The Ruby Collection : Nicky Hepburn
Has the Melbourne contemporary jewellery scene changed in the last 15 years?
Yes, the scene has changed in many ways. This is in large part thanks to the presence of galleries like e.g.etal. Fifteen years ago there were very few places to sell and showcase one’s work, especially a gallery that is an appropriate venue to showcase contemporary jewellery. There have been, and still are, many outlets /shops that sell jewellery, and then there are galleries to exhibit your work, but to successfully sell and show the work we make, the gallery needs to highlight the handmade and uniqueness of the pieces. The pieces also need to stand-alone. That is, not be mixed in with jewellery that is made via different processes, massed produced costume jewellery for example, that is produced using entirely different conceptual and technical processes.
The numbers of practising makers has also increased over the last fifteen years. Melbourne has always been the hub for makers, possibly due to the presence of courses that have been available here. Knowledge and information are a lot more accessible, either via other makers or via the digital media. Web sites, Facebook, Instagram, they have all played a huge part in information sharing and support, both within the sector and with the general public.
How have you as a jeweller changed over the last 15 years?
My practice and the jewellery I make have changed as I have changed. It is very entwined for me. Fifteen years ago it seemed much more of a struggle to survive. There was less acceptance by the general public for the work that I made. There were very few places to show work. There was still a very strong desire from the viewing public for traditional jewellery, made out of polished precious metal and stones, jewellery and objects that wasn’t all that different to that of our parents. There was less of an understanding of jewellery as an art practice. Now I am able to make the jewellery that I want to make, and have people appreciate all facets of my artwork. In particular, the concepts behind the pieces and the processes that are employed in the making.
My technical abilities have also improved over this time and I am able to make a wider variety of jewellery and objects. I now also enjoy collaborating with artists who practise in other mediums, sharing ideas, techniques, exhibitions and discussions.
You have been making jewellery for at least 15 years now – what is it that keeps you motivated and inspired?
So many things. Mostly the fact that one never stops learning! From nature, from other people, from listening, the world about us…
How does contemporary jewellery made by independent designers such as yourself differ to your average piece of jewellery?
Initially it looks different, and then the jewellery we make has a reason for being other than the mere function of the piece, for example earrings to adorn ears, a ring to represent betrothal. There is always either a story or meaning underlying the design of the piece, an additional layer or two. Often the maker uses alternative materials, sometimes drawing inspiration from very specific notions that they are currently researching or investigating. A lot of my current work, for example draws from the light, textures and forms of the flora around us. My ‘Fragments” range is based on fragments of a story. Pieces of the environment that I walk through, I collect a sample of it. It is rare that it remains in one piece. I etch metal plates representing various types of flora, taken from old wallpaper prints of the turn of the century. I use fragments of these designs to represent fragments of nature. This forms the pictorial basis of this range and then I play with their forms as functional jewellery.
Happily, as artists we seem to have vastly different interpretations of life.