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Show & Tell with Alexander Blank

From the Archives

Last year’s Schmuck darling has recently come out with a new body of work. Lucky for us, he has allowed Current Obsession to unveil an exclusive sneak peak… a pleasing aperitivo if you will, one that is sure to wet the appetite for what’s to be seen during this year’s Munich Jewellery Week. (2013) The typically tightlipped artist has left us with clues about his creative processes as well as his own thoughts on secrecy and identity, which, quite frankly, should leave you hungry for more.

KELLIE RIGGS – CURRENT OBSESSION
Let’s talk about secrets. In past statements, you’ve written about a necessary secretive nature an artist is entitled to, which has recently reminded me of sociologist, Georg Simmel, when he said that “adornment has, in fact, a societal significance with a structure analogous to that of secrecy itself.”
How might you identify with this statement, or how might your new body of work?

ALEXANDER BLANK
I ́d definitely agree from a wearer’s point of view. It is always a mystery of how, who, and why someone wears a certain jewellery piece…and it stays a secret for the maker and others until it is revealed. You can’t look inside a person! From a maker’s point of view I like secrets and I’d be happy if the work would speak for itself, rather than others or myself. I never enjoyed talking about my so-called projects and this and that, what I am doing and why, blah blah..! But nowadays it is not possible to “not” talk about your work and that is maybe why there are so many Wikipedia-based statements around, because everyone has to give’em all the time. But now I just know a bit better when to speak clearly and when to give the pieces some space of their own. In my new work secrecy probably might have its part. The pieces imply some kind of a twilight area between two familiar images, portraits and comics, yet they do not reveal a direct connection.

"Me and my Mask"

As we don’t want to reveal too much, can you leave us with some key words with which your new work is synonymous? You’ve explained to us that your new body of work is linked to traditional cameo carvings– a much stronger reverence to jewellery’s past than your previous work – yet the faces have been scratched away and replaced with more comic attributes. The work could be perceived as more personal. Is that fair to say?

Jewellery, if you do it, do it with dash, youth gone wild, bad to the bone, conquer a world, not a cowboy nor a hippy… I mean one could bend down anything to a historic reference. But you are right that here it is more obvious of course than in other pieces of mine. I wanted to work in a bold relief for some time and thought about cameo. I was very thankful that it was not used much in contemporary ways, so it became interesting for me to try it out. The historic use is obvious. The portraits normally represented a person who contained power or an ideal character in society. It was also used as a beautiful object/accessory only, without any specific relationship towards the person shown on the cameo and of course used for signet rings, on medals and coins or silverware, maybe as a kind of label. The outlines or the profile of the faces in my pieces are more or less characters/celebrities of daily life. But the significant faces are scratched away, so they loose their identity and identifiability. Instead, as you said, comic attributes start to sprawl and sprout like mushrooms and take over the whole expression. I am not sure if the spores of those fungi were already in the faces and lived in a symbiotic way or if they just took over the host… Like all of my pieces, they have a personal background or they emerge from my own interests but I ́d like to give them some time and space to start and live on their own, that they can fall into place, without my statement straight away.

Simmel also spoke about an interweaving of the external and internal aspects of the forms of adornment, with the meaning to “single the personality out, to emphasize it as outstanding in some sense…” The cameo in this sense is a powerful manifestation of this, don’t you think?

I’d say not only the cameo, but jewellery in general. But figurative pieces definitely pretend to have an easy way to access meaning. It offers that by showing you something that you might already have a relationship with. It instantly sparks something in your mind that you already might know, but then you start to think about it more, and then there is this twist and one starts to realize what they do not know everything about it and so on.

Are you trying to say something secretive about yourself in these new works, or rather trying to reach out to people with something specific they want to reveal about themselves?

I’d say both! I have my own ideas and reasons, why I start with a new concept and I try to have them inside the work, at least that I can see them in it. But during the work process there is a lot of time to think left to right, as well as different possible versions to read my work. And I have a degree of humility to my pieces as I said before, to leave my thoughts or myself a bit more secretive at the beginning. But of course not for too long. I will have to talk about it at the exhibition… I am always glad to hear other versions. I think then the real talking about work starts.

In the spirit of secrecy, could you give us a little hint of what we will find at your exhibition, Kings of my Blues?

I would not like to say too much about the upcoming exhibition. It is not final yet in terms of what it is going to look like. But to give a hint, the last series of pieces were more or less characters and I started calling them friends or problem kids, but definitely not just pieces! So the title more or less shows a bit of the relationship between me and my pieces. I somehow have to take care of them or there are sleepless nights when they are in trouble. They are part of the ups and downs in my professionalism. (I am going to show my newest work and some of my older friends).

Tell us a bit about your win of Schmuck’s Herbert
Hofmann prize last year, did you expect it and
how did it feel? What’s it been like since?

I did not expect it; I also did not want to go out to the fair that day. I just wanted to come to the Jewellery-Get-Together, but my girlfriend made me go, and of course it was a great surprise and I had a good night of celebrating. It was also very nice to share the moment with Despo Sophocleous, a good friend of mine, and Tore Svenson, a great colleague, who also won the same price. Since that time not much has changed, I still have to develop new work and keep myself busy. It is an  honourable prize, nice to have, no reason to lift off the ground!

Would you like to make a prediction of who will take the price this year? Who are you looking at, or who motives you to keep pushing your own work forward?

That is truly hard to say, because most jewellers (or pieces that make me ponder) that I would give the prize to were not even selected for the show and in my opinion they should be… so I’d like to leave it up to Fortuna to honor the next Schmuck Darling…

Three new ones of the bench before they get the final surface

SECRETS OF THE MAKINGS
Alexander Blank’s new work is characterized by the hand carving of high-density foam normally used for rapid prototyping and CNC carvings for mass production. On the image with the three brooches on the workbench, pieces have been finished with a surface ready to be applied with colour. The colour will be mixed with graphite pigments and a special additive that makes the final surface more tactile or haptic.
The work in progress images were shot during Alexander’s time teaching a Wintersession course at the Rhode Island School of Design in early 2013, where he worked only on the mid-stages of surface preparation.
All the “dirty work” of the main carvings were done in Blank’s home studio in Munich, the studio in which he sometimes likes to call the Batcave.

This interview was first published in the #1 The Archetype Issue of Current Obsession Magazine (sold out) back in 2013

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