Following the exhibition at international leading art fair Masterpiece London and a full-house talk at the Victoria & Albert Museum, renowned jewellery artist Wallace Chan came back to Hong Kong for a conversation session with specially invited guest Dr Emily Banis Stoehrer, curator of Jewelry at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, at the Hong Kong Book Fair 2016.
During the talk, Chan revealed his long way to success from starting as a carving apprentice, establishing his own gemstone carving workshop at the age of 17 to inventing new techniques such as the renowned Wallace Cut and the manipulation of titanium. He also shared the inspiration, philosophy and unique craftsmanship behind his creativity and innovation, bringing the audience into his artistic world.
The talk was followed by a book signing of his first limited-edition illustrated monograph “Dream Light Water”. Meanwhile, a special 30-piece-only collector’s edition of the monograph, “Child at Heart: Dream Light Water”, was on display at the Hong Kong Book Fair, which marked the first public appearance of the gemstone-embellished sculptural edition in Asia.
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We sat down with Dr Stoehrer to analyse the creations of the jewellery expert.
Q. How would you describe Wallace Chan’s jewellery work?
A. I think his work is so unlike anything else. I think it is the contradiction – it is very painterly and narrative but it is also really bold and avant-garde. He is able to play with materials and create pieces that are large but very lightweight and wearable.
Q. How is his work different from other pieces of jewellery?
A. There is jewellery that is not art and there is jewellery that is art. I think his is certainly art. The jewellery field is so specialised and so typically you have somebody cutting the stone, somebody doing the metalsmithing and somebody doing the design. The fact that he is doing all of that is incredible. It [demonstrates] his great vision and artistry.
Q. What makes a piece of jewellery an art piece?
A. In our museum, we have been collecting jewellery for more than a hundred years. We try to contextualise jewellery alongside other fine and decorative arts to show that what is going on in jewellery is always reflective of what is going on more widely in a culture. As I am thinking about what kind of jewellery to bring into our collection as art, I am thinking about [it] being representative of a particular time and what it has to reflect the zeitgeist and also the craftsmanship.
Somebody like Wallace Chan is really reflective of the moment ... he uses technology [in such an innovative way]. And I think that the craft is there from conception to end product. His hand is in every part of [the process].
Q. What do you think about the collecting value of his work?
A. I think that what he is making are pieces of art and obviously there is collecting value in there. Just like people would collect other types of jewellery, I think [his clients] are drawn to his craftsmanship and quality and also the stories his pieces tell.
Q. Is there a particular piece that you like the most?
A. That would be a hard choice. I really love the Avatar flower [brooch] which is a large flower inspired by the movie “Avatar” with a large emerald at the centre. [Another piece] is a fish with its tail that kind of comes around the front. I think it is really wonderful, especially given his comments about being a fish out of water when he is not in the studio.