Rob Dean in Conversation with Claire Kahn & Andrew Fisher on A Friendship Forged in Gold

Interview  /  Artists   BehindTheScenes
Published: 16.08.2017
Claire Kahn & Andrew Fisher Claire Kahn & Andrew Fisher
Rob Dean
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With the exhibition A Friendship Forged in Gold, acclaimed artists Claire Kahn and Andrew Fisher prove there are no shortcuts to excellence. Nothing represents uncompromising purity and quality like gold. Creations in gold - Kahn’s jewelry and Fisher’s sculptures and tapestries - are the signature of the exhibition. Two friends bound for 22 years by their love of making and studying art. For most of that time, Kahn, a creator of fountains and architectural treatments, and Fisher, a gifted interior designer, were successful San Francisco artists.

What are the roots of A Friendship Forged in Gold?
Fisher: I think that Claire and I both share a love of handmade objects, in particular intricate handmade objects. Our sensibilities are so similar. Obviously we both love the spiritual side of working with our hands in repetitive ways. Gold inspires us, for sure, with its association to illumination, mystical power and glamour.  And adornment - Claire the body, and me the space the body lives in. I think I can speak for both of us when I say this: We like to think we are, in some small way, making the world a more beautiful place to be.

Kahn: Our friendship goes back 22 years. Our loved ones are close. One night at dinner, Andrew and I were looking at your gorgeous art and some spectacular photographs of your pieces. You said, “I’d love to show at Patina.” I talked with Allison and Ivan at Patina, and they loved Andrew’s work. A few days later after thinking about it and making connections in his mind, Ivan proposed a show featuring both of us and suggested we call it “A Friendship Forged in Gold.”

What new will visitors see in October at Patina?
Kahn: It’s really gold. Everything in the show will have some relationship to gold. There may be a couple of pieces that are solid gold, but I’m not primarily making solid gold pieces. I want them to really be about the texture. I’m thinking of Andrew’s work when I’m making my pieces.

Fisher: I’m doing the same – thinking about the influence of Claire’s jewelry.

You place heavy emphasis on handmade. Please expand on that.
Kahn: As with drawing, bead crochet takes time. The work allows me time to ponder the next piece. This is partly why I am critical of technology regarding the creative process. Technology doesn't allow for the invaluable, precious element of time to thoughtfully consider next steps. Andrew and I are both pattern makers. We are the antithesis of technology.

Fisher: We are exactly the opposite of technology. We are both process oriented. Claire and I sit down and have long, deep conversations about our work. We appreciate adornment and ornament - and handmade adornment.

How do you use of pattern, texture and color to express a mood, feeling or sense of place?
Fisher: Some people try to label my art – the gilded tapestries – as fabric work. I think of it as constructive work. When I think of influences, I am reminded of the armor of the ancient warriors, maybe even chainmail. I remember seeing a piece of Chinese or Japanese armor. I thought it was beautiful and so intricate.

Kahn: The closest I come to expressing mood is through color or contrast. The stones I use inform color. Pattern will just come to me. I'll be inspired by an idea about an interesting color combination, or pattern progression that I want to explore and will create numerous variations on that. It may grow and develop into something new.
Please drill down and be more specific.

Fisher: I combine various components in different way to create each piece. I start with a sheet of tag paper then gesso, paint and gild it. I cut squares and color the edges of each piece with a pen. Next each piece is crumpled and uncrumpled. The brass wires are earring wires. I dip each wire multiple times in gesso then paint and gild it. The size of the piece is determined by my choice of fabric, manta, cotton or linen. I fray the edges. Then the piece is gessoed, painted, gilded. For some I draw a graph in red ink. Using steel frames in different shapes, I seal, gesso, paint and gild the frames. In some pieces I use rat proofing in galvanized steel as a grid. It is shaped, gessoed, painted and gilded. The squares are glued then sewn to the fabric. The steel is sewn also. The pieces are mounted on a backing and ready to go

I want this show to be sexy. I want these pieces to be delicious. I will be using gold seed beads which are available with 24 karat gold plate over glass. I will include high-karat yellow gold, diamonds and other gems to embellish the work with ornaments, charms and accents. I will make necklace pairings and bracelets. For a series called Chambray, I will make six pieces, three pairings. The chambray idea comes from Silk fabrics that originated in Cambodia. Silk threads are woven in two colors. The warp is one, the weft another. The eye mixes the two colors because the silk fibers are so fine, like fine thread, but as you move the fabric, one or the other color dominates. Each piece will use gold and another color group. One will be gold and pink and its pairing piece will include ruby accents. Another will do the same, but with gold and green and will be paired with emerald and the third will be blue with pale sapphire accents. I am thinking of making a series that is gold on gold where interest comes from the texture of the surface, this in response to Andrew's work. These pieces would include gold beads of differing shapes and sizes to create surface interest.

What are some the influences on pieces in the new exhibition?
Kahn: The bead crochet is like micro mosaic, thousands of tiny beads come together to create a single expression. It’s the nature of the crochet process to work in a grid, but within that system I want to create work that is more implicit, mysterious, visually unpredictable, even surprising. My work has been structured, geometric, a response to urban inspiration and historical treatments by others, “the hand of man.” For example, there's Lyda, a pattern inspired by my mother’s weaving; Mughal, inspired by antique, royal jewelry of Northern India; Batlló, the work of Spanish Architect Antonio Gaudi; Folon, based on the color progressions of Belgian painter Jean-Michel Folon. But now I am looking at new pattern, or un-pattern, ideas. I’m living in a less ordered and less predictable, softer place. This environment requires me to look at patterns that seem random and organic, even though they aren’t, can’t be.

Fisher: I live about 70 percent of the year in San Miguel de Allende. Does Mexico influence my work? Yes and no. It’s probably influence of an unexpected type – sensibility more than the influence of color, pattern or material. I love handmade crafts, and they are so craft oriented in Mexico. So that influences me.

About the Interviewee

Andrew Fisher earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in Sculpture, Drawing and Metal Arts from the California College of the Arts. His studio practice is focused on painting, sculpture, and the design and crafting of extraordinary furniture and light fixtures. Simultaneously, he has achieved wide recognition for his achievements in interior design.

Claire Kahn studied design at Stanford University, graduating in 1977 – a recipient of the distinguished Humanities Award. From 1977 to 1984, Kahn worked for the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill providing graphic design, interior and exterior treatments for projects including San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall and Miami’s Southeast Financial Center. Since 1985, Kahn has worked with the fountain design firm, WET, currently serving as Executive Designer. With WET, she has designed fountains at sites worldwide including the Barcelona World Trade Center, New York’s Columbus Circle, Beijing Finance Street, and The Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas. Kahn maintains a studio practice using mixed media. Project work includes commercial and residential installations for which the uses of pattern and color are her focus. Since 2004 she has made works in bead crochet – using fiber, glass, metal and stone. Kahn shows her work at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

About the author

Rob Dean has been Patina’s storyteller since 2015. A teacher, book editor and volunteer during his 25 years in Santa Fe, he published a book related to the city’s 400th anniversary in 2010. He has an MA in history and was a Santa Fe journalist for many years.