“Keep learning and practicing what you have learned. As an artist, I believe that knowing the concepts of science is as important as knowing how to make jewelry.”
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Be inspired! Area of Design was honored to interview the iconic jewelry artist, Wallace Chan. Our interview starts with his journey into intricate designed jewelry and carved gemstones, also known as ‘The Wallace Cut’, to his artistic influences.
How did you get into the realm of jewelry?
As a child, I used to make plastic flowers then I became a sculpture apprentice at 16. I found that the workshop would make the same designs over and over again, piece by piece. I remember thinking that if they make the exact same sculpture, why not use a more effective way? So I started experimenting on my own with different metals and mechanisms to make figures. I began encountering different gemstones, from the basic opaque ones to transparent and colored. Even though they were very small gems, I learned about the materials and began to create and carve.
Some of my first clients were from Japan in the 80s. They were fond of my cameo and intaglio carving; this style had become very popular in Japan through Western influences, such as the monarchy in the UK. My clients would purchase my carvings and would ask me to make them wearable. I went to factories to study and observe settings and techniques and I taught myself how to create jewelry.
Who were your main influences growing up?
I was first introduced to Michelangelo through books. I was young and became fascinated by his sculptures and how he used light in his techniques. Later on I discovered da Vinci’s Golden Ratio and Divine Proportion. I was drawn into a world of possibilities and perfection, the concepts of balance between light, color, form and dimensions became fundamental to my own carving and cutting techniques.
Dalí’s works always make me think and ponder illusions in this world. The irrationality behind his motifs certainly stimulated my thoughts on the combination of different elements in my creations, such as pairing titanium with wood.
Mondrian, on the other hand, displays balanced structure and colored geometric forms to reveal the energy of nature and our universe; this is what I see behind the diamond facets.
Lao Zi’s philosophy has inspired me to merge Zen Buddhism with artistic creation. His words motivated me to break free from conventional limitations within our physical dimensions and always strive for unknown. The Buddhist concepts are recurring elements in my creations that question truth, the self and transcendence of traditional boundaries.
Any designers or artists you admire?
René Lalique, the iconic French jewelry artist and glass designer. I admire his innovative use of animal and figural motifs, combined with various materials including glass and gold, which had an impact on, not only me, but many contemporary designers.
I also admire the concept of life and death in Damien Hirst’s works. For many years, these elements have played a central role in my own creation and philosophy. I find it interesting to see how different artists contemplate this subject through different approaches.
Where did the idea and inspiration for the “Wallace Cut” originate?
When I saw the effects of the multiple exposure technique in a photography exhibition, I started to wonder whether the same effect could be achieved through gemstone carving. I had this idea in my mind for many years until I learned diamond cutting techniques. By understanding how one spot in a gemstone could be reflected multiple times, I realized that by combining faceting and 360-degree intaglios, three-dimensional engraving could be made possible.
I soon realized that the tools available on the market were not sophisticated enough for what I required. I decided that I had to learn how to create my own. I found that I could use dentist’s drill to suit my needs but, even then there were problems. The drill rotated too fast and the heat generated would crack the stone; I had to carve underwater to prevent the damage. After each stroke I made, I took the stone out of water, dried it, checked it, and put it back to the water to carve again. I lost track of time. At the end, I felt that my mind, my hands and my tools were all in one. It was my consciousness working.
Based on your experience, what professional advice can you give others?
Keep learning and practicing what you have learned. As an artist, I believe that knowing the concepts of science is as important as knowing how to make jewelry. We have to learn about our universe, and how those ideas in the universe are formed and modified constantly. Don’t be afraid to conduct interdisciplinary experiments, because everything in this world is interconnected.
In order to know how to create and design, one must know their materials. By this, I mean the knowledge on how these materials were created, how they can be manipulated and the potential of the materials. One also needs to know how to ‘measure’ this material, the cost, the time, and all the other parameters that contribute to your understanding of the subject.
Wallace Chan's Past Shows:
VIP Preview: October 27 (14:00-21:00)
October 28, 30 & 31 (12:00 – 20:00)
October 29 & November 1 (12:00 – 18:00)
Venue: Park Avenue Armory (Map), 643 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10065
Wallace Chan Stand: 36
Date: Tuesday October 24
Venue: Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street (Map)
Harvard Museum of Natural History
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