Our first spotlight of this Winter 2012 show features jewellery designer Melanie Pike. Melanie’s jewellery is quirky, funky and completely original and she assembles carefully selected found componants to create new and unique pieces. The term wearable art is used a lot these days but it does describe Melanie’s work exceptionally well. There appears to be a secret life behind each piece with opening doors and secret messages suggesting travel and exploration. I love her colours and the sense of humour behind the ideas, each seems have a particular story to tell, if it could speak it would probably make for a very interesting dinner guest.
You can see Melanie’s work in the gallery until February 2013.
She talks here about her work as an artist, what inspires her and her thoughts about living a creative life!
I create things because I cannot help myself. I have tried to do other, more ‘sensible’ things but this urge to design and make stuff always catches up with me. I’ve simply given up resisting it. Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit older now – I’m in my mid forties – that the idea of ‘getting somewhere’ seems increasingly less important or interesting and the possibilities inherent in being somewhere, here, increasingly more attractive and enjoyable.
Designs usually stem from the materials themselves. Colours, textures, combinations of elements give me an appetite to combine, arrange, juxtapose. I notice ways in which one element can enhance another, or sometimes add humour to another. At some point a rightness emerges and with it a knowing that this piece works. I follow my enthusiasm and the time flies. It is as if there isn’t a me making a something, there is just the flow of making.
I’ve always been aware that there are certain activities in this life which are their own reward – things we do that have a purpose or goal but that we do for the love of them. Like gathering mushrooms on a beautiful autumn day in the woods. The goal is a fine mushroom supper and yet the steps leading up to that are pure pleasure. This work is in that league for me and it is a privilege to do something I love that also brings other people pleasure. Like many people, I am very visual and am struck by the beauty of very ordinary things. I try to translate that, through my pieces, into a more widely available appeal.
To re-energise, I take walks, dance, sing, do yoga, work my allotment, nap, cook, go visiting, check out exhibitions… If I am feeling uninspired it is not because ideas aren’t flowing but because life isn’t flowing through me, so that’s what I try to encourage – the flow of life.
I am a daughter of very creative parents, my dad is an artist and my mum has taught gourmet cooking so there is an inevitability about what I now do. But it took me a long time to become clear about the path. You could say I put a lot of obstacles in my own way. I spent many years thinking I had to be ‘more’ or ‘different or ‘better’ to be happy. Once I let go of that burden I found I was free to enjoy doing what I love.
Because I work with found objects I’m always paying attention to the inanimate elements in my surroundings – pavements and roadsides in the city for the rusty treasures that might be lurking there. In the country I look for pebbles, beach glass, driftwood, plastic debris, pottery shards, bones (I have some wonderful bird skulls and sheep’s teeth from Wales). I am amazed by the wealth and variety of fascinating and beautiful materials beneath our feet. What is it they say, ‘hidden in plain view’?
I work at home and it suits me. I like to be able to put the carrots on and return to my bench while they cook and sometimes taking a break to do the washing up is exactly what is required in the flow of a creative process. My workspace is full of good, natural light and because the scale I work to is small it is not difficult to have everything within easy reach. I have small drawers with loosely classified objects and finds, boxes and tins stacked on shelves, big jars of tools and small bowls of tiny treasures.
I particularly enjoy working to commission. I like to transform people’s cherished fragments into wearable art. Almost everyone has some precious items tucked away in a drawer or box – an orphan earring from a treasured pair, a scrap of fabric rich in associations, a button, pebble or gold ring, elements which can be made into truly one of a kind pieces that speak of the person you are, the life you have lived and of what has mattered to you. Pieces of jewellery emerging in this way have an intimacy that a mass-produced item can never replicate. Otherwise I tend to work in series, following the potential of a given material, improving on a design, varying it, dancing with it and then taking what I have discovered forward to inform the next series or project.
Thank goodness people like my work and that it sells! Otherwise I’d run out of living space as my home would become choked with all the pieces I have made. Selling my work enables me to make more pieces. Sometimes I hold onto a favourite piece for a while but I am pragmatic so most of it goes on sale. Realistically, running the business/marketing side of things probably accounts for about fifty percent of my work time. How confusing daily life would be if money didn’t enter the equation. I’ve never experienced that. It’s a simple equation for me, work equals income, lovely and straightforward.
The era we now live in enables a much broader definition of ‘art’ than any that has gone before. It encompasses an extraordinary diversity of self-expression. Fortunately, for those of us who are compelled to express ourselves artistically, it would seem that our contribution to life is required and welcome. I feel immense gratitude to the people who repair roads, staff hospitals, teach in schools and generally keep the machinery of the civilised world functioning. I wouldn’t be as good at doing those invaluable jobs as I am at doing what I love to do.
I see our role as artists as remembering not to take ourselves or life too seriously. We introduce playfulness into the equation, don’t we, by introducing another way of seeing the same old thing. Inspiration means ‘to inhale or breathe in’. Art is like taking a breath of fresh air, it refreshes.
In that way my heart’s desire has been fulfilled. I have the freedom to play with unusual materials and turn them into treasure or art. This makes me feel like an alchemist, extracting the precious from the mundane and everyday, bringing the overlooked to life. I look forward to teaching some day, although I’m not sure how that will come about as yet. It will be a delight to share some of the processes and solutions I have discovered with others.
As far as learning other crafts goes, if I didn’t find jewellery and wearable art so all consuming I’d love to learn stone carving. I have some gorgeous pieces of alabaster I’ve picked up on the North Somerset coastline and always imagine that at some point I’ll acquire the skills to work it.
I’ll probably still want to turn it into some wearable adornment, though.