In conversation with Bruce Metcalf

Published: 30.11.2015
In conversation with Bruce Metcalf.
Sanna Svedestedt
Edited by:
Edited at:
Bruce Metcalf. Brooch: Hermaphrodite, 2015. Mixed mediums. 14 x 11.5 cm. Bruce Metcalf
Brooch: Hermaphrodite, 2015
Mixed mediums
14 x 11.5 cm
© By the author. Read Copyright.

Renowned jewelry artist Bruce Metcalf answers a few questions about social media, Schmuck 2016 and the process of finding the rights scale.

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Hello Bruce!

Those who are friends with you on Facebook can regularly enjoy the images that you post of your work and ongoing artistic process. This is posted on your private profile but, scoring over 2300 friends, it means you are letting people from all over the world take a peek through the screen onto your workbench.  I am curious to know if you have made any active decision about this openness or if it is more a natural part of being a social being, if you understand my question?

 I consciously decided to add process pictures to my Facebook feed, following the practice of the glass artist Judith Schaechter. I liked seeing her sketches and incomplete work. There is a temptation to think that accomplished work appears out of thin air, without any struggle. So I wanted to let people see the struggle, the back-and-forth of my process, and then see the end result. Hopefully, it demystifies the process somewhat. And perhaps lets people see how much hard work is involved. It is not, after all, easy.
Does the direct communication through social media effect your work in any way?
No. It’s nice to get a lot of “Likes” for certain images, but I do not gauge my work to be popular. Sometimes I think the crowd is right, and sometimes I think they are wrong.
Your work has been selected for Schmuck 2016. Being an artist working in the US, what does the Schmuck show represent to you?

Schmuck has always represented a certain Eurocentric view of jewelry, and only the Americans whose work most closely approximates a European attitude really succeed. (John Iverson and Thomas Gentille come to mind: minimalist, simple, and oriented to serial exploration of a single idea.) My work is emphatically American: emotionally hot, complex, colorful, and to some extent driven by narrative and subject matter. These are not European virtues, so I remain rather odd in the context of Schmuck. I’m flattered when some old established European jeweler/juror deigns to include me in the show, but I believe that does little to dispel the prejudice commonly held against American jewelry.
 Are you planning on traveling to Munich for the event?
You received your MFA in 1977 from Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, accidentally focusing on jewellery, which turned out to be the right path for you. From then on you have been busy working as an artist, writer, critic and teacher. Looking back today, is it possible to say what moment in your career that has been most important to you?
No. It has been a steady progression, and the changes have been incremental. I started off making mostly sculpture, which I gradually abandoned in the early 90s. Nobody wanted to buy it, and it wasn’t very good anyway. I slowly came to the conclusion that my true scale is the size of things that can be held in the hand, which is to say, jewelry scale. Only after I came to that realization, did I dedicate myself completely to jewelry.
Similarly, my writing took some time to filter into my studio practice. I now believe that craft and art are distinct fields, and although there are overlaps, they are substantially different discourses. So I now insist that I am a jeweler and a craftsman first. If my work is good, it is also art, but the center of my practice is sited in craft.
Is there a specific piece of jewellery that you have made that still lingers with you?
Every now and then, maybe once every four or five years, I make a piece that is really good. The “Nunc Stans” brooch that will be in Schmuck 2016 is such a piece. It has a combination of deep originality, highly personal vision, resonant imagery, and complete resolution that, to me, makes great art. Plus, it’s rather nicely made. That is not an artistic quality, but a craftsmanlike one.

 Bruce Metcalf brooch "Nunc Stans" 2015
13 x 10 cm, Acetol plastic, sterling silver

Can you describe the contemporary jewelry scene - its current state and health - according to you?
There’s a tremendous amount of decent work going on right now. But I fear it is becoming rather uniform; very much the same. I found Schmuck 2015 to be a bore, for instance. There’s way too much black jewelry. And that sloppy thing pioneered by Karl Fritsch has become a cliché, and no longer interests me. But what disturbs me the most is that so much jewelry is still concentrated on “interesting” design: nice little compositions devoid of meaning. The aesthetics of the design has shifted, but the underlying concept comes straight out of Arte Povera from the 70s. It is not news to use weird art supplies, and it is no big deal to arrange them in crusty, clunky compositions. That was all done decades ago in Italy, and I see no reason to get excited when that tendency re-emerges, 45 years later, in jewelry. See Fabrizio Tridenti for a perfect example of what I mean. That said, I think there are some truly great artists working in jewelry today. Sharon Church, Eun Mi Chun, Alexander Blank, Daniel Kruger, and Kiff Slemmons among them.

2016 is coming up fast, can you let us in on your plans for next year?
Work. Maybe write.
Bruce Metcalf. Necklace: Black Hédoné, 2015. Carved and painted maple, epoxy resin, Micarta, goldplated brass, nylon string. Bruce Metcalf
Necklace: Black Hédoné, 2015
Carved and painted maple, epoxy resin, Micarta, goldplated brass, nylon string
© By the author. Read Copyright.