April Higashi has been working as a contemporary art jeweler, gallerist and curator in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years. She has made her name on her skillful and abstract style of enameling. But of late has become increasingly recognized for her combinations of rose cut stones, natural diamonds and precious metals to create rich color fields, unique textures and unexpected relationships. The aesthetic she has developed is organic yet refined creating contemporary pieces with an aura of antiquity.
In the recent exhibition, Michi, Higashi continues to experiment with materials incorporating white gold, high-karat yellow gold and bronze alongside more surprising materials including wings of butterflies and moths. The work focuses on minimal settings and highly crafted custom closures in order to compliment the striking collection of stones such as Peruvian opal, black tourmaline and quartz. The use of leather is applied to several pieces, giving the otherwise resplendent collection a down to earth sensibility.
Worth noting, this show illustrates a shift happening in Higashi’s work seen first in late 2011, in which her well known enamels of vibrant patterns where left behind for a more sparse imagery with soft white backgrounds. Of these pieces, “Ma” Brooch (painted enamel, oxidized silver, 18k yellow gold, and diamond slices) stands out, exhibiting a single bare branch, rendered fuzzy as if seen through thick fog. About this shift in process Higashi said, “I wanted to arrive at a subtle beauty that gives the viewer a sense of calm. This quiet place is a space that I crave, even if only enjoyed for the smallest moments.” Moving away from the abstract patterns informed by nature, these new enamels were more direct and functioned as small homages to the awe-inspiring effect of nature.
Presented alongside these new enamels were works such as Shiro Brooch, which effectively replaced the reference of nature for the real thing. Shiro Brooch (fossilized coral, black diamonds, 24 & 18k gold) offered the viewer a relic from the past. Embellished very sparingly with a faux branch fabricated from gold and set with black diamonds, the piece was simultaneously a feat of elaborate repair and a new creation of beauty.
The work presented in her recent show Michi continues in this vein, moving away from enamels painted with nature as subject in favor of the use of specific elements themselves. Morpho Pendant (sterling silver, 18k yellow gold, quartz, Morpho butterfly wing, palladium chain) consists of an impressive iridescent butterfly wing set in a gold bezel and protected by a crystal clear triangular shaped quartz cabochon. In this piece Higashi offers us the very coveted object of beauty on a platter. The result is amore direct connection with Higashi's sense of wild and imperfect beauty and less of a dreamy yearning that her past enamels imbued.
Other pieces in the show illustrate a degree of removal from the objects Higashi is inspired by, in particular Emerald Sango Pendant (sterling silver, rose cut emerald, diamonds, 22k and 18k yellow gold, leather) where one of the components is a piece of coral that has been cast and made into a silver pendant. Our attention is set on the amazing and delicate patterning of a coral branch, which invited our imagination to drift to the original piece of coral of which the casting was made.
In addition to simple, clean presentations of natural materials, Higashi continues with her augmentation of the found objects she uses in her jewelry. These pieces present themselves as a layering of Higashi's own unique sense of beauty. In Kuro Black Coral Pendant (Black coral, organic crystal diamonds, 18kyg) a large piece of coral is set between two gold end caps and strung with a thick gold chain. The coral is sprinkled with raw diamonds, riveted on with high karat gold. Another good example of this aesthetic is So Necklace (black tourmaline, black diamonds, bronze) where a strand of raw black tourmaline beads are interrupted by a hand fabricated bronze bead of similar shape and size, set with small sparkling black diamonds. The bead is an augmented section of the strand and highlights the asymmetrical shapes and deep black dolor found in the tourmaline beads. Of these pieces Higashi explains, "I continue to see things in layers, but instead of painting actual layers of enamels I juxtapose shapes, usually organic, to see a relationship of multiples that becomes more poetic and visually dynamic than one."
While much is changing in Higashi's work her own special interest in the beauty of imperfection remains a strong element of her creative process and is a thread that can be seen throughout this current collection. Her ability to recognize and embrace unusual materials and transform them into highly crafted pieces of jewelry allows Higashi to continually present us with work that is fascinatingly beautiful. Of this continual process of creation Higashi says, "I am inspired by my clients, their style and the way they wear my work. I feel that they are drawn to wear the work for the same reason I create it, expression. And by mixing older pieces with new it allows my work to slowly fade into the wearer and leave me."
review by Ahna Adair