Interview - Julie Blyfield

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
4th of February 2011
Works by Adelaide-based jeweller Julie Blyfield - brooches from the Pressed Desert Plant series (2005), sterling silver, oxidised sterling silver, enamel paint, wax, dimensions variable.  Photo by Grant Hancock, courtesy FORM.
Julie's workshop and works in progress
New pieces from Julie's Scintilla series 2010 - photo Grant Hancock.

Adelaide-based Julie Blyfield is one of Australia’s most respected and celebrated jewellers, with a career spanning over twenty years - after originally training as a secondary school art teacher!   Julie's work is highly collectible these days, and is held in many of the most prestigious museums in the world, including  The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, and the National Gallery of Australia Canberra, and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

Julie's incredible career has recently been celebrated by a beautiful exhibition developed and curated by FORM in WA (incredible arts initiative I previously mentioned here) - entitled Julie Blyfield: Contemporary Jewellery and Objects 1990 – 2010.  The show, which brings together brand new work alongside key retrospective works, ran in Perth over summer, and opens TODAY at The Jam Factory in Adelaide!  I am WISHING it was coming to Melbourne... but I guess I'll have to settle for a squizz at Julie's work in Gallery Funaki in the meantime!

Aside from being just aesthetically stunning,  Julie's work is special in that it somehow has an unmistakable  'Australian-ness' about it - in the most delicate, understated way.  So very rare!  Somehow in the minute details of a shell collected from the beach, a seed pod, a brittle, perfectly formed anenome, Julie manages to capture what is most beautiful and unique about the Australian natural landscape.  Using this natural ephemera as a starting point, Julie sketches, makes paper models, and eventually creates her jewellery and vessels in pure and sterling silver, textured by hand using fine steel tools to create intricate surface patterns.  Each piece is then finished in the most beautiful muted colours using enamel and wax.  Julie's fascination and affection for Australian flora and fauna is evident in each painstakingly handcrafted piece.

I love the quote sourced by FORM for the exhibition catalogue - so fitting and also gave me a bit of a chuckle! -

‘It was with some trepidation that I peeped around the partition of the Australian Contemporary Stand (at the International Craft Fair at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in 2006). What I found was the work of Julie Blyfield, who lovingly explicates Australian plant shapes … Such gentleness and subtlety are not often associated with my birth- place.’ - Germaine Greer

OH Germaine!  Why the constant culture cringe!? Julie must be very chuffed - it's quite a feat to have won her over!

Julie Blyfield: Contemporary Jewellery and Objects 1990 –2010

The Jam Factory, Adelaide, February 4th - March 20th 2011.

Curated by Elisha Buttler and Wendy Walker. Presented as part of the Adelaide Fringe 2011. Exhibition design and development by FORM.

Huge thanks to Julie for her time with this interview, and to Elisha at FORM for all the stunning images and exhibition info!

Julie Blyfield's work can be found at The Jam FactoryZu Design in Adelaide,  Beaver Galleries in Canberra, Object in Sydney and Gallery Funaki in Melbourne.  And of course if you're in Adelaide soon be sure to check out the exhibition!

Silver vessels by Julie Blyfield for her Scintilla series, 2010 - photo Grant Hancock.

Tell me a little about your background – what path has led you to what you’re doing now?

I originally trained as a secondary school art teacher, which gave me a broad education in many disciplines in the arts, such as printmaking, drawing, painting, photography and as well a small ‘taste’ of jewellery making.  I would make my jewellery at home and after school hours, and this led me onto further studies in jewellery night classes to learn more skills.

I eventually joined Gray Street Workshop in 1987 where I practiced for 23 years before establishing my own independent studio in 2010.

Your current exhibition spans 20 years of contemporary jewellery and objects… a very impressive chunk of time and an even more impressive body of work!  Has it been eye-opening for you to re-visit the early stages of your career whilst pulling together this show? How has your design aesthetic changed and developed over this period of time?

Yes it has been an interesting process to go back and revisit some of my earlier work.  It reminds me of things I was doing at the time, a bit like a diary.  I think my aesthetic has probably crystallised over this time, and I now utilise techniques and processes which are very comfortable and second nature to me.

Julie Blyfield, brooches from the Scintilla series (2010), oxidised sterling silver, enamel paint, wax, dimensions variable. Photos - Grant Hancock.

How do you describe your work?

Organic, inspired by botanical references and a bit playful at times.

Julie Blyfield, brooches from the Scintilla series (2010), oxidised sterling silver, enamel paint, wax, dimensions variable. Photos - Grant Hancock.

Tell us about the Gray Street Workshop - how important has it been for you to be involved with this collective and to work in an environment with other contemporary jewellers?

Working at Gray Street was very important to me as it provided me with an understanding how people work and approach their practice.  It gave me a place where I enjoyed working for many years.  I learnt a lot from working alongside other like minded contemporary jewellers who approached their work with a diverse range of materials and techniques.

Would you have any advice for emerging contemporary jewellers looking to make, exhibit and sell their work in Australia?

Yes I would say that they have to be determined, hard working and never give up. To try and surround themselves with other practitioners and not be afraid to try something new. Be open to new ideas and fresh input as this can be the catalyst for new directions and ideas.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I usually get up early, go for a walk or sometimes a swim, and then get organised to start my day as any one would by going to work – checking emails, planning what I am going to do and then I get stuck into making.

I take a break by riding on my bike to check the post. I usually work quite ordinary work hours from 9 – 5 pm during the week, stopping for a cuppa and lunch. Occassionally I work a little at weekends to meet deadlines or if I really feel like heading into the studio.

More works in progress on Julie's workbench

Where do you turn for creative inspiration when beginning a new piece or new series – nature, travel, books, the web etc?

I enjoy my garden, visiting art galleries and museums, meeting up with friends.  Every year my partner and I usually travel to the desert in winter to escape the cold and have some time out and I enjoy walking and collecting bits and pieces from these trip.

Julie Blyfield, objects from the Tinder series (2008), oxidised bronze, enamel paint, wax, dimensions variable. Photos - Grant Hancock.

Which other artists / designers / creative people do you admire?

I admire many artists and in particular contemporary jewellers - Karl Fritsch, Lucy Sarneel and metalsmith – David Huycke.

In Australia we are very fortunate to have a wonderful gallery in Melbourne – Gallery Funaki where I show my work. I admire (the late) Mari Funaki for her vision and passion in starting her own gallery whilst successfully persuing her own career.

What would be your dream creative project or collaboration?

To be resident in India for a while and see the metalwork and crafts.  I have been on many trips, so I am really content with what I have already experienced in my career.

What are you looking forward to?

Later this year I am travelling to Seattle and Chicago presenting talks and workshop which should be a great trip, however, I am also quite content to potter in my studio and keep ‘tapping’ away on my new pieces.

The Scintilla series work in progress!

Adelaide Questions

Your favourite gallery / shop/s to visit in Adelaide for locally designed jewellery and object-based work?

I usually visit Zu Design and Jam Factory.

Where do you shop in Adelaide for the tools of your trade?

Australian Jewellery Supplies and Peter Becks, Twin Plaza Metals.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Adelaide?

Kenji - contemporary Japanese on Hutt Street.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

At home or the Adelaide Central market.

Adelaide’s best kept secret?

It’s size… proximity to the beach, hills, excellent food and wine!

Julie in her Adelaide workshop!

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