Friday, March 1, 2013

The Silver Crucible: Wearable Art

“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” -Robert Henri

I think this quote is quite fitting for the artist I am introducing for this post. Joseph Mundy is the mastermind behind The Silver Crucible. He makes one of a kind art jewelry. I am not really sure how to describe his pieces in a way that would give them justice, but I am going to try. His jewelry is obviously jewelry, but the more attention you pay to their details, the more more you start to question what they really are: jewelry or art? These aren't your run of the mill high end jewelry. Each piece looks like it has it's own story as to why it exists and what message it is trying give out. It takes a very special lady to wear one of his pieces and Joseph and I get into that as I got to pick his brain for our interview. I had a lot of questions for him and he had a lot of wonderful info and insight to share with me and my readers. 

In all honesty, I have never had a post where I couldn't find the right words to describe an artists work. It's strange to be at a loss for words, but pictures are worth a thousand of those bad boys and Joseph does a great job using his own. Therefore, without further delay, I give you my interview with The Silver Crucible. 

1. What types of items do you make and sell?

 I make one-of-a-kind art jewelry for women, usually from Sterling Silver and semi-precious stones, but sometimes I use copper to make pieces that are more affordable—every woman deserves and should be able to own something beautiful and unique. I call my work “art jewelry” because it comes from my impulse to create, not an impulse to cash-in, but if I can profit enough from my creative impulse to keep everything going, that’d be the dream.

2. How long have you been working with metal and how did you get started?

I’ve been working with metal for about 25 years ( just being able to say that I’ve done anything for 25 years besides breathe kinda freaks my extended-adolescence mentality out.) I got started freshman year of college. I was an English major, but there were only about two or three classes a semester that were mandatory, but you could take up to five--so I filled the rest of my schedule up with all art classes. I took every art class that Loyola Marymount University had, and after I ran out of those, I created independent study art classes. Three of those classes were Jewelry classes taught by noted Jewelry Artist and instructor at both LMU and FIDM, Sue Dorman.

I was the guy staying in the studio all alone until 5am and then rushing back to my dorm before the sun came up like a metalworking vampire. I’ve always gotten more done when I could be alone in the studio. Ultimately, I took so many art classes there that I inadvertently qualified for a double-major (English AND Studio Arts)…so that was pretty cool, just signing a form and already having earned an extra degree! Sweetness.

3. You have several items that incorporate different gems and metals. I also noticed that in your item descriptions each has it's own symbolism. The same goes with the overall shape of your pieces. I have a million questions about your process, but I will start with this... Where does your inspiration come from?

Artists always say their inspiration comes from “the world around them”, and that could be anything and everything, and it’s true, but to narrow it down a bit, my inspiration has always come from a combination of romance, magic, and the night, which is of course best embodied by beautiful, creative women with keen intellect, disarming humor and exultant femininity. 

A woman like that becomes my muse by sparking those emotions that compel me to design. There have been a rare handful, less than a handful in fact, but my fiancé Mohini is the most powerful muse I have had. It’s not like your muse shows up and you grab a sketch book and start riffing, though. For me its that they create this warehouse of powerful, widely varied emotions in me that I generally tap into with music. So I use music as they key to open the floodgates…usually very moody music, whether dreamy like Sigur Ros and Goldfrapp, dark and wounded like Bauhaus or Fields of the Nephilim, or adrenalin-charged like Cradle of Filth or Rammstein—different music channels different designs, but all filtered through me, so they all have my distinct style in common. In fact, I’ve started writing the songs I was listening to (often on repeat, to hold onto a particularly productive emotion/mood) when I have designing sessions. 

4. How often would you say you get the idea for a piece based on a specific stone? Symbol? Emotion?

If I get the idea for a piece from a specific stone, it almost always ends up being a really involved, signature piece—but it has to be a kick-ass stone for that, so it’s not usually where I get my ideas. I am always buying stones, however, kind of the way a painter buys paints—to have the colors (and vibrations/energies each stone possesses) available on my palette when I finally get to work. I don’t often get inspired by symbols, though—I have much more of an impulse to create my own symbols. I’d have to say that Emotion, with a capital “E” is where I get about 95% of my ideas for pieces. When a powerful emotion hits (or sneaks ups on me), whether it’s joy or contentment, anger, lust, or a seething self-pity, a switch in me gets hit, and the moment I’m alone I have to start designing. 

5. Just get some sort of idea on what your process is like, granted it is probably different for each piece, what was your process like from getting an idea to the finish product for your Cupid's Thorn Band of Eternity bracelet?

Well, I tend to design with a lot of dimension, sort of in defiance of manufactured simplicity—like, why not go upward and outward and use all three dimensions, y’know? I’d been designing of lot of high-relief pieces, which tend to feel more dramatic and aggressive, when a conversation I was having with friends inspired and excited me about going in a softer and traditional direction for the next piece. During a little private jewelry-making class I was teaching, during the red-wine-drinking lesson, my fiancé and I were listening to a friend’s general complaints about finding “the one” and why it was so “friggin’ hard,” and like many of my fiance’s friends (99% of whom are surprisingly single), she’s a smart, attractive, fiercely independent woman. It occurred to me while discussing how smiling more, being more open, and initiating eye-contact more might make her more “approachable,” that I could design a piece with a very specific intent for her particular romantic issues. I figured it would be easier to design a piece whose intent was to make a love match find her more approachable than to actually get her to change old habits--prescription jewelry, I suppose. 

So I began designing my own version of a more traditional scrolling design, which is very feminine, chose the stone which not only felt right visually and viscerally, but also one whose properties fell in line with my intent for the piece. The idea was that all of these physical elements together, along with my intent, which was purposefully worked into the piece as I designed, cut, soldered and wrought it, would act as a kind of Cupid talisman for the wearer…even a fiercely independent, stand-offish, sarcastic wearer.

6. After really taking the time to look at your work, I am fairly certain that I could pick your work out anywhere or, at the very least, compare others work to yours. What do you think makes your work stand out?

I like to think what makes my work stand out is that when I design, one of my prime intents is to make a piece that could be thought of as “treasure”…something bold, beautiful, romantic and powerful--and in doing that, I don’t observe any preconceived notions about what jewelry should be.
 There was a time long ago when jewelry symbolized more than simple wealth and adornment; it was part of arcane symbolism, of legends and supernatural energies…I’m doing my part to bring jewelry back to that. 

7. Have you ever made pieces for men to wear or considered it?

I have made several pieces for myself and a few items for friends, and friends’ boyfriends, and some specially commissioned pieces, but nowhere near the volume of pieces I make for women. I’ve intended to make a men’s line for a long time now, and I have friends in men’s retail and in costuming that have asked me to produce a series for men, but I’ve been lagging on that. Maybe it’s just that as a man I’m much more motivated to make special items for women…that, and the fact that women purchase much more jewelry than men do may be a factor…but I’m open to making almost anything for anyone.

8. What item that is currently for sale in your shop is your favorite and why?

Looking my collection, it’s not easy to choose a favorite, because each piece, for me, is like a distillation of a feeling or a vision—so it’s like choosing a favorite daydream or memory, but if pressed, I’d have to say that “The Secret Dragonband of Melusine” is my favorite.

That’s a piece that when I look at it, I think to myself that I was really in the zone when I was making it—like looking at something I made while I was in a trance after snapping-out-of-it, because the amount of work it takes to pull a piece like that together is immense, and just the thought of making it, (if I had to make it again, exhausts me!) So in this detached way I’m kind of amazed at my past self for jumping right in there and doing it, when the present me might lazily take a pass, knowing how involved it would be. I put pretty much every technique I know into it—casting, piercing, cutting, layering, forging, and stone-setting; not to mention a lot of intense thought and emotional energy into the design and intent. 

For me it feels like I accomplished my objective of making “treasure” rather than just jewelry, something of significance beyond it’s beauty or monetary value. It feels like an artifact that may have belonged to a legendary figure from history, historical or fictional. I feel like I would be in awe of the woman whose arm I envision it on. By doing one-of-a-kind pieces, I’m able to maintain that enthusiasm for each piece that keeps me going when things get challenging. Making something you’ve never seen before makes you excited about how it’ll come out, and that enthusiasm tends to trump laziness and procrastination.

9. In my opinion, you must think very highly of women to devote so much time into a piece of jewelry that has a special symbolism in every part of it. What is it about women that you love or appreciate the most that separates them from most men?

I DO think very highly of women, I think that more men, and more of women, for that matter, should as well. I love a women’s allure, the flash of their eyes when thoughts are sparking, the warm wash of excitement when a woman smiles and means it, the way flipping their hair in a certain way can send my pulse and thoughts racing, the way they adjust their posture when they want to be noticed, the way we as men are powerless NOT to notice when they walk into or out of a room, the way a woman becomes more powerful and compelling the SOFTER she speaks, while for men it’s just the opposite. In a very real way, I believe the design of a woman is unquestionably of divine origin, to be so perfectly poised to rule with a whisper, and be a more powerful being the more she embodies her unique feminine power. A woman fully embodying her femininity is the most powerful being on earth—and so I’m sometimes puzzled that masculine power is so envied by so many. Masculine energy is designed to deal with conflict, aggression, and problem-solving, while feminine energy is creative, inspiring, emboldening, healing and absolutely essential for peace. Quite simply, feminine energy is magic. 

I don’t think it’s simply an issue of idealizing women, because I’ve actually known women who perfectly embody themselves—my mother was one of those women, and I am in heartfelt awe of women like that. It gives me this very privileged reference point of knowing that striking an awe-inspiring balance between strength, intellect and femininity is always possible for a woman.
, and humanity truly needs that balance.

10. In your shop profile you describe your pieces as something you, "...make jewelry for a very special kind of woman. A woman at ease with her feminine power, a woman with a curious and enthusiastic mind, a woman with a sense of mischief, a sense of humor, and an undeniable sensuality." Reading this, I believe that you are an artist that not only has a lot of respect for women, but views them in a slightly different light than most would, including women themselves. So often people will take something harmless and whimsical and turn it into a weakness and not a strength. It is easy to turn your descriptions into something negative like crazy, bipolar, slutty, promiscuous, unrealistic... Why do you think that is? And how do you think this has effected women?

I really think that there is an imbalance spreading through the world, imbalance that is throwing-off how men and women relate to one another, and I feel that it’s partly because many women have been convinced that they have to adopt a more masculine energy to counter the existing injustices and imbalances of power in the world from which women have long suffered, when it’s really kind of a power-downgrade for a woman to do so. Feminine energy is power enough to accomplish any and everything a woman wishes. Look around the world at places where masculine energy holds absolute dominion, places where women’s feminine energy and influence is silenced, they are the most oppressive, aggressive, violent, and arguably cruel societies in existence. Yet it feels as if women in America can’t trade their uniquely feminine power in fast enough for the kind that men wield. The world desperately needs feminine energy—not female subjugation or repression, but that unique formulation of qualities and energy that only women can add to the male-female equation so that humankind doesn’t tear itself apart with aggression and dysfunction. Evolution designed us differently, but of EQUAL importance in what we as men and women bring to the table—we can’t forfeit either without tragic consequences…and we’re beginning to see some of those consequences. 

As a man, I know that we’re designed to respond to aggression with aggression, contempt with contempt—and historically, aggression and contempt came from other men, our competitors, not women. Now that many old, but really very essential gender identifiers are being tossed-out as sacrifices to the gods of perceived equality; and congeniality and charm is on the decline, the instinctual rules are breaking-down, and aggression and judgment is flying in every direction. How to be a “real” man when being knightly or a gentleman is mistaken for misogyny, how to be a “real” woman, when charm and passion can be mistaken for naivetee and sluttiness? We’ve got to give each other the benefit of the doubt, that the majority of men are not trying to take women’s power, and a majority of women aren’t trying to take men’s balls. Smiling, communicating, and understanding helps.

11. Your profile also says, "I have heard some say "where could I wear that?" The answer? Anywhere. When is the right time to be mysterious, alluring and dramatic? be beautiful and unique? Anytime." Would you please explain your answer?

For me it’s summed-up by a memory I have of a night out on the town when I was in college. My girlfriend at the time (who was a chronic jeans and Gap blouse wearer) and I were heading for the parking lot after dinner and a movie when we crossed the paths of two girls in deep-colored, dramatic vintage dresses, feather boas (not the cartoony colored ones, real ones), and hilariously high heels, laughing hysterically as they walked, falteringly falling into each other and joking, completely without self-consciousness, without affect or vanity, a little gothy, tomboyishly girly, and utterly beautiful in their daring. I felt like I’d just seen two of the women whom writers and poets wrote about, whom painters begged to paint, and whom every woman wanted as an exciting friend—the type who might get you into an unexpected adventure you’d never otherwise get into. For a moment I was completely captivated, and it seemed to me as if I’d just seen two mermaids swimming by. In other words, the sexiest most amazing woman is the woman who makes her own occasions for wearing amazing and improbable items, whose whimsical originality is what defines her character, not any established sense of propriety or practicality. It makes my think of a favorite Voltaire quote: “The superfluous is very necessary.” ~ Voltaire

12. Since I am A Ghouls Best Friend, I must ask... who is your favorite heroine in a horror film and why?

SO many horror heroines kick ass, I have to give three, with a standout among them. Gotta give Jamie Lee Curtis a spot for Halloween 1 & 2—classic scared underdog gets to the end of her rope and kicks ass! That chick in Hellraiser 2…but then, I just think Pinhead rocks as a villain. Finally, the most kickass horror heroine for me is Sigourrney Weaver as Ripley in the Alien series! I thought she was super hot back in the day, and her asskicking abilities were unmatched!

There are many places on-line where you can check out more work by Joseph Mundy. You can browse his shop on Etsy, Follow him on Twitter, and check out his Official Site

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