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Interview with Thomas Gentille, with the participation of Petra Hölscher

Interview  /  ArtistsBehind the ScenesSchmuck - MJW 2016
Published: 28.03.2016
Thomas Gentille Thomas Gentille
Author:
Leo Caballero
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Barcelona
Edited on:
2016
Thomas Gentille at the exhibition.
Thomas Gentille at the exhibition

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
On February 26th the biggest overview of works by the American jeweler was opened at The Design Museum in Munich. Two days before I had the chance to meet the artist for an interview to get to know a bit more about an artist who never dates his works. Thomas Gentille and Petra Hölscher, senior curator of the Museum, offered me a toured preview of the exhibition as well as a long and interesting chat.
 
About the exhibition: why now and here in Munich?
It’s very easy, they asked me.


Is it a kind of retrospective?
No, no, I was very specific about not calling it a retrospective. We call it an overview and I didn’t want to call it a retrospective because to me retrospective means end of career, you are finished doing what you are doing and I’m not done yet, so I’m calling it an overview. I have a lot of work yet I want to accomplish.

 
  • I think my work is much better received here than it is in America. American works are a very different thing than European. American tends to be narrative & my work is not narrative at all...


And is it here because you have much more recognition here than at the USA?
I have had works at museums before but never a one person show like this in America. When Schmuck came over at MAD (Museum of Arts and Design) and I was the Klassiker der Moderne it was separated from Schmuck the museum considered it as a one person exhibition because it was in a different area of the gallery.


How do you feel your work is perceived among the European audience?
I think my work is much better received here than it is in America. American works are a very different thing than European. American tends to be narrative & my work is not narrative at all and I think the non-narrative is more acceptable to Europeans than it is in American.
I consider myself very American, I mean I’m American, I work in America. I have studied in many different fields and I have always been very interested in Geometry and maybe it is this geometry that feels more European. I also have four years of color theory, the Muncell Color Theory, Muncell is American & then I had Joseph Albers....theory as well, so...
I don’t feel influenced by anybody, I just don’t feel that, I’m sure that I am, but it is subconscious if it is, but if I feel any influence directly when I’m doing something then I don’t do it.

 
  • That accident is always very important because when the accident happens usually the work ends being a better piece that it was because of the accident.


Regarding the creative process: how do you approach the piece from the schuster-nicole-schuster-nicole-beginning-2016-2016 to the end?
It can work both ways but generally I draw everything to scale so I have almost a blueprint, so I know where I’m going from the schuster-nicole-schuster-nicole-beginning-2016-2016 to the end and sometimes when I’m in part of the way through an accident happens. Then I have to take the accident into consideration to make the piece work and so then the work pulls off in another direction than the one I had planned. That accident is always very important because when the accident happens usually the work ends being a better piece that it was because of the accident. The trick is to work long enough so you can resolve the accident and make it work.


Materials & technics are very important to you, where and when the concept of the piece shows up, first the concept and after materials & technic?
I make twenty or fifty or even a hundred drawings before I decide to do a piece. There can be a very big range and change in the drawings, of the basic idea in mind. Then I go along and select the one that feels it has the best energy to me, that’s the one that I make.
I have a 20 year piece. It took me 20 years from the schuster-nicole-schuster-nicole-beginning-2016-2016 to the end. I was not working on it every day, but when I was and the direction of the inlays didn’t seem right to me, I waited to find another material or invented another technique and then I went a little bit further, and in the process I improved on the shape and scale of the inlays. It wouldn’t be quite finished to my eye. Another 2 years to go by and another idea would be right. Eventually everything came together. That particular piece is now in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY.

 
  • I try to do something different on the back of most of my pieces as it is for the owner. I create a kind of complicity for the final owner.


I read about your references to paint & sculpture, maybe is much more easy to see it in some of your works, but do you have any particular reference from jewelry artists?

Thomas Gentille: No, I don’t have any reference from jewelry artists, I know the work of many people, I like to see works from other people but I like to work isolated in my studio.

Petra Hölscher: Yes, you have to think about the time when he begun to think about un-precious materials, this is one reason why we exhibit him. He is so early with these ideas also in America, not only in Europe. In Europe it was impossible after the 2nd World War to think about un-precious materials and not using gold and silver. So there cannot be another jewelry artist to say his work belongs.

Thomas Gentille: Yes, I was the really first one to use all these materials. People before me used beach pebbles & natural things but always together with some silver or other metal.
When I was in school I began working with ebony. The term alternate materials did’t exist then, now ebony would be called alternate. The earliest piece, in the exhibition, and the only one dated was made in 1961. It is in ebony with blue silk inlay and that was also on the idea to be subversive to gold because gold was in the back and the only person who could see it is the owner, the whole back plate is gold.
If I relate my jewelry to paint in anyway, which I really don’t, I will relate it in this way: a canvas is flat and my jewelry is primarily flat like a canvas. But because jewelry is three dimensional and has sides and edges so my work goes around sides and edges. I’m always thinking about the flat plane even though some of my work is very three-dimensional.
When you get three-dimensional it is more like architecture. Architecture is a series of flat planes generally speaking and may have curves and so, but it is basically a box.
I put the same efforts on all the sides and the back as I do on the front. To me the back is very important because it is for the person who owns the piece. I try to do something different on the back of most of my pieces as it is for the owner.
I create a kind of complicity for the final owner. It can be viewed in many ways. It can be private or they can show it to someone who is interested in the work or to a good friend they want to show it to.. It’s for the owner so it’s up to them if they want to share the secret of the back.


How do you see the evolution of the American Jewelry regarding the European schools?

Thomas Gentille: Nowadays everything is getting quite homogenised.

Petra Hölscher: Yes, there is a big globalization. Perhaps I can use this example: the United States of America is such a big country and we have a lot of ways in studio jewelry in America. It’s like a mosaic where you can put a lot of stones together and then you’ll maybe have a picture of the American studio jewelry movement. And one mosaic stone of this game is Thomas with his type of jewelry. We can see the same situation in other countries. I have thought a lot about it. In Australia happens the same. On the North there is a different way of thinking about jewelry than on the South or the Eastern part. It is the same in America. We forget too often that we have a continent there.
 
But when you think about other Masters of jewelry, and this is the point, they all have their own language. They are speaking about themselves, they are not speaking about somebody else. When I think back I see that we have been doing this exhibitions of Masters of Jewelry for ten years and we have seen 10 totally different works of artists.


Regarding the trajectory of your work, do you have the feeling that your work is a continuous (has a continuity) or you have the feeling that each piece is a challenge itself and have their own independent life?
Well, it’s both. It is a continuity but each piece has its individual life. It may not be the same line all the time. Sometimes you come to an idea that is a leap forward but still part of the same line. Maybe a new material I have never seen before comes along and I respond to the material thinking now how can I find this new materials voice, because I know it has got one. That’s maybe a jump which may take me in another direction but it’s still in the line because I’m thinking about form, shape and color; all those things always apply for me.


Do you usually have contact with other jewelry artists and with the academic world?
With some of them, for example we have SNAG (Society of North American Goldsmiths), but I’ve never been to any meeting. Where I have met most jewelers are places like Penland or Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and I will be there teaching for 3 weeks. And the director will say: “well, so and so is coming the next 3 weeks why don’t you stay? Hang around if you want to? We have a place you can stay and will provide your meals and you can work in the studio”, then I will stay and meet them and talk technics and they’ll show me something I didn’t know and I will show them something they didn’t know. I have met dozens of jewelers that way over the years and we’ve always exchanged information, freely, especially technical information.


What do you think is your work giving to jewelry practice?
I have no idea of what I am giving to the jewelry world. I can only hope people like what I am doing and maybe they see I am working like nobody else and maybe they want to do work as nobody else is working also.

 
  • I am always thinking about color and looking at color juxtapositions on the street, I never bring these ideas back to the studio directly but I’m always looking at something.


How much percentage of the working time you invest in technics, processes and materials research?
I’ve never timed it. I’m always looking about the idea, new materials wherever I go into a hardware store... I am always thinking about color and looking at color juxtapositions on the street, I never bring these ideas back to the studio directly but I’m always looking at something.

I walk down the street with people and I’m pointing out things on the buildings and they always say: I love walking down the streets with you because I never look up and you make me look up all the time.
And I say well that’s great, but you make me look down sometimes, and I see things on the sidewalk that I might never see, so...

One of my favourite things, perhaps because I’m working with geometry, that I love to do in New York, is if I’m walking downtown and there are 2 skyscrapers. You can do this walking through Central Park when you see the Time Warner Center, they have the Towers there and there is a big space between the 2 Towers. If you walk along the path the 2 spaces come closer and closer together until finally the distance is a very, very thin line between the 2 buildings and the straightness of that line between that 2 buildings is almost miraculous. Two steps later that line closes. I love walking down and judging the energy between those 2 buildings and the space of the sky. It’s a very exciting thing.

It is not related at all to the work but the conceptual idea of 2 shapes coming together and making the energy between the space is related, but indirectly.

A wonderful exercise I invented in the late 50‘s is to take a walk for half an hour, fifteen minutes maybe the first time as it is hard to do, where you only look at objects that are red or objects that are yellow. You pick a color and you notice nothing but that color. It’s amazing what you see in a fifteen minute walk and at the end of it your mind is totally exhausted. That’s a wonderful way to see objects and form and a wonderful way to see color.


Since the schuster-nicole-schuster-nicole-beginning-2016-2016 of your practice what has been changing in the way of working, what do you think is different now?
It feels continuous to me, I mean I became more knowledgeable and more skilled.
But there are some differences. For example in the schuster-nicole-schuster-nicole-beginning-2016-2016 I was only drawing a circle by hand because I felt using a compass the energy was dead and when drawing by hand I could make corrections and the circle got energy. I did that for maybe 20 years and then I decided I wanted a more perfect circle so then I could use a compass. But what happened was an understanding of the energy of drawing a circle by hand and a compass which can make a billion different size circles. Understanding by hand allowed me to understand where the energy was with the compass. The same happened with the line. Now I use a steel ruler to draw a straight line. Now the compass and the ruler give me freedom because I understand about the energy of drawing with them.


How do you think your work influences the young jewelers and students?

Thomas Gentille: I have no idea, I don’t even know if they know my work.

Petra Hölscher: You have a relationship to Munich because you have been here since the 80’s, you have exhibited in Schmuck several times, so your work in Europe we could say is well known.

 
  • It’s very important to know the history so that you can fight it or accept it. The more you know the better you are.


How do you perceive the actual panorama in jewelry?
I think too much is looking too much like everything else. Everything is looking too nice which I find a little distressing and I feel people are maybe not developing ideas far enough, just making pieces. Like: “this looks nice with this, this colors works together and that makes a piece of jewelry”. For me that does not make a piece of jewelry. There needs to be more soul to the work, it has to say something beyond being a decorative thing and I see maybe too much of that.
It’s very important to know the history so that you can fight it or accept it. The more you know the better you are.


Is it there any question you have been never asked for and you would liked
If I could give an advice that will be: Don’t just stay where you are keep going forward with what you do. If I could convince people with that it would be good, very good. I go to the studio myself with that in mind everyday.

 
Thomas Gentille with Petra Hölscher (Senior Curator at Die Neue Sammlung - The 
Design Museum, Munich) at the exhibition.
Thomas Gentille with Petra Hölscher (Senior Curator at Die Neue Sammlung - The 
Design Museum, Munich) at the exhibition

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Works at the exhibition.
Works at the exhibition

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Work at the exhibition.
Work at the exhibition

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Personal collection objects.
Personal collection objects

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Works at the exhibition.
Works at the exhibition

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Works at the exhibition.
Works at the exhibition

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Vitrine with personal collection objects.
Vitrine with personal collection objects

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Press presentation by Dr. Angelika Nollert.
Press presentation by Dr. Angelika Nollert

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Press presentation.
Press presentation

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360º exhibition space view.
360º exhibition space view

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