The work of artist Lydia Rubio is currently on view at Elevated Matter Gallery, part of the Hudson Eye festival program starting August 27 (which coincides with Upstate Art Weekend). The gallery, which opened in June, is owned by jewelry designer Chris Davies, who presents his collections in dialogues with a rotating series of exhibitions.
On Warren Street, the gallery connects to Davies’s studio, where his eye for light, movement, and material result in sculptural jewelry pieces that vividly reference names like Jackson Pollock, James Turrell, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Renée Magritte.
Whitewall caught up with Davies to learn more about his rich visual background and current inspirations.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about your gallery and studio space in Hudson, New York?
CHRIS DAVIES: The gallery is located in a historic brick townhouse circa 1890. We are very excited to be presenting fine art and jewelry in conversation with one another. The thing about Hudson is that it transports you to another time. When you walk through the door of my townhouse into the gallery, you will see a mix of modern and ancient art, along with my jewelry. The artwork and jewelry are curated to work together and inform one another. It certainly makes for interesting conversation!
After many years in a private midtown Manhattan studio, it is very exciting to be opening a brick-and-mortar space in idyllic Hudson, NY. Warren Street is one of the prettiest main streets in the US and a literal quilt of high art and folk art, quirky finds and serious design. I love this mix. It’s fun to bring a bit of jewelry history to Hudson. And I plan to invite other designers to show their work here each month as well.
WW: Can you share some of the artists whose works are present at the moment?
CD: We will be showing new artists each month. Currently on view is a solo show of conceptual landscapes and abstract works by Cuban American artist Lydia Rubio. For fall we have a group show, “WUNDERKAMMER.” This will be a mix of contemporary sculpture and painting as well as signed artist jewels that pay homage to the cabinet of curiosity. Jewelry collectors are discovering new art and art collectors are discovering artist jewels. We are very pleased with the response.
WW: How does that interplay in the atelier reflect the inspiration in the way you create?
CD: I am inspired by history, art, architecture, and design. For each collection, there are myriad sources that I might pull from. Color, light, pattern, or material are all aspects of art works that inspire and inform my work.
What I look for in art is a mood or a feeling. The designs are not derived from an artwork but are rather related to the work of art or design that inspires me as well as my own inner vision and impulses. My work draws on a certain feeling that I’ve experienced directly in life, in response to art and design and then I channel, interpret and play with this feeling in my designs. For example, the Usonian Collection is inspired by elements of the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, in the sense that they are a gesture of a particular kind of utopian modernism. They reverse outmoded conventions by using hardstone in an unexpected manner. Gold is set into a stone, instead of the reverse. They are painstaking to design and create, and play with light. The stones are selected with a painterly eye. I avoid conventional hues.
When I select other artworks for the gallery, I am looking for work that relates in some way to the feeling in the jewelry. It could be color, mood, time period, forms, or something in the atmosphere. It might be that I can imagine a client wearing a piece of my jewelry while standing in a room next to a piece. I select the works in collaboration with a few curators. It is an inspiring process to put art and jewelry together in a way that informs one another.
WW: I love the connections you show between pieces like your Usonian collection and James Turrell, or Scheherazade and Magritte. For you, have art and jewelry design always been in dialogue?
CD: In ancient times the distinction between jewelry and other forms of art was non-existent. The sense of a hierarchy is contemporary. Ancient art is environmental and was meant to support a set of ideas, be they theoretical or religious or meant to keep the ruling class in power; art created the world. And so yes, for me art and design have always been in dialogue.
Artifacts from my family’s history and travels across several generations surrounded me in my childhood home. It was easy for me to get lost as a child touching these objects and studying them: huge olive oil urns, Chinese opium pipes, unusual textiles and antiques from almost every period in history were available for close up study.
Growing up, my neighborhood was also a mini course in architecture. I would often walk with my best friend through the winding streets of the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. Every architectural style was represented; Italianate, Tudor, Deco, Mid Century—we would comment on the design and details of the home or note the gardens and imagine how we thought the home should be used or even redesigned!
I also had an amazing collection of children’s books given me by my grandmother from the late 19th and early 20th century. Among them was an elaborate copy of 1001 Arabian Nights. Today, I see influences from those formative years coming through in my work in unexpected ways. The Scheherezade Collection is inspired by the narrator from 1001 Arabian Nights, who I loved so dearly as a child. The heart of the collection which explores the geometries of Mashrabiya, the patterns cut into windows and screens seen in Arabic architecture, are comprised of geometric woven nets of pure gold over optically clear rock crystal.
The concept is based on the experience I imagined Scheherazade having; sitting by the window coming up with her stories, I imagined light would filter through the decorative fretwork screens, creating exquisite patterns of light and shadow on the floors and walls.
WW: You also make even more direct references, creating pieces like the Jackson ear clips, referring to Jackson Pollock. Can you tell us about the making of this piece?
CD: The work of Jackson Pollock was spontaneous. He had an intent to make a mark, but the final form was unknown until the process was completed. Jewelry is typically very controlled, organized, and planned. There are so many steps that need to happen to make something, I wanted to invert that experience. There are liquid stages in jewelry-making that offered me an opportunity. During the wax stage, I use a spontaneous generative process by taking wax dripped in a liquid form to create a mark, and then refine it.
WW: What inspired your unique woven granulation technique?
CD: The technique began as a reimagining of classical Ancient Roman and Etruscan granulation, but quickly grew to incorporate more complex aesthetic ideas from lace-making and basketry. I got bored with making tiny gold balls and attaching them to a flat surface. I have a background in haute couture and wanted to bring that sense of discovery and experimentation to jewelry. I wanted to lift the granulation away from the metal and make it dimensional. These jewels take the form of nets of gold and gemstone granules intricately woven and draped around larger gemstone forms encouraging a play of light and movement.
WW: How do you consider color, light, and movement when designing?
CD: Ultimately I believe that light is the only medium. Gems, metal, wood, enamels and other natural media are the material elements we use to sculpt the immaterial: light. We bend light with design and therefore make the invisible visible to the naked eye.
WW: What is catching your imagination at the moment?
CD: At the moment I am delving deeply into the history of natural mineral pigments in renaissance painting while also thinking about contemporary innovation in pigment technology such as Anish Kapoor’s Vantablack. The most exciting thing about the research process in design for me, is that the information always takes form in a way that goes beyond the possibilities that I initially imagined. The work itself drives innovation.