Jewellery Review

Lisa Walker & Karl Fritsch New Zealand Tour - 2001 By Kate Ewing Lisa
Walker and Karl Fritsch are two jewellers who have studied at the
Munich Art Academy, Germany. Walker is a New Zealander completing her
sixth year at the Academy under the professorship of Otto Kunzli.
Fritsch finished there in the mid nineties having studied with both
Kunzli and his predecessor, Hermann Junger. The two are now married and
have a 2yr old son called Max. The main sponsorship for their NZ tour
came from the Goethe Institute, which made it possible for them to
exhibit both at the Dowse Art Gallery and at Fingers Gallery in
Auckland. They held slide lectures and Fritsch taught casting
workshops in the jewellery departments of two New Zealand teaching

Both these jewellers’ work is characterised by a new attitude to
jewellery making - one of uninhibited experimentation. There is a
complete lack of any egocentric, design orientated approach to their
work. Instead there is one which focuses more on their obvious passion
for materials and in creating space for the nature of those materials
to speak to us in a new way. Their work is as much provocative and
challenging to a maker of jewellery such as myself as it is to a
wearer. On the surface Walker’s work is funny and playful while at the
same time there is an undercurrent of necessity there; a personal
journey that needs to be travelled. She bravely uses unconventional
materials and techniques and in so brings contemporary jewellery into
a new age. In Karl Fritsch’s work there are so many powerful
juxtapositions that one loses count. It is both old and new, clever
and simple, ugly and beautiful, serious and silly, valuable and junky.
Both of these jewellers’ work questions the role of jewellery in our
lives and in the world, pushing boundaries and breaking the
conventions we had not identified until they were threatened in this
vital way.

[image] Brooches - various materials, Lisa Walker

Lisa Walker began her jewellery making career in 1988 when she enroled
in a 2 year ‘Craft Design Certificate’ at Dunedin Polytechnic. These
courses gave an introduction to a broad range of materials and craft
practices. Their emphasis was on creative development rather than the
technique based training given in the trade and industry sector.
Walker’s experience of having grown up in New Zealand and beginning
her career in this way, is clearly evident in her work. Not because
she employs any of the usual Pacific motifs via our natural materials,
but rather because of her ability to create, among other things,
modern day, tongue-in-cheek Kiwiana. Her work is reminiscent of the New
Zealand tradition of tinkering with DIY (do-it-yourself) carpentry and
model train sets in the back shed, and creating intricate home crafts
for the local church fair. Usually in jewellery you would find hard
(wearing) materials but here there are threads, rubber bands, wood
doweling, nails, beads, sequins, glue, tape, and leather; the list goes
on. She expresses an absolute passion for ‘stuff’. There may be
nothing surprising in any New Zealanders’ deployment of such an
eclectic array of hobbycraft materials, but there is something
distinctly new when a contemporary jeweller, studying in Europe’s most
prestigious jewellery class, does so. This use of non-archival
materials firmly challenges the idea that good art must not only last
forever, but must also maintain its’ original condition. Certainly for
most contemporary jewellers, the permanance and durability of their
work is of the utmost importance. Walker’s challenge of this habitual
constraint makes her work doubly upsetting to many.

[image] Brooch - silk, thread, rubber-inner, gold pin

Walker has daringly taken another step in breaking the codes of the
‘craft’ by utilising prefabricated objects, altering them only
slightly by drawing on their surface or attaching findings to make them
wearable. A soft suede elbow patch is gathered at one end onto a
safety pin and transformed into a musselshell-like brooch. A machine
embroidered jeans-patch of a longhaired terrier, stares defiantly from
its new position as a contemporary badge. Comparisons may be made here
with the world�?-s experience of Duchamp�?-s �?-readymades�?- where he
would purchase an item and alter it only slightly, before exhibiting
it. He described these works as �??readymades aided.�?? What has
followed in the years since Duchamp first showed his readymades in the
1920�?-s, is a debate over whether the act of choosing such items and
re-contextualising them has any valid artistic merit. This arguement
misses Duchamp’s point, which was to subvert high arts’ claim of
uniqueness and originality. Walker and Fritsch would find support in
Duchamp’s claim that “since the tubes of paint used by artist are
manufactured and readymade products we must conclude that all the
paintings in the world are readymades aided.” When physically
experiencing the work of Duchamp, one perceives something beyond just
the prefabricated object. The pieces exude a certain energy, brought
about by his handling of these objects and the way in which he has
chosen to make his mark on them.

[image] Necklace - 18ct gold, Karl Fritsch

Karl Fritsch also manages to breathe new life into existing objects
with his use of second-hand commercially manufactured jewellery. He
buys pre-loved jewellery pieces that are broken and being sold for
scrap and reworks them or “fixes” them until he feels happy with their
new forms. Using wax he makes additions to the pieces, mending joins or
filling empty settings, then melts the wax away replacing it with gold
or silver using the casting process. The old is “helped” to become new.
At first glance these pieces are comfortably familiar, with the main
structure having been produced using a global aesthetic, but then one
must look again as something wonderfully different is at play. The
bland prettiness has been rudely disrupted. Out of the filigree
protrudes a phallus. Over the well-finished surfaces there are blobs
and dribbles. Settings ooze and joints bulge.The material seems to
invade the form, taking on a life of it’s own, seemingly free from
it’s creator’s hand. Cleverly this work manages to confront two major
aesthetics in the jewellery world. Firstly the banal, mass-produced
aesthetic is questioned for it’s lack of individuality. And secondly,
jewellery which is beautifully finished and laboriously crafted is
proven to be not the singular most effective way to treat these
materials with integrity. Fritsch says about this work “a position is
built, challenging the compulsion to design and the conventions of
commercial and crafty jewellery. So as one always has to get rid of
unnecessary burdens, here too, the gold overcomes these old
preconceptions and demands, and gains new qualities.”

[image] Brooch - 18ct gold & steel pin, Karl Fritsch

During Fritsch’s slide lectures he told of his early years at the
Academy in the late eighties, under the professorship of Herman
Junger. After Herman had seen a piece of Fritsch’s which had a brown
lumpy surface and an “un-jewellery like” shape, but which declared
itself still to be jewellery via a large gem protruding from it’s
surface, he said “we don’t do that kind of thing here”. Junger is
famous internationally for having brought jewellery into the
contemporary realm. His surface treatment of gold and silver is
breathtakingly beautiful. Fritsch’s use of the casting method, a
technique usually relegated to the mass-production trade, and his
frequent descision to leave the surface of the metal untouched must
have been most challenging. At this stage in his career Fritsch
thought his work could only be described as anti-aesthetic, a revolt
against the “beauty” that had become the norm at the academy. But in
actuality he was developing his own style - grounded in the old but
moving beyond the constraints of the classically beautiful.

[image] Rings - 18 & 20ct gold, Karl Fritsch

In all cultures one of jewellery’s major functions is to attract. In
Fritsch’s work we are exposed to the interesting phenomena of how the
ugly and unusual can capture our attention just as effectively as
something we may experience as classically beautiful. Since the 60’s
artists have played with the attraction/repulsion response in the human
spirit questioning our need to classify and judge things either good
or bad, and from what basis these judgements may stem. But here it
seems utterly appropriate to be exploring this dichotomy via a medium,
which for centuries has been used as a tool for attraction and
declaration of wealth.

Prior to Fritsch’s time at the academy he completed a 3 year
certificate and apprenticeship in the trade industry. Intentionally
Fritsch draws on techniques learnt from that traditional training, and
contrasts them with the playful aesthetic he developed while at art
school. Using the malleability of wax he creates spontaneous forms,
which he then individually casts in gold or silver. The surface of the
metals after casting is very dull or even black. Rather than polishing
the material Fritsch often chooses to patina the pieces blacker or make
them white. Directly into these matt surfaces Fritsch then sets
clusters of small valuable gemstones such as diamonds and saphires. The
effect of intricately set sparkling stones juxtaposed against the
loosly formed and matt metal is fascinating.

The black, white or dull finish on Karl Fritsch’s work is not
ever-lasting however, the acids in the skin will slowly polish the
piece to a colour more readilly associated with these metals. This
issue of change also applies to Walker’s work where a material she has
used may, over time, become stained or faded. This being the case
these artists’ works are a challenge to our perceptions of how a piece
of jewellery should exist in this world. Dealers of these pieces will
have the added responsibility of ensuring that the buyers are aware of
these possible changes. A direct relationship with ongoing
communication may need to develop between the maker and the wearer if
some level of maintenance is desired. What will hopefully develop is a
broader jewellery community, one that includes the wearer in a deeper
communication and therefore understanding.

The influence of these two jewellers, just in the past five years, was
clearly visible in the work of students who are currently studying at
the Munich Academy. It will be interesting to see how this influence
takes hold in New Zealand after this series of exhibitions, workshops,
and slide lectures. Whether one chooses to pass a good or bad judgement
on Walker’s and Fritsch’s work, there is no doubt that it will have
caused a response at least, and this in a world of ever increasing
sameness from which the heart of our creativity is rarely inspired, is
of immense value. We should not be without admiration for jewellers
such as these who put their energies into challenging themselves,
always taking time to stop and ask the big questions, while the rest
of us reap the benefits of our craft being carried so buoyantly over
the threshhold of a new century.

Endnotes 1. Marcel Duchamp: The Portable Museum - Bonk, Ecke, Thomas &
Hudson, London, 1989, pg.84.

  1. Karl Fritsch - exhibition statement, Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt,

Brian, the jewelry review of Walker and Fritsch is great,
unfortunately I couldn’t get any of the images. Only the square with
the word image in it was visible. Is there a website where we can
view their work? Or is there someway you can post their work
elsewhere, like at ofoto or something of that sort? Would love to see
what they are doing.