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Amanda Brooks

Amanda Brooks

Design, make, sell three very recent art graduates, from Cardiff School of Art and Design (CSAD), have recently relocated, albeit briefly, to a local jeweller s to see what effect their degree show pieces have on the discerning, and perhaps more general, shopping public. Away from the bright lights and eyes of tutors, friends, colleagues and artists, and in amongst the shiny silver at Rowley's the Jewellers on Penarth's Glebe Street, these makers work has come under a different sort of scrutiny. CCQ went along to see how they have survived.

Rhiannon Evans, Rhian Kate and Amanda Brooks have all just completed their BA (Hons) Artist Designer: Maker degree course at CSAD. They have spent the last two weeks displaying their work in the cases and windows of Rowley's the Jewellers, meeting with a completely different set of people shoppers, tourists, locals from those they came across in their student studios and at their degree exhibitions. Their previous three or four years of education have involved a breadth of inspiration, access to material, tutors and methods of making. That period of experimentation, peaks, troughs and failures will feel like a luxury in the years to come.

Art education takes place, to an extent out of necessity, in a creative and exploratory bubble, allowing students to make without pressure to succeed consistently, both artistically and certainly financially. CSAD prepares students for the wider creative world to a limited extent, in encouraging an almost bewildering cross-pollination between the customary artistic fields. Rhiannon, Rhian and Amanda explain that their work has gravitated towards jewellery, not by design (as it were), but naturally through each of their own interests, making practices, and current site of focus the body. In a year or so, this might not be the case and they recognise that their work is in constant development. All three have their work on show at the New Designers show in London at the end of the month.

 

Rhiannon Evans

Rhiannon Evans

They all are keen to emphasise that they each have a particular fascination with materials. Rhian's, for example, is with pewter. She has spent months exploring its capabilities, limits, change under stress, effects when in contact with other material. There s beauty in her work; but she s more interested in the bubbled indentations that occurred when she forged pewter next to Perspex. Rhiannon s work uses inorganic solids, such as crystalline clay minerals, especially porcelain. Her focus is on how jewellery extends the shape of the body. Her original degree show pieces are more catwalk than street; some are simply to be placed on the body, suspended or hung, rather than worn. Amanda has been encapsulating natural and found objects in resin. Her pieces sit within carved shapes, not necessarily suited automatically to the body, at least not for adornment. They are sensory, intimate; and some appear wearable; but they could as easily exist as pure objects.

These three are articulate about why they have directed their practices towards jewellery (in its broadest sense). They speak about their pieces being expressive of who the wearer is. There is emotional attachment to jewellery that doesn't necessarily exist within other object or art forms. There is the (potential) wearablity of jewellery that, while coexisting within fashion and certain design, again is outside the realms of much art and craft. The trio are exploring narrative also, and physicality of processes, and they willingly blur any natural boundaries. This understanding and inclusivity, far from producing an unrefined scattering of ideas, has resulted in honed and consistent work, and work that holds its own within the art/craft/design milieu.

So, why are they at Rowley's? Petra Aydin Barberini, who owns the shop with her husband, and is also an associate member of staff at CSAD, wants to see how these three fare in the retail environment. It is an experiment, but also serious groundwork for what Petra hopes will provide extra skills to compliment CSAD s degree offering. Students come, tired but eager out of university, and often fall at the first hurdle that tricky aspect to life making a living. A cynic can easily say that art students, designers, makers whatever their discipline, should be defining their life beyond the safety of college. That is to say, they should not be out of touch with the real world, a world in which one jewellery chain goes under for describing their wares as tat, while others have queues going out of the door. Instead, they should inhabit a world that can exist without all that distraction.

This is an exaggeration; there are other worlds, other ways for a jeweller to survive, but retail is certainly one of them. Petra is keen that students come out of university with an eye on, if not a foot in, the market retail, selling, making for someone else. This might be a maker designing jewellery for discerning others for sale in independent high-street shops; it might be a ceramicist working out how to position themselves within a market, display their work, price, catalogue, stock take, sell. It might be a painter not just making Rothko-sized installations.

These are sets of individual decisions, and ones that artists have been making for centuries. They are not new, and the demand for university courses to recognise that students need to be prepared for life beyond academia is not new. However, there are few examples that take practical and necessary steps. CSAD has its INC Space, a post-graduation studio for new artists to continue under their roof, have access to equipment and some support but it is not open to all, and there is a limit to the significant, real-life guided, taught experience possible within the regular three-year stretch. Petra is hoping that the experience gained from her experiment and trial run could be of use to future CSAD students as an addition to the portfolio of courses already available, and could be offered at an earlier stage of the degree course, not only an added-on post-degree offer by a self-confessed, self-interested party.

 

Amanda Brooks

Amanda Brooks

Rhian, Rhiannon and Amanda say they have come out of CSAD raring to go, and obviously their success in getting in to New Designers is already strengthening their resolve. The three makers will be returning to Rowley's after New Designers and working towards making their collections ready for retail's busiest season. Petra s determination to build a longer relationship with them, to guide them into the independent retail world, is a real bonus for them. In a short time they have come face to face with what is an important and different audience. They have been forced to talk in a different way about their work. They have made decisions about how they show their work, how they might bridge the many gaps between idealism and pragmatism. They have even sold work. Imagine.

 

As is often the case, watch this space.