Interview with Beverley Price

Interview  /  Artists
Published: 24.05.2016
Interview with Beverley Price.
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The more I work, the more originality arises. Often times originality comes from my mistakes. My mistakes are original. I think they are part of my uniqueness as a maker. They lead to good new ideas. Also, sometimes I think I have seen something in my work, it is not there, but it becomes a good idea. / Beverley Price
Do you think that jewellery is being standardised?
Jewellery is standardised on many levels: the behaviour of wearing jewellery, an ancient and conditioned human practice, goes back 70.000 years in South Africa to the Blombos Caves. Ontogenetically...a child is introduced at birth to its first gold trinket.
Jewellery as  a symbolic system is of necessity standardised and has communicative universals. Firstly, engaging with the human body, for example as an African or as European. Second, the consensus of meaning of the materials, plastic. Third, the forms common to all of us... brooch, necklace, ring.
Without some standardisation our work in isolation would be like a narcisstic Babel.

The 'registers' of jewellery also show standardisation:
Commerical jewellery, consistent and ubiquitious styles with a 'loyal market'. In South Africa from low to high end includes Sterns to Uwe Koetter
Contemporary jewellery, the individual maker has a consistent and recognisable style with safe innovations geared to the more adventurous, commercial market.
Jewellery art, appropriately the standardisation is more difficult to pinpoint. We see 'movements' with shared elements.

For example, the European post-structural  inversions of materials and forms, to me nihilistic and anti-jewellery and too ugly to be ironic. Or brooches and rings which seek to enter fine art as sculpture. And the high popularity of brooches as an expressive platform.
There are traces of teachers and schools -sort of 'dialects' of their predecessor iconoclasts. For example Ruudt Peters and The Gerrit Rietveld or Iris Eichenberg and Cranbrook. And why not? With their interesting investigations and extrapolations and special way of teaching. Not unlike the  painting movements ... Jackson Pollock - Abstract Expressionism / The New York School; Macke - Der Blaue Reiter.
Non-standardised work threatens stability. Mary Douglas says the creative elements of a culture exist at the edge - the taboo area. At first people are suspicious of the work, perhaps interested, perhaps patronise because they don't get it, (but are expert in other areas of life), then they may resent you, then they see others understanding and buying the work, then they surrender and commit and buy too.That is my experience.

What is there of local and universal in your artistic work?
We artists cross-pollinate in many ways. I glean courage, for example, from the extreme works of other artists. It frees me up to make and show my works which are logical to me but don't have an obvious audience platform.

The more I work, the more originality arises. Often times originality comes from my mistakes. My mistakes are original. I think they are part of my uniqueness as a maker.They lead to good new ideas. Also, sometimes I think I have seen something in my work, it is not there, but it becomes a good idea.
The question I ask myself repeatedly while  I am working in order to stay on track is  " what are you thinking? what are you thinking" to distract myself from other thoughts. A little bit Zen.
I always get my best solutions 2 minutes before I wake up in the morning.
When I explain an idea out loud logical things come out of my mouth which I never expected.This is a Chassidic (kabbalistic) principle.

My urban and rural South African influence include politics, for example dealing with the apartheid mining industry and that human suffering, as well as the pre-European colonisation of Southern Africa.
Post-apartheid cross-cultural contacts brought me freedom of scale from large tribal objects, freedom to exhibit with fine artists, in fine art galleries, and to work in all art mediums.
Most importantly, the centrality of the living moving body. A vivified plinth. The dynamics between the jewellery piece, the wearer's body and both in relation to gravity is a strong triadic principle in my bigger jewellery pieces. The back of the body too - not to be forgotten or diminished.

In the UK I learned enamelling skills and a standard of finishing.  In Israel with its daily tensions between life and death, my work had a speed of inspiration, simplicity, nostalgia and archeological references.
The European influences after participating at Schmuck a few times brought me freedom to expand my jewellery valences and the validity of your context for the objects, your viewers and your collectors.

What do you expect when exposing your work to the public (for example with an exhibition)?
I take my jewellery for a walk when I wear it. I ask: where are peoples' eyes going?
The picture jewellery gets all the attention - I've sold necklaces off my neck in Prague, Venice and at Charles De Gaulle airport. It is a "pack and go" type of jewellery. I once revealed myself as the maker, to a woman who was wearing my work in a Johannesburg mall. The communication is fun.
My jewellery goes places I'll never go. Someone in the North Pole owns a pair of my earrings. Queen Sonia of Norway owns a Mandela necklace. I hope people buy or commission my bigger work. One of my biggest works (1,5 x 1 meter, enamel on copper) took 5 years to find the right buyer.

Linaga (Ndebele wedding cape) by Beverley Price, copper and enamel, 2001. Photographer Grant Dixon.

Sometimes it is difficult to let go. I have to ask myself what it would take to remake this work. I made one big mistake with a commission, underestimating the time it would take. That is a difficult lesson to learn. I like my work to "go to a good home". I suppose it's like parting with a pet.
One large South African commission went into a private collection and is sadly not visible to the public.
At exhibitions it is hard to just let people view my work without chatting to them. I like to hear what they think. Sometimes it must be the experience of Barthes "Death of the Author'', people see different things from what I intended.
I curated my solo exhibition in a fine art gallery a few years ago. I loved the opportunity of my own curating, like conducting an orchestra, and connecting the diverse objects conceptually. It was a very joyous occasion for me and to celebrate jewellery as an art medium. (Watch here the Video about my work “All Gold Is Gold”, Standard Bank Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg)

Are other areas besides the jewellery, present in your work?
I think about music, dance  and rhythm, growing up surrounded by  South African jazz musicians like Miriam Makeba, music enters your system, you become like a black person with a white skin.
Some of my adornment works are percussive and make a rustling sound when worn.
Also the minimalist music of Steve Reich,and I love the sweet  humour of Eric Satie. The Penguin Cafe Orchestra - British, I heard them live in a Greenwich cathedral when I frist came to live in London in 1990.
Also Chassidic studies, I learn on my own and am struck by  the forms of the Hebrew letters and the kabbalistic concepts around creation, light and infinity.

The last work, book, film, city that has moved me was...
A work: A South African wall sculpture "Derriere" by Walter Oltmann, like lace and pointillism in wire.

Child Skull, 2013, Aluminium wire, 180 × 172 cm by Walter Oltmann​

Book: The Hare with Amber Eyes, about Edmund de Waal's family's netsuke collection and how he discovers he has Jewish blood.
Also AB Yehoshua, I read it in Hebrew, I like the challenge to learn new words with a dictionary.
Film: Microcosmos (1996). Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, who miraculously filmed the tiny world of insects.
A city: Jerusalem, time constantly stretches and converges back to the present; and London, the big store windows at Christmas.

A place, space, country whose creativity surprises me...
Kenwood Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. My most sublime place on earth to swim, with its ancient fat trees and water that is like silk.

Kenwood Ladies Pond Hampstead Heath, London

Is there any designer, jeweller, artist you appreciate a lot?
History: Lalique's enamelling, Faberge’s capacity to organise his production.
Contemporary: Francesco Pavan, the large forged gold necklace of " half eggs in suspension" which I saw at Marzee Galerie. Probably the greatest work I have ever seen. I keep its postcard on my bench. The Paduan goldsmiths in general, anyway.
Peter Skubic: I read his interview. I enjoyed his honesty and lightness, like all the movement of his works.
Helen Drutt: English for her courage and faith in our art.
Ai Wei Wei: his life challenges and the sunflower seeds at Tate Modern.

What piece or work has given you the most satisfaction?
Making the armature for my most recent rhinoceros sculpture, based on a priceless South African pre-colonial gold-foil object.
Using wires extending from the tail, through the body and to the horn tip. Like vectors, expressing an aspect of the termination of apartheid.

"Mapungubwe - A New Skin" by Beverley Price, galvanised wire, paint. dimensions 97 x 47 x 47 cm; 2010-2011 Photographer Des Tak.

Do you read Jewellery Magazines? What is your source to get information?
Mostly images of jewellery on Klimt02, Metalsmith. Art Jewelry Forum too.
Do you discuss your work with other jewellery artists or any other person?
I chat sometimes to Walter Oltmann the sculptor. Otherwise artists and potters in South Africa. Sometimes with the antique jewellery dealers here. In the last few years I looked after my aged mom so in general my communication was reduced. In the past I had the best and most creative conversations with Claudia Shneider and her sister Kitty when she lived in Stellenbosch, and with Andries Botha the monumental sculptor from Durban who in 1996 encouraged me to go from Jewellery to Art.
These days I lack a robust jewellery art dialogue. I enjoy very much when I have shown or come to Schmuck. It is my pilgrimage-carnival . The conference in Florence and the jewellers in Turnov some years ago. All great times.

What is your first thought when you hear the word Future? What do you expect for?
The small picture? To build my life again after the care of my mom and her recent death, to make more work, connect more with the European and American makers, perhaps to do a Masters in another country, to continue to live from my work. To teach.
The big picture? I am lucky to not live in a war zone. The planet is polarised between citizens and refugees. Economies are predicated on the arms industry. Some are lucky to live and many have to die in order to preserve that industry and create jobs for the living. Human life has become a trade commodity, a little more subtle but similar to Auschwitz. I am one of the lucky ones to have a constant place to live, food to eat and a suburban life.
South Africa has a lot of violence, a corrupt government and many disillusioned, poor people after Mandela. But the people make the country work. Our world  leaders today are so dark as is the UN. It is a privilege to wake up in a place everyday where I hear the birds can do my work, go to a coffee shop, ride my bicycle, do my shopping...