Unintended Consequences by Catherine Large. An Exhibition at Stanley Street Gallery

Article  /  Review   Exhibiting   HelenWyatt
Published: 06.08.2020
Helen Wyatt Helen Wyatt
Helen Wyatt
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Catherine Large. Pendant: Car wreck panel pendant, 2020. Recycled Toyota Corolla E20 steel, vitreous enamel, sterling silver. . 6 x 8.5 x 5 cm. Photo by: Michelle Bowden. Catherine Large
Pendant: Car wreck panel pendant, 2020
Recycled Toyota Corolla E20 steel, vitreous enamel, sterling silver. 
6 x 8.5 x 5 cm
Photo by: Michelle Bowden
© By the author. Read Copyright.

The Visual Arts have the capacity to heighten awareness of our sensory world and to provoke us to think or feel. While we associate jewellery primarily with the body and are aware of its ability to change how a person is understood, as art on a relatively small scale, a piece of contemporary jewellery can be an object of reflection both in exhibition settings and on the street.
By its very nature it is portable, holdable and requires close looking. Here scale is the tool of intrigue and transformation. The work of Catherine Large, Brisbane based contemporary jeweller and metalsmith, straddles these sites (gallery and the body) with her exhibition Unintended Consequences and invites us to look closely to speculate about the narratives attached to her pieces.
The artist – her background
Her practice of 35 years covers a vital period in the history of the field that has  continued a tradition celebrating Australia’s unique natural forms and identity; felt the influences of European jewellery artists/teachers like Helge Larsen and Darani Lewers; been enriched by the vibrancy of a time for artists open to political action, environmental awareness and the valuing of the ‘non-precious’. These last concerns continue, front and centre, for materials-based artists also mindful of their own impacts.
As a student of RMIT, graduate of Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) and Queensland College of the Art (QCA), she sustains a studio practice and is a lecturer at Griffith University (QCA). Her work is held in public and private collections and she continues to exhibit nationally and internationally. Today, Catherine Large makes original pieces – jewellery, objects and flatware in precious and non-precious materials. Her work is informed by careful observations of nature and of man-made objects she encounters – often foregrounding their essential qualities in some and re-making (refreshing) others. Her work is noted for its fine craftsmanship. For this show, Catherine Large has explicitly drawn on walks in her bush neighbourhood around Mt Coot-ha Forest (the name references the honey found here). It is a site important to the Turrbal Aboriginal people. It was strategically important to Australian forces during WW2 and more recently it has become a site for Botanic Gardens. She describes her love of the light; the bush silence and the strong sense of space. Equally she recognises human intervention.

Brooch: Car wreck brooch, 2020, Recycled Toyota corolla c1973 steel, vitreous enamel, sterling silver. Photo by: Michelle Bowden.

She collected steel from an old and rusting Toyota as the starting point for the works in this current show. The exhibited pieces are the result of experimentation and skill. In the process, found pieces are broken, not cut. The steel has been prepared without fuss and enamel generously applied. Sometimes, the steel has oozed through the vitreous surface to reclaim control of the piece; in others, Catherine has wrested the upper hand.
The work is muscular - using hard materials in strong colours. They are reminiscent of the colours of so many Toyota cars left dumped in bushland around Australia. The Toyota is itself a muscular vehicle – reliable over hundreds of thousands of kilometres – and suitable for our harsh climate. Many Australians have grown up in a post-war economy in which the Japanese car (like the Holden for an overlapping period) has been a symbol of our era and many of us have a story associated with a Toyota car. Consequently, Large’s work is very relatable.
The resonance goes beyond the car though. When I interviewed her, Catherine talked of barbecues in her family’s backyard. Charred sausages were served on chipped enamel plates. Sensitised to the quality of enamel on metal and its particular colour, she loved the orange and white enamel bowl used in the family’s home. The bowl itself was designed by Norwegian artist, Cathrineholm.
The works draw on both public and personal memory. Memory is an ongoing meditation for the artist whose work for her Masters of Visual Arts (Research) took her on a journey into the drawers and family archives of her family home. More than sixty pieces were a reframing of keys, coins, stoppers, medical devices, shearing devices and more. Each was re-presented as an exhibited or wearable object holding an intimate story. The pieces continue to invite the viewer to wonder, speculate and learn.

Brooch: Car Wreck brooch, 2020, Recycled Toyota corolla c1973 steel, vitreous enamel, sterling silver. Photo by: Michelle Bowden 

Artists such as Duchamp and Schwitters, Kienholz, Nevelson and Rauschenberg, Gascoigne amongst many others have drawn on industrial materials for their work. There is strength in their work that connects me to that of Large.
In this show, steel is defining. The artist herself refers to the fine steel objects of Australian Lindy McSwann, the enamelled pieces of British Artists Elizabeth Turrell and Helen Carnac. For McSwann and Carnac, like Large, steel is a presence with its own agency.
Contemporary Artists in metal like Catherine Large are inheritors of what has now become an assemblage genre in large, small and wearable pieces. They are fresh explorers of found objects, reworking them for our times. Consider the works of the Handshake artists from Wellington, New Zealand and in particular that of Kelly McDonald whose work re-uses equestrian farm objects for aesthetic and conceptual purposes; explore also, The Radical Jewellery Makeover movement (of which Catherine Large is a part) that assembles discarded pieces of jewellery into new and desirable wearable forms.
These artists are not satisfied with making new ‘stuff’. They are not making nihilistic or esoteric comments about art but rather are engaging head-on with issues of our time ie disposable cultures, the need to reuse, to be ethical, to apply sustainable practices, to act positively in response to the myriad concerns around mining.
Found objects might be a starting point, but careful thought, fine finish and technical excellence define the work of Catherine Large. In this way, the artist keeps alive the importance of well-crafted, robust work that stands the test of time – well beyond any trusty Toyota.

About the author

Helen Wyatt is an Arts writer and Visual Artist who makes wearable landscapes.
She has recently completed a Masters of Visuals Arts (Research) at Griffith University (Queensland College of Art). As a writer of Visual Arts, she has had writing published in several online magazines. 
These include: 
Garland online magazine – interview with Peter Decker on Handshake – NZ Contemporary Jewellery Artists at Stanley Street Galleryan article on Alice Whish about her exhibition with Vicki Mason Bundanon at Craft Victoria, Melbourne.
Klimt02 – an interview with Elizabeth Shaw Recycled Narratives at Woolloongabba Art Gallery, Brisbane.
Arts Hub Australian Arts online publication – reviews of painter Mostyn Bramley-Moore at Watters Gallery, Sydney; Monash University Museum of Art and Queensland University Art Museum’s exhibition Crystals about land artist Robert Smithson; sculptor Mona Ryder Lone Star at Artisan, Brisbane; Jam Factory’s travelling exhibition of designers, artists and architects in Steel.
Helen has exhibited her contemporary jewellery nationally in Australia, and in Shanghai.  She is also a curator of her own window gallery in Sydney – F Tanner Baker Micro-Galleries, exhibiting small objects and contemporary jewellery.