Besides being a fulfilling process in itself, drawing for me becomes a working tool. Gian Luca Bartellone interviewed by Waldemar Kerschbaumer

Published: 31.07.2018
Gian Luca Bartellone
. Photo by: Jenna Bascom, nyceventphotography Gian Luca Bartellone
Photo by: Jenna Bascom,
Waldemar Kerschbaumer
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Model Ester Cacciani with Echo necklace.
. Photo by: Waldemar Kerschbaumer.
Model Ester Cacciani with Echo necklace.
Photo by: Waldemar Kerschbaumer

© By the author. Read Copyright.

It is no secret that I have never been especially fond of minimalism or extremely abstract modern art. I would expect people who wear my jewellery to have a strong personality and not to bow to any sort of diktat, fashion or artistic trend. They would have to be absolutely true to themselves, anarchist women that are never afraid to show grit and courage.
What led you to use papier-mâché as the basic material for your jewellery?
Paper is essential for drawing, which in turn is immensely important to me. That is why it has always sparked my imagination. I can never resist touching pieces of cardboard or boxes that I come across, just to feel their potential.
Making jewellery out of paper and papier-mâché seemed an irresistible artistic challenge, so I started thinking about the material’s lightness and its superb versatility that would enable me to create large, robust surfaces. I tried a variety of combinations and perfected my technique over time until I achieved the goals I had set. The size of my pieces changed over the years. I had started off with large elements in mind and ended up reducing their size in order to fit the human body and to make them easily wearable. The smaller the piece, the more difficult it is to control the papier-mâché which tends to warp as it dries. Because of the finish I use, the papier-mâché is often mistaken for surprisingly light porcelain.

Precision work: from design to final product.
Photo by: Waldemar Kerschbaumer

You combine paper with precious metals and stones.
At first I did not want to use gold or gems. I wanted to create large pieces of gilded paper for small sculptures to be worn on the body, but the more I refined my technique, the more I was fascinated with the natural colours and hues of stones and gold, and eventually started creating actual jewellery. Experimenting is a fundamental part of my creative process, so I tried a number of different types of metal in combination with papier-mâché. Silver-plated copper, for example, is much better suited than gold or silver and allows me to create versatile constructions that enclose the papier-mâché.

The Akinos brooch - not just for women

Do your pieces tend to become heavier if you use large stones?
Not necessarily. Naturally, the weight of a stone will have an effect on the product’s final weight, but as all the other materials are extremely light the overall effect is one of lightness. However, I always try to keep weight to a minimum, especially when designing earrings – lightness is, after all, my goal and the feature that distinguishes my work.

Your art keeps evolving. Which technique do you currently favour?
As I said, experimenting is a key element, and as each one of my creations is one of a kind and will never be replicated, I am constantly on the lookout for new solutions and combinations. At the moment I am exploring my roots in gold work and building filigree silver-plated structures around papier-mâché. Copper is malleable and can be shaped around paper without damaging it. I like the combination very much and have wanted to work with it for a long time. Transparent resin is another type of material that has attracted my attention as I can use it to encapsulate materials and stones, not unlike amber. I presented all these new techniques at LOOT, which was held in April 2018 at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.

The design process is a tool in itself.
Photo by: Waldemar Kerschbaumer

Which piece are you particularly proud of?
I would not pick a single piece, but I have very fond memories of a linen necklace I made. The material belonged to my great-grandmother, and I embroidered it under my mother’s guidance. I loved how the process combined the expertise of several generations of my family.

 Your pieces have been called “baroque” and “opulent”.
I cannot find anything wrong with being called “baroque”. Just like the old baroque artists, I constantly strive for opulence and surprise. It is no secret that I have never been especially fond of minimalism or extremely abstract modern art. I would expect people who wear my jewellery to have a strong personality and not to bow to any sort of diktat, fashion or artistic trend. They would have to be absolutely true to themselves, anarchist women that are never afraid to show grit and courage.

Coria necklace.
Photo by: Waldemar Kerschbaumer.

Where does your inspiration come from?
My main source of inspiration is the world around me, when I am out walking I take in all the colours and shapes of nature. I try to always be curious so as to keep up a constant flow of stimuli. I also look at pictures of jewellery, mostly from the baroque era, and I particularly like Hungarian jewellery from the 17th century. All these impressions I filter through my experience and creativity, mix them and turn them into pieces of jewellery.

How do your clients perceive your work? Do you have the wearer in mind when creating a piece?
I have often had the feeling that my pieces have a life of their own. They make me bring them to life, sometimes after a long period of gestation and sometimes after just a few sketches on a piece of paper. To me, drawing is not only a means to an end but a fulfilling process in itself, so my sketches are usually quite meticulous and precise. Coming back to my work, I think the vitality of my pieces shows whenever they speak to their prospective buyer. Several clients have told me they felt attracted by a particular piece and that they feel gratified whenever they wear it. I like to think of my pieces as a sort of children, tiny pieces of me spread throughout the world. If they are treated well, they will make their wearer happy, as is their job.

Interacting with clients during the LOOT Show, far left: LOOT chairwoman Marsy Mittlemann.
Photo by: Jenna Bascom, nyceventphotography.

Interacting with clients during the LOOT Show, 2nd from right: MAD Museum Chair Michele Cohen.
Photo by: Waldemar Kerschbaumer.

How do you feel about having to put a price tag on your creations?
It’s never easy to put a price on something you have created with passion, but there is no way around that if you want to sell your art. Some things have a clearly defined value, such as the amount of gold and gems used, but the work itself and the skills involved in transforming paper into a piece of jewellery are hard to quantify. Moreover, each piece is one of a kind and requires significant work even before it is brought into existence.

Arto earrings.
Photo by: Waldemar Kerschbaumer.

Do you have an underlying concept that you express in articles, books, galleries, museums, etc.? What do you think of contemporary Italian jewellery?
I am not trying to tell stories or to convey any concepts through my work. It has always been my only goal to satisfy my personal sense of aesthetics and taste and to combine that with the skills I have acquired over the years through constant contact with my materials of choice. I don’t think jewellery should be conceptual or contemporary or anything along those lines. Jewellery should be just that: jewellery. There are fantastic pieces made of Colibri feathers and coloured seeds – what makes jewellery precious, I think, is the skill and imagination of the artist. Those are qualities acquired over time and through patience, constant hard work and a certain amount of humility. Also, one must never forget that a piece of jewellery has to be created with the human form in mind so as to be wearable.

Model Ester Cacciani with Lago earrings.
Photo by: Waldemar Kerschbaumer.

When does jewellery become art?
My design teacher who encouraged me to always be curious used to say that one should never rely on what the critics say when admiring a work of art, but instead pay close attention to the stimuli it generates. And when a piece of jewellery does that for me, when I can’t stop looking at it, I consider it a work of art, regardless of whether it is made of papier-mâché or covered in diamonds.

Are you part of a school or group?
I have never felt at home in organised groups or schools of thought. I think they tend to become impermeable and inward-looking, rarely open for change or people who do not meet certain criteria. I started out as a goldsmith and designer long ago and have always followed my personal interests and taste without caring much about trends in arts and culture. This has allowed me to freely choose artistic approaches and roads less travelled.

You were recently chosen to appear at the New York Museum of Arts and Design’s LOOT for the second time.
Yes, the curator chose 35 artists from around the world that use unique techniques and materials. The exhibition two years ago was a success, and I am very happy I was asked to show my work again. Appearing at LOOT: Mad about Jewellery involves a lot of hard work, but the MAD staff are always close by and very supportive. They will stand in for the artists during breaks or assist potential buyers or art gallery owners. All this reflects the curator’s spirit: Bryna Pomp works tirelessly, selecting and personally contacting artists from around the world and defining the creative spectrum of her events. It is thanks to her that I have had the opportunity to personally get to know artists whom I otherwise would never have met, given the great distance between our respective countries of residence. Learning about new techniques and materials is always exciting and spurs my creativity. The warm, friendly atmosphere at MAD encourages interaction between artists, and rarely have I found myself in places like Loot, where rivalry makes way for a shared push towards a common goal. I also liked how all visitors showed great interest in the different artistic visions an never seemed to be distracted or in a hurry.

Bryna Pomp, LOOT Curator.
Photo by: Jenna Bascom,

Stefania Lucchetta (Italy) was also present at the LOOT Show and will be part of „Italiano Plurale“ along with Bartellone and 6 more artist at the Vienna Jewellery Days. Photo by: Waldemar Kerschbaumer.

What is next on your calendar?
I will exhibit my work at the Wiener Schmucktage in November. The organisers have put together a group of Italian artists that produce beautiful, colourful and highly wearable jewellery with an unusual choice of materials and techniques. There will be a number of artists I know from previous exhibitions such as Loot New York or Münchner Schmuckwoche, but I am also looking forward to meeting new colleagues.
Other than that I will continue to look for new shapes and colours, which happens to be a process I have no control over: I can’t seem to stop dreaming up, imagining and designing new pieces and combinations of materials.

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About the Interviewee

Gian Luca Bartellone is an Italian based jeweller, graduated by Benvenuto Cellini Institute as a Master of Art. The artist launched the Bodyfurnitures Project, a  own jewelry collection of papier maché, gold, gold leaf, gems and precious stones. Bartellone is a regular presence at international fairs and his work can be found all around the globe.

About the author

Waldemar Kerschbaumer is the Creative Director and founder of the advertising and web agency adpassion based in Bolzano, Italy. He spent 7 years working for a local weekly magazine and over 10 years in different advertising agencies before founding his own company. adpassion caters to a variety of different sectors, from business to education and museums, and private and business clients as well as artists. Kerschbaumer has been in charge of all PR work for Bodyfurnitures Jewellery and also helps promote other jewellery artists. The organiser of the Vienna Jewellery Days (Wiener Schmucktage) is planning a special exhibition of a group of Italian jewellery artists in November 2018. Asked to curate this selection, Kerschbaumer founded the group “Italiano Plurale”. The 8 contemporary artists in the group each employ unusual materials and techniques to produce their own signature pieces which they will present in Vienna.