Two of a Kind : An Interview with Cass Partington & Rhys Turner
In the lead up to their highly anticipated collaborative exhibition DARK MODE, we sat down with Melbourne artists Cass Partington and Rhys Turner to find out how they became friends, and continue to inspire each other as makers.
CP: We met around 10 years ago during the early days of Northcity 4 – which was a big shared studio I worked at, in a Brunswick warehouse. Rhys did some teaching there. His technical skills were intimidating but his vibe was authentic.
I moved into a studio next door to his in the Century Building in 2019, so then we were neighbors. Our friendship has evolved over Friday night knock-off drinks and many chats about work and life.
We both grew up in suburban cultural wastelands – me in the northern suburbs of Canberra and Rhys in Wagga Wagga.
We encourage each other professionally. I was a big fan of his work long before we met. Rhys and I have a shared interest in architecture and the urban environment as design inspiration, particularly the modernist / brutalist aesthetic. Simple forms. Geometry. Neither of us are interested in status jewellery, or overly decorative forms. Our work is different but the clean lines and simple forms speak to each other.
Music is important when you work with your hands. One of the first things we did after deciding to have an exhibition together was share an inspo playlist. And Rhys is the first person I would share one of my son’s angry rap tracks with.
We are both Grinspoon fans. Rhys grew up listening to them and I have shared a studio with Anna Davern whose brother is lead guitarist for over two decades. Grinspoon are a great Australian rock band. Anna has wrangled us backstage a few times for their Melbourne concerts, and the three of us are looking forward to the next one in November. It’s become a tradition.
I have had a very challenging few years personally and Rhys has been an ear without judgment and given me some pretty solid advice. He is one of the most generous people I know. Always has time for technical problem solving or a pep talk when I’m having a crisis of confidence.
I can’t remember when the idea of having a jewellery exhibition together at e.g.etal was first floated, but I remember we were both keen. We are both excited about making new work and the ideas that have evolved when you push yourself into new areas.
We decided to call the exhibition Dark Mode, but the theme isn’t intended to be negative. It’s about constraint and what can be revealed by turning the volume down a bit.
We haven’t got to the pointy end of stress and late nights yet but are pretty confident that the friendship will survive.
RT: Anyone who has met Cass will no doubt have had a similar experience to me when I first met Cass. I was lucky enough to teach part time at Northcity 4 where Cass’s studio was, along with several other high profile jewellers who I also admired, so I was super intimidated the first day I turned up for teaching. I had worked in Melbourne for several years in a traditional jewellery store. I always kept up with what local contemporary jewellery artists were making by visiting e.g.etal gallery, where Cass’ work is shown, but I had never met anyone in person.
What I remember about meeting Cass, aside from her looking like she just stepped off stage from some awesome rock band, is how friendly, genuine and inviting she is. I felt like one of the crew as soon as I arrived.
I think it might have been the second or third time we met. I turned up to Northicity 4 to teach and as I walked in Cass yelled to me “Rhys! You don’t have a 2.4mm Ruby on you by any chance?!”, the chances of me having that in my bag is literally 1 in a million, if not trillion – and yet for some reason I did have it…
There is so much I admire about Cass’s work and many of her designs that I really wish I’d come up with myself. We share very similar aesthetics so I am naturally drawn to everything Cass makes, however I feel like we have quite different approaches, so our work compliments each other rather than crosses over. Minimal designs can often be mistaken for simple, but when there is less detail, there is nowhere to hide, and it can make it difficult to come up with something that hasn’t been done before. Cass’s work brilliantly balances proportion, subtle detail and personal conceptual connections to the wearer, while at the same time being unmistakably “Cass Partington”.
The idea of creating an exhibition together was mentioned over a beer in my studio one Friday evening. Then the next week as we crossed paths in the elevator, Cass said “Rhys! What do you think about a Melbourne chic, pitch black kind of vibe as a direction for our exhibition?”, and I was totally on board with that idea instantly. As simple as it sounds, it opened a floodgate of ideas for me and it was the boost I needed at the right time. It was the 2.4mm Ruby being returned.
From a professional level, having the opportunity to do an exhibition with Cass has been an incredible and exciting experience, one that came at the perfect time. It has given me the drive and inspiration I’ve needed to focus on my practice again and really push myself as an artist and get back on track. Working together with Cass on this exhibition has been such a positive experience, especially after the last few years. I’m really enjoying every part of the process and being able to observe the way Cass works in her practice is such a privilege.