Blog | Artisan Jewelry Gallery | Berkeley, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay Area & Collectors Nationally

Shibumi Gallery

Press

Sitting down with April Higashi, the mind behind Shibumi Gallery

PressApril HigashiComment

Sitting down with April Higashi, the mind behind Shibumi Gallery

by Olivia Shih

April Higashi, 2016, photo: Cynthia Wood

April Higashi, 2016, photo: Cynthia Wood

Olivia: April, you have been working in and with contemporary art jewelry for over 20 years, but I would love to hear how you began your affair with jewelry.

April: I was actually working at Esprit de Corp in the textiles department but ended up working at a computer most of my work day. I needed to work with my hands again, so I found myself at a jewelry class at San Francisco City College. Although I had always loved making in general, metal arts was very challenging­­the thought process was so different from textile and fabric, and this drew me in. The medium was an endless source for learning, so here I am still! 

April Higashi, Furattā, 2015, 22k yellow gold, leaded enamel, black onyx, steel chain, 2 7⁄8”Pendant, 33" steel chain, photo: Shibumi Gallery

April Higashi, Furattā, 2015, 22k yellow gold, leaded enamel, black onyx, steel chain, 2 7⁄8”Pendant, 33" steel chain, photo: Shibumi Gallery

Olivia: Is there an artist or a few artists who influenced you the most, whether it be in jewelry or life?

April: Yes, a few people in particular have greatly inspired me. June Schwarcz, who passed away this year, was a strong influence both in the way she created work and the way she lived her life. She not only created amazing sculptural enamel vessels, but she surrounded herself with beautiful things and creative people. I was her assistant for a few years, and we remained friends until she passed away at 97 years old. Susan Cummins, who isn’t an artist per se but owned The Susan Cummins Gallery, was a mentor. I worked for her when I was 25. She taught me that you not only have to have a strong vision that is unique to yourself, but also that your business needs to make money to stay afloat. I learned so much, watching her form a strong community around her vision.

Olivia: Both June and Susan are innovators in the contemporary jewelry field, but have you ever been inspired by artists in other mediums?

When I was younger, I’d have said Frida Kahlo. I finally got to visit Casa Azul in Mexico City this past year, and I was reminded that she was a true individual. She created her own style and community of creative and intellectual people. She didn’t have an easy life, but it was definitely interesting and inspiring. She loved, lived, and created. She knew what she wanted and went after it, even if she didn’t always get it.

April Higashi, Ambā Ki, 2015, amber drops, 4.64 ctw diamonds, 18k and 22k gold, 2”, photo: Shibumi Gallery

April Higashi, Ambā Ki, 2015, amber drops, 4.64 ctw diamonds, 18k and 22k gold, 2”, photo: Shibumi Gallery

Olivia: I love that. It's clear to any visitor that Shibumi Gallery is a work of labor and love. What was your vision for the gallery when you first opened?

April: As I mentioned, I had worked for Susan Cummins at her gallery. I’d also been one of the early artists at Velvet da Vinci and had done display work for De Novo Gallery. What I took away from these experiences was this: show work beautifully. Show new work that hasn’t been seen by everyone. Show work from colleagues you respect and from upcoming talent you feel have unique vision. Show artful but wearable work. Always pay the artist before you pay yourself. Make the clients feel comfortable and welcome in your space. Connect them with the right piece that looks good on them. Listen to who they are. Share the things in life you love.

April Higashi, Matte Black Onyx and Bronze with Black Diamond Bead Necklace, 2015, black onyx, bronze, black diamonds, 19”, photo: Shibumi Gallery

April Higashi, Matte Black Onyx and Bronze with Black Diamond Bead Necklace, 2015, black onyx, bronze, black diamonds, 19”, photo: Shibumi Gallery

Olivia: Those are inspiring values to live and work by. You’re currently based in Berkeley, California, right? Can you describe what your environment is like and how it influences your life and work?

April: I am an extrovert inside an introvert’s body. I created an aesthetic environment in the gallery where I hope the beauty will draw one in. I want the space to speak for itself, so I don’t have to. The jewelry is usually displayed with twisted branches and driftwood and metalwork by my son’s father, Eric Powell, who is a metal sculptor and made all of the displays and the gallery doors. My gallery is connected to my studio and a larger design open space where my six­ year­ old son loves to draw. There is a modern earthy flavor to the space with organic elements­­accents of walnut, steel and art that I have collected or traded over the years. I’ve been told that the space seems creative and considered. I love that description.

Furattā II, 2015, 22k & 18k gold,black onyx, diamonds, 1 5⁄8”, photo: ShibumiGallery

Furattā II, 2015, 22k & 18k gold,black onyx, diamonds, 1 5⁄8”, photo: ShibumiGallery

Olivia: Shibumi really does resonate with Berkeley, with its respect for slow, considered craft and embracing nature. What is a working day at this East Bay gallery like?

April: Every day is different. If I’m lucky I’ll go for a short run or go get my new favorite coffee drink, a Gibraltar. Then I’ll do a few emails, check the calendar for client appointments, then browse and post to Instagram before heading to the gallery. Once there, I check in with my goldsmiths, look over and comment on completed work, and go over the day’s priorities to form a game plan.

Olivia: And that’s just your morning?

April: Yes! Afterwards, I’ll check in with my staff who has usually set up the gallery and is working away. I might see clients, do custom designs or quotes, work on new pieces, check in with galleries or artists, or work on upcoming shows. It’s never dull. Somewhere in there, I am usually doing a little coordination for my six ­year ­old son, and there you go. My day in a nutshell as jeweler, gallerist, and mother.

April Higashi, Topography Rings (Women’s), 2015, Silver, 18k, mackel diamonds, 4mm & 2.5mm, photo: Shibumi Gallery

April Higashi, Topography Rings (Women’s), 2015, Silver, 18k, mackel diamonds, 4mm & 2.5mm, photo: Shibumi Gallery

Olivia: What are the most difficult challenges you have had with being an artist and gallery owner?

April: Honestly, finding the right mix of talent for my staff and building a creative team where the dynamics are in sync has been the biggest challenge. I feel like a conductor for an orchestra. Everyone needs to work together and understand that we are a creative whole. That said, when the dynamic is good, we can create anything, and I feel so fortunate to do what I’m doing. Every day is a challenge, and I feel lucky that I can juggle it all. Some days I do better than others. I just consider myself fortunate that with my work and the gallery I can support myself, my son, my staff, and the artists I show.

April Higashi, Topography Ring ( Men's), 2015, silver, mackel diamonds, 10mm, photo: Shibumi Gallery

April Higashi, Topography Ring ( Men's), 2015, silver, mackel diamonds, 10mm, photo: Shibumi Gallery

Olivia: I have no idea how you do it, but you pull it off so beautifully. It’s been such an insightful interview ­­thank you for taking time to chat with me.

April: Thank you that’s a nice reflection.

Shibumi Gallery, 2016, photo: Cynthia Wood

Shibumi Gallery, 2016, photo: Cynthia Wood

Dependent on the Light: Jane D'Arensbourg's Sculptural Glass Jewelry & Amy Ruppel's Nature-Based Monoprints

Press, Artist ProfileApril HigashiComment

by Elka Karl

Light cannot exist without shadow; illumination seeks a surface for reflection. In Shibumi Gallery’s newest show Illume, Jane D'Arensbourg’s glass jewelry and lightingand Amy Ruppel’s monoprints serve as an enlightening example of this truth. 

Light pyramid moon.jpeg

Jane D’Arensbourg’s chosen medium, glass, is intrinsically dependent on light. How her jewelry catches, reflects, or absorbs the light changes the quality of her pieces moment by moment. At the same time, the pieces’  architectural angularity lends a framework to the deceptively delicate-seeming, yet incredibly sturdy, borosilicate glass.

A graduate of California College of Arts, where she studied sculpture, D’Arensbourg’s jewelry was initially more of an afterthought: she started making jewelry for fun and as presents to friends and family. She began working with borosilicate glass, Pyrex, in 1996, and it quickly became apparent that her sculpture and her jewelry were more closely twined than one might initially imagine.  D’Arensbourg’s jewelry exists as sculpture in miniature, displaying architectural qualities both geometric and architectural. Indeed, it is as natural to think of her pieces as wearable sculpture as it is straight jewelry.

IMG_5009 - Version 2.jpeg

“I look at my jewelry as wearable art that can be enjoyed and experienced physically as well as brought to everyone the wearer comes in contact with. I almost feel like I am tricking customers into buying art, since jewelry is much more accessible to the general public. I also feel that everyone should experience and enjoy art,” explains D’Arensbourg. “I feel like my glass jewelry is very grounding. It is super strong. I wear my glass necklaces and rings everyday. Wearing glass reminds you that nothing last forever, and to enjoy the present.”

D’Arensbourg has also created a line of rings that are cast in metal. This new amalgamation creates a hybrid look to the rings impossible to achieve in glass or metal alone. “I like the way the quality of the fluidity of the glass forms translates into metal. The rings look like they could be mirrored glass, or drops of mercury.”

IMG_5026 - Version 2.jpeg

Initially imposing to the new observer, it is a pleasure to watch gallery patrons move from delicately examining and testing her rings to enthusiastically experimenting with their use and adaptability. HerDouble Triangle Ring can be worn several ways, depending on which finger or angle is preferred, while the Side Loop Ring presents an interesting puzzle for the wearer to solve.  

D’Arensbourg’s rings in particular most closely reflect her background in sculpture. “I look at the rings as if they are models for large scale sculpture. It's fun for me to design a ring that isn't so obvious how it is worn or that it's even a ring. Making a form that is comfortable and wearable as a ring and interesting on its own as a sculptural object is a fun challenge for me.”

JD 144.png

D’Arensbourg has also branched into lighting, another form of sculpture in many ways. Her lighting work was first showcased at Gallery Lulo in April of 2013. It was the first real launch of her lighting work, and very well received. She also designed and created the lighting for her husband’s restaurant, Fung Tu, in Manhattan. She notes, “I have been interested in creating sculptural lighting pieces for a while. A lot of my sculpture and installations utilize light as a way to create shadows when shining on the glass, which creates another layer to the work. Putting lighting in my work was a very natural progression. It was a great opportunity to do all the lighting in my husband’s restaurant. The designs that I created were influenced by Chinese lattice patterns. It was a very natural progression from the lighting I had developed up to that point.”

Amy Ruppel’s Nature-Based Monoprints

Also showcased in Illume are Portland-based artistAmy Ruppel’s monprints, which also experiment with the relationship between shadow and light. The monoprint technique creates a quality of light impossible to achieve from painting on paper, and uniquely combines painting, printmaking and drawing techniques. Essentially a printed painting, no two monoprints are alike. Known as the most painterly method among the printmaking techniques, monoprints use on no etched lines or textures in the plate surface.

IcebergPort15_det_22x30.jpeg

Ruppel works primarily in the subtractive dark-field method, in which an entire plate is covered with a thin layer of ink. To create the image, the artist then removes ink from the plate using rags, brushes, elements from nature, and other tools. The medium is imbued with a sense of spontaneity, simplicity and uncertainty. Ruppel notes that she likes “that a swath of removed ink can be beautiful, and even more beautiful when it’s something unexpected. Working in the subtractive method, as I do, leaves a lot of room for happy accidents. There is no end to what kinds of marks one can make. I love that the ink pulls back, as if it doesn’t want to be removed from the plate. A give and take that emits surprising results.”

 

Ruppel has only been working in monoprints for the past year, but her interest in printmaking goes back to her undergraduate days at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. While she has worked primarily as an artist and illustrator for many years, Ruppel has noted that working in ink has been a homecoming of sorts. This reintroduction to monoprints was enabled by San Francisco-based Three Fish Studios. Owner/artists Eric and Annie, good friends of Amy’s, sold her their Conrad etching press and drove it to her in Portland. From the time it was set up in her studio, she has been steadily producing prints.

ShedAntlerStudy3_det_22x30.jpeg

Ruppel’s monprints reflect her love for and connection to nature.  Indeed, it seems difficult to imagine Ruppel’s art without a deep consideration for nature.  “I would be lost without nature. I grew up in the woods, and need to return to a forest often to ‘recharge’, so to speak,” notes Ruppel. “The Japanese know this is a necessity in life, and call it shinrin-yoku.A sort of medicinal forest bathing. Just ten minutes of nature exposure can improve clarity and refocus the mind. I am lucky enough to live a mere 25 minutes from the Columbia River Gorge, where there are an endless amount of hiking trails in lush forests above waterfalls and streams. I like to go out at sunrise and be the first on the trail. Not a bad way to start the day, and be inspired.”

 

All of the prints in Ruppel’s Illume show feature nature images:  moths, moons, antlers, and icebergs rise from her ink. “Many of my subjects derive from elements of nature that I am fascinated by. I like to create imagery that the painterly markmaking lends its unique qualities to… the soft hairs of a moths back, the texture of an antler, the surface of the moon. All are created by dragging a soft rag or brush across the surface of the ink, either by removing it or simply pushing it aside.”

MothStudy1_full_22x30HIRES.jpg

As for the wabi-sabi nature of the monprint medium, Ruppel embraces it. “Each print is one of a kind. I can recreate the same image, but it will never be the same as the one before it. I love small imperfections, such as where my sleeve or wrist may have tapped the plate and pulled some ink away, which is not revealed until I pull a print. I love not knowing exactly what is going to appear on the paper. This would drive some people crazy! But I love it.”

Working in black and white, opposed to a multitude of colors, allows Ruppel to focus on the tension between darkness and light, and the importance of the lines of the prints. “Working in one dark color lets the texture and markings shine through. [Working in the] subtractive process—the taking away of ink from a fully covered plate to create an image—allows for so many subtle lines and patterns, completely unseen until a print is pulled and the ink has transferred to the paper.”

Illume runs from March 28 - May 31, 2015 at Shibumi Gallery.

Respecting the Gesture: An Investigation of Objects (Raissa Bump + Jonathan Anzalone)

Artist Profile, PressApril HigashiComment
Strandline: grouping

Strandline: grouping

On any given beach, it’s easy to find the strandline: just look for the length of driftwood, detritus, and scrap that create an undulating path upon the sand, directly above the water line. 

Jonathan Anzalone + Raïssa Bump

Jonathan Anzalone + Raïssa Bump

For jeweler Raïssa Bump and painter/woodworker Jonathan Anzalone, this debris field provides a wealth of material and insight for their show “Strand Line.” From such disparate inspirations as bottle caps, paper clips, and driftwood, Raïssa and Jonathan, who outside of this collaboration are also studio and life partners, have created a show that speaks to commodification and its inherent presence in even the wildest pockets of nature. However, instead of passing judgment on a culture of excess, “Strand Line” chooses to amplify moments of subtle beauty from these collected materials, displaying them in new ways through mobiles, kinetic and fixed sculpture, and jewelry.

“We did walk a lot on the beach, literally on the strandline collecting these things. It’s fun for us to go out and draw inspiration from it and to make things from these parts and pieces,” explained Raïssa. “This show is a culmination of years of collecting, and looking for colors, little bits of shape, and composition.” 

When asked about what they look for when walking the strandline, Jonathan explained, “You see those compositions and bits of color that are exciting and you bend down to pick them up it has a little story: there’s the beginning of what it was, it’s been worn down and weathered and became another shape, but still references something we often know. I like the idea of taking these pieces and arranging them and enabling one to see it from a different perspective, and quite beautiful when you put it in a different context and arrange it.”  

Indeed, Strand Line is a beautifully arranged exhibition. Raïssa and Jonathan went so far as to ask Shibumi Gallery owner April Higashi to hide the numbers identifying each piece for the sale directory during the opening. This way, the colors and shapes of all of the pieces weren’t marred by tiny round stickers. The resulting flow of the show, its interconnectedness of material and composition, is undeniable. 

Miscellaneous earrings; photo by tiny jeweler photography  

Miscellaneous earrings; photo by tiny jeweler photography
 

   Mesh Isosoles Triangle Earrings; mesh and sterling silver, copper. photo by tiny jeweler photography  

 

Mesh Isosoles Triangle Earrings; mesh and sterling silver, copper.
photo by tiny jeweler photography
 

A sense of interconnection, balance, and proportion all played large roles in the show. “Balance and proportion—or lack of—is a big part of both of our work,” explained Jonathan. “Balance is a recurring theme. We’re both formalists, colorists, minimalists, We both share that delicate balance and how sensitive some of these compositions are. They look very simple, but they’re highly considered.”

Mobile Detail photo by April Higashi

Mobile Detail
photo by April Higashi

Perhaps the most evident examples of this delicate balance are the mobiles that Jonathan and Raïssa created. The mobiles, including “Mobile Footprint,” “Confluent,” “Catenary,” and “Bow,” are a natural extension of both artists’ emphasis on balance, of creating harmony between all of the objects, whether they were found or made. “That’s where the idea of the mobile came from,” noted Jonathan. “It was a perfect way to have these objects exist together without a hierarchy. No one object was more important than the other, it’s just a balancing act and a collaboration between all of these materials.”

Bow; sterling silver, copper, found object, wood, 22k gold leaf, nylon. photo by tiny jeweler photography

Bow; sterling silver, copper, found object, wood, 22k gold leaf, nylon.
photo by tiny jeweler photography

A meditation on shape—particularly on grids, hexagons, and puzzles—also guides Strand Line, as does use of color. Raïssa’s background in textile design and techniques serves as a guide for many of the pieces in Strand Line in terms of both construction and color“I knew that for this show I wanted to bring back more color,” she explains. “Jonathan and I share a love for color, and it was great to bring color back for this exposition.” One of the most vibrant examples of color use is the sterling and fine silver, copper, and glass bead “Colorful Equilateral Triangle Brooch,” which consists of five separate shapes, including triangles, a square, and a rhombus, all of which can be rearranged, grouped, and worn however one desires.

As for the emphasis on shape, Raïssa explains that it was a helpful tool for focusing and creating boundaries. “We noticed in our studios separately that the hexagon was coming up at different moments. We also were interested in the tangram puzzle, puzzles in general, and how you can put things together in different ways. It was fun to see what can happen within the boundary of a shape, such as breaking a hexagon up into different shapes and putting it back together—the interknit possibilities of what can happen within a very structured pattern.”

In the end though, this show is primarily about respecting the gesture of each original material or object. For instance,Untitled, a mounted wall sculpture, is made from kelp, paint, and sterling silver. The kelp that Jonathan found on the strandline of the same beach was twisted in two arresting spirals. Jonathan cut a clean line on each end of the two spirals, bound them together, and painted one side black and one white. The resulting piece is a mesmerizing study in captured motion.

 “For me a lot of my studio practice is collecting these objects, having them around me, and sometimes using them,” explained Raïssa. “The ideas come to me through the making process. I save a lot of pieces throughout the years as explorations that don’t become finished objects the moment they’re made, but maybe years later. This show was an exciting way for me to level the playing field between high and low, between precious and not precious, between manmade and natural.”

Strand Line: Raïssa Bump and Jonathan Anzalone can be seen at Shibumi Gallery through October 5th. 

Written by Elka Karl

Polly Wales and Jo Hayes Ward

Artist Profile, PressApril HigashiComment

Shibumi Gallery, Berkeley, California, USA 

Missy Graff for Art Jewelry Forum

pw1.jpg

Opulence was on display from February 4–24 at Shibumi Gallery, located in Berkeley, California, USA. This exhibition featured works by two British jewelry artists—Polly Wales and Jo Hayes Ward. In this interview, Polly and Jo provide us with insight about their process and the concept behind their pieces. 

Missy Graff: Please tell me about your background. How did you become interested in making jewelry? 

Polly Wales: I initially studied sculpture, but I couldn't really come to grips with the convoluted language of fine art. It felt so removed. After a few years, I wasn’t sure why I was trying to communicate in what felt like such an indirect form. A few years later, my passion for making drove me back to the university, where I studied jewelry. I loved making for making's sake and making decisions from an aesthetic viewpoint rather than a totally intellectualized one. That said, for the first few years of my jewelry career I was still in pursuit of marrying the two, and it was while I was studying at the Royal College of Art (alongside Jo Hayes Ward) that I began my investigation into casting materials together. I was making jewelry that never had a perfect moment; a moment of shiny newness that heralded, somehow, the beginning of the end; or jewelry that demanded to be kept pristine, polished, and safeguarded. So, I started casting stones inside the metal, creating pieces that always had unique outcomes, and if worn forever and a day, would always be changing and revealing something new, the gold wearing away to reveal the stones buried within. This process became the backbone of my work.

Jo Hayes Ward: I have been making since I was a child. I started making jewelry out of wire and beads using my dad's soldering iron when I was about twelve. Years later, I learned metalwork and silversmithing at art school. I didn't actually make any jewelry until I began working as an assistant with three different London jewelers. This was an invaluable experience that led me to do a masters in goldsmithing at the Royal College of Art in 2004. Upon graduating, I launched my first fine jewelry collection.

Can you please describe the work you are presenting at Shibumi Gallery? 

Polly Wales: The pieces that I am showing at Shibumi are a selection from my Classic Crystal Collection, which have stones cast throughout. I also included some of my newer diamond and bridal pieces.

Jo Hayes Ward: I am presenting large structural rings and pendants constructed from hundreds of minute cubic or hexagonal units. Due to the faceting and textures on the units, the pieces catch the light in quite an unusual way and really come alive when worn. Also on display are interlocking hex rings in three shades of gold, again built from a shimmering pattern of angled hexagonal units and set with diamonds.

pw2.jpg
pw3.jpg
pw4.jpg

Jo, your jewelry reflects a geometric and digital aesthetic. What drew you to this style? How does this distinguish you from other artists in the field? Who are your major influences?

Jo Hayes Ward I love to build things, which is essentially what I do when designing jewelry. Early in my career, I discovered Computer Aided Design (CAD). I used it simply because I was unable to achieve the intricate and complex pieces that I wanted to make by hand. I now use 3D computer modeling programs and 3D printing as tools to craft much of my work. My influences are the artists Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt, among others.

pw5.jpg

Polly, your pieces have an eroded look. What inspires your work?

Polly Wales: The look of the pieces was really an outcome of my experimental investigation into creating new materials. I wanted to create materials that change and evolve as you wear them. That process, in itself, became my sole pursuit. The aesthetic is very much defined by the process of casting the stones in place. It’s a pretty high risk and crazy way to work. I’m always trying to refine what I do and push what is possible at the same time.

Polly, who are your major influences? When I look at the images, I gather they are an eclectic mix of ancient and modern.

Polly Wales: I love Byzantine jewelry, Indian jewelry, and like every British jeweler, I am currently fascinated with the Cheapside Hoard. The women who wear my jewelry have also played a major role in how the collections have evolved. The work has been influenced by seeing how women wear it and live in it.

Were you familiar with each other’s jewelry before being chosen for this exhibition? Do you see any connections between your works? 

Polly Wales: Jo is one of my best friends! What we have is pretty unique. We have travelled parallel paths through our careers since we first met at the RCA. However, our work is so different that there has never been anything we haven't been able to share with each other. Jo's work is about meticulous thought and consideration. Everything in her work is exact. The outcomes are defined before leaving the computer screen. On the flipside, my work invites chaos at every step of the way, from making the waxes to the casting. I don't know what will come out until it's finished in front of me. All that said, I think we marry up pretty well. How well our jewelry sits together sums up our friendship nicely!

Jo Hayes Ward: Yes! We met 10 years ago on the first day of college at the RCA, and we have been best mates ever since! At face value, the aesthetics of our works are very different, but I think we tackle similar themes, and we both work with intricate detail and strive to make unique wearable treasures. I love what Polly does. We offer great support to each other.

pw6.jpg
pw7.jpg

Can you please tell me about the British jewelry community? Would you describe it as active? 

Polly Wales: We have a unique jewelry culture, and it is reflected in our jewelry community. It’s much smaller than elsewhere, and British women do not buy much fine jewelry for themselves. Stepping outside of the UK has been very liberating. It has given me so much freedom. I have found an amazing amount of support and friendship in the US, and that is where I feel like part of a community.

Jo Hayes Ward: There are a lot of very interesting and fantastic designers involved, but the market in the UK is very small and fairly conservative. Over the past couple of years, I have been part of a group called the Rock Vault. We show new work twice a year at London’s Fashion Week. The work is curated by the jewelry designer Stephen Webster and The British Fashion Council. The idea is to make fine jewelry from London more visible in the fashion industry. The venture has given me and the 10 or so other designers a great deal of international exposure. Last summer, we all exhibited at the Couture show in Las Vegas, something I am planning to do again this year. 

 

pw8.jpg

What are you reading that you can recommend? 

Polly Wales: It's been three years since I have read anything of substance. I will start again soon!

Jo Hayes Ward: Nothing right now. There is no time between running the business and family life. I have a two-and-a-half-year old plus a three-month old who keep me busy day and night!

Thank you.

Original article from the AJF blog can be found at:

http://www.artjewelryforum.org/ajf-blog/missy-graff/polly-wales-and-jo-hayes-ward 

Michi

PressApril HigashiComment
Michi1.jpeg

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.

              Kuro Pendant, black coral, 1.32ct organic crystal diamonds, 18kyg, 19.5", 2013

              Kuro Pendant, black coral, 1.32ct organic crystal diamonds, 18kyg, 19.5", 2013

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.

                              Morpho Pendant, Morpho wing, 22k gold, palladium, 20", 2013

                             Morpho Pendant, Morpho wing, 22k gold, palladium, 20", 2013

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.

         Sango Pendant, rose cut emerald, diamonds, silver cast coral, 18kyg, leather

        Sango Pendant, rose cut emerald, diamonds, silver cast coral, 18kyg, leather

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."

                             So Necklace, black tourmaline, black diamonds, bronze, 2013

                             So Necklace, black tourmaline, black diamonds, bronze, 2013

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