do you enjoy doing?
I love live music. I love my friends. We have lots of dinner parties and spend much time getting the ingredients then cooking together. I love the sea and any chance I can, I have been going with a friend down to Joanna Beach. And walking. I go to parks where I can walk Millie. I have a pretty simple life. For coffee I go to A Minor Place on Albion Street. I often plan my day there before I ride into the city. It’s my local. I have been going to the beer garden at Jimmy Watson’s with my friends and I also like Boire on Smith Street, it’s really good.