Q&A with Kate Alterio
With her new collection ‘Magic and the Mundane’ being released at e.g.etal this week, we thought it was time to catch up with Kate Alterio about how this special new body of work came to fruition, and what being a contemporary jeweller looks like for her.
1. How did you get into jewellery making?
I grew up watching my father weld. I was mesmerised by the interaction between flame and metal. I think this memory stayed with me subconsciously and drew me towards the craft. In 1997, a series of jewellery classes I attended in Dunedin ignited my passion. I then moved to Wellington and met a wonderful Danish goldsmith, Dorthe Kristensen, who taught me for several years. I knew early on that making jewellery was a career path I wanted to follow. I love combining technical skills with creativity.
2. Favourite part of the design process?
I enjoy every aspect of the design process, especially being in flow, problem-solving, working with my hands, and seeing a collection develop. Sometimes things go to plan, and other times there are a series of hurdles to overcome. When this happens, I try to be open, flexible, patient and receptive. Playfulness and curiosity are also important. At the beginning of my career, technical or creative challenges stressed and worried me. Now I try to trust the process, knowing something else is trying to come through. Often creative challenges lead to a better iteration than first anticipated. The work takes on a life of its own, which is a magical and enjoyable part of the creative process.
3. What has your all time favourite client commission been and why?
Friends of mine had an art deco-inspired wedding. They asked me to create two pieces for their special day using 18ct gold and tsavorite garnets—a pair of earrings for the bride and collar tips for the groom. I embossed an Art Deco pattern into the gold on the collar tips and used an Art Deco clock hand as the basis for the earrings. This commission led me to make a new collection called “Beyond Time and Space” which was based on old-fashioned clock hands. I viewed the forms as beautiful and gentle reminders to be present and to stay in the moment. Commissions often lead me to think differently or push me in another direction to my usual work, which I’m always grateful for.
4. What’s inspiring you right now?
Simplicity and repetition. For example, in my new collection, ‘Magic and the Mundane,’ I use several shapes in two different ways. The only change is the orientation of the hole in the bead. This tiny alteration creates a different visual language.
The shape used in the “Ouroboros” necklace references a snake’s scale and symbolises the cyclic nature of the universe, life, death and rebirth. It seems fitting that when the hole changes orientation to become “The Space In-between” necklace, it alters the visual aesthetic. The shape is reborn into something new while still retaining its initial essence.
I find it satisfying and inspiring to use reoccurring shapes with subtle adjustments to create pieces that, while minimal in essence, can still be visually striking.
5. What’s the hardest technique you’ve had to learn?
My second exhibition in 2006 was called ‘Hinged’. This collection featured ten pieces, each a hollow form with a hinge. I didn’t have much technical experience back then, so I found it a huge challenge! Hinges must be precise, as does the hollow form for everything to sit flush. I’m pleased that I committed to learning the necessary techniques and was happy with the outcome of the exhibition. However, I have never made another hinge since!
6. What’s most challenging aspect about this job?
It can feel trepidatious bringing out a new body of work: the financial outlay, the hours that go into developing and making the collection. The journey requires faith, trust and risk. There is always self-doubt, apprehension and the question – will it resonate with clients and galleries?
7. How did you overcome that?
The compulsion to create and grow always outweighs my fears.
8. Favourite materials to work with? Why?
Silver and gold. After working with these materials for many years, I know how they operate, and I find a sense of comfort working with them. They feel familiar, like old friends. On a visual level, I’m drawn to the timeless and beautiful lustre of the metal. Most of my work is completed with a satin polish, as I love the soft, gentle tones of the metal when I finish pieces this way.
9. Advice for your 18 year-old self?
First off I’d give her a hug and thank her for being strong! Then I’d tell her, don’t worry, it gets better! Be kind to yourself and have faith.
I had some struggles in my early life. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of self-belief. At 18 I was lost and didn’t have a clear purpose or direction. It wasn’t until I was 22 that I found my creative side, a development that altered the course of my life. There have been many learning curves on my creative journey, and I’m thankful for every experience, the ups, downs, twists and turns, and everything in between.
10. What’s next?
I have several ideas brewing. Whenever I create a new collection, a side tangent appears during the creative process, leading to the next body of work. For example, the shapes used in my last two collections had strong lines and hard edges. This prompted me to create “ Magic and the Mundane”, a new series of silver and gold forms with soft curves and domes. In contrast to the pearls used previously, I was drawn to work with the darker tones of hematite, continuing the theme of duality featured in my work.
The next chapter is beginning to reveal itself. I catch glimpses of new forms, textures and configurations. This aspect is a mysterious part of the creative journey that I’m endlessly fascinated by and grateful for.