I’ve decided to do a new blog regular feature on an artist that inspires me. I don’t promise that all will be jewelry artists, as any art can inspire. Weekly on Muse Mondays, check in to see what is catching my eye. The goal is to nourish my own muse by following wherever she leads with amazement and study, but I’ll gladly share with you.
Whatever you love, begin there. -Robin Chapman
This week’s first installment features the jewelry of Grainne Morton, whose work has exploded in popularity recently.
I’ve been watching Grainne’s work for some time now, as it flittered across my Pinterest and Instagram feeds. And with an overnight trip to Houston and pops into the Museum of Fine Arts and Kuhl Linscomb, shops among the limited stockists of her work in the US, I became even more smitten. So, I sat down to do a bit more research and study. And more than just a collection of pretty images (which is plenty inspirational, but fits better on a Pinterest board), I wanted to do a little analysis. Why am I attracted? How do I characterize her work overall? What techniques does she use? How has the work evolved? What can I learn here that can guide me on my own creative journey?
Grainne is an Edinburgh-based jeweler whose website describes her work as both eclectic and contemporary, inspired by collectors and collections, comprised of found objects and precious metals. As the daughter of antique dealers, she’s a collector at heart and chose to incorporate vintage and kitsch bits into her jewelry.
The earlier pieces of her work that I first saw were complex and beautiful, built of gorgeously collaged collections of antique ephemera. This necklace gives a good example of the delicacy and beauty. As a serious lover of both mother-of-pearl and birds, this was a piece that appealed to my heart.
So how is it done? Bits and pieces are extracted from vintage jewelry, then reset into delicate bezel or prong settings. The art of collaging these disparate elements into a cohesive whole is trickier than the results might suggest. The rhythm of the pieces are lovely, achieving balance without being perfectly matched. The workmanship is superb. The overarching themes for each piece bring cohesion.
Those older pieces also included a wide array of asymmetric earrings, which have been a favorite of mine. I love how these earrings utilize similar shapes and color to build the structure, but then there is variation. The rhythm is excellent, a perfect use of push/pull: smooth and carved, transparent and opaque, matte and shiny.
The newer work that has come with the high prominence is a bit more contemporary, more streamlined, an intriguing combination of opposing trends towards minimalism and boho revival.
Chandelier earrings, especially those featuring eyes have been hugely popular.
And simpler styles and less expensive items are now available, for those admirers who can’t afford one of the aspirational pieces.
Minimalist charm necklaces have also been prevalent, using antique charms, buttons, and stones. All these contemporary pieces are much simpler in technique, with simple bezel or prong set charms and classic wire connectors.
Press has picked her up and suddenly she’s a phenomenon. but it’s interesting to see the curve of her career. She earned a post-graduate degree in jewelry from Edinburgh College of Art in 1993 and garnered several UK awards in the following decade. One of her earliest blog posts in 2009 shows the origins of her charm pieces in these simple fibula brooches.
Grainne won the Jerwood Arts Prize in 2007 for her narrative assemblage jewelry, and afterward focused on a series of “heritage” jewelry when she participated in CraftScotland’s exhibition at Collect 2011. She claims that it encouraged her to make a new body of work and “go for it,” working beyond the more salable pieces required for galleries. Both those latter links are videos – don’t miss her speaking about her process in her lovely Irish accent.
As a maker, I strive to analyze why I’m drawn to certain art and how it might help me move my own work forward. So, I’ve searched through the collections of Grainne Morton’s images, seeking enlightenment.
Why am I so drawn to this jewelry? I love the collection aspect of it, the similarities and juxtaposition of so many elements. My current process is actually quite similar, in that I build small components, sort them into tiny collection boxes, then sit at the bench and shuffle them into pleasing arrangements. I envision the same technique is at work for Grainne, but with the advantage of many pleasant treasure hunts to amass the components. It validates my process, I suppose, which I often feel is too labor intensive. Perhaps I should consider whether I can incorporate more found objects? Or perhaps I need to more consciously study vintage jewelry for inspiration for my components? Or maybe I just need to feel secure and move forward?
Sometimes I feel that the current trend in minimalism is at odds with my personal proclivities. I like tiny, detailed, narrative work, but I fear that it is “out of fashion.” Seeing the success of Grainne’s work reassures me that there is a place for such work, and that I too should just “go for it.” Perhaps my attempts to make more marketable work should take a backseat for a time to my more elaborate dream constructions.
My Grainne Morton Pinterest Board
Grainne Morton Instagram
Grainne Morton website
Grainne Morton Jerwood Prize video