Bizarre Bling 

Quirk Gallery highlights some unconventional jewelry.

click to enlarge sayumi_yokouchi100.jpg

"Sparkle Plenty 2" is a brilliant exhibit despite a noticeable lack of diamonds, gold and pearls. The witty title references a Dick Tracy comic book character and crystal-cleaning product, in addition to its more straightforward interpretation, and aptly reflects the diverse work on display.

Moving beyond the stereotypes that define jewelry, 21 artists recast jewelry in complex and nuanced ways, with fine craftsmanship. The artists range from emerging to established, representing national and international talent. Although their varying materials, scale, ideas and influences culminate in a diverse exhibit, they also offer a consistency in their unique vision and execution.

Material selection defines each piece and conveys the artist's message. Although many completely shy away from the use of precious materials, some artists still favor gold, silver, diamonds and pearls. Tania Gallas and Marie Chamblin-Dirom present the most traditional work, but fresh designs distinguish them from commercial counterparts. Klaus Bürgel's gold and silver brooches, some of the most successful pieces in the show, combine a one-of-a-kind creative vision with superior technique. Resembling tangles of silk ribbon, they are metal Möbius strips. The graceful contortions retain motion in their fixed state.

Implicit in material choice is each artist's philosophy of value. Common materials available at the hardware store are as valid as silver and gold. Artist Julia Turner explicitly questions our valuation of stones by setting faceted wood, plastic and metals in her rings, earrings and brooches. Likewise, Anya Pinchuk considers the intrinsic versus aesthetic values of gold and silver by embellishing them with a spectrum of spray-painted colors.

Found natural materials are also valid and valued. Robert Ebendorf's powerful and primal work esteems nature by featuring the likes of crab claws, teeth, bones and stone. Kari Rinn uses more ephemeral natural elements, enveloping plant materials into silver forms. Both celebrate the aesthetic, and perhaps moral, value of nature's offerings.

An intrigue with nature courses through much of the exhibited work. C. James Meyer re-creates Appalachian flora, disguising cast glass as the buds of flowers with gold, silver and steel stalks, leaves and petals. Each specimen rests exalted in its own wooden box from which it can be removed to transform its wearer into the finest of nature's creations. Natalya Pinchuk's colorful felted, enameled and plastic brooches resemble fantastical sea life. Local artist Susie Ganch laces stainless steel through silver armatures into parabolic curves; layered, they form clusters of cactuslike shapes. The pieces are light despite their volume and cast shadows nearly as intriguing as the forms themselves.

Other artists incorporate textile materials and processes into the traditional metalsmith's vocabulary of techniques. Sayumi Yokouchi innovatively links pigmented felt buffs with thread, transforming utilitarian products for finishing jewelry into the finished product. She clusters disc and cone shapes into organic forms affixed on flawlessly crafted pin backs and hooks. Centrally located in the gallery space, Yokouchi's is the most captivating work of the exhibit.

"Sparkle Plenty 2" is a multimedia affair not to be missed by anyone with an interest in jewelry and contemporary art. Quirk director Kathy Emerson notes that every November and December will be devoted to art jewelry exhibits. She's also dedicated the gallery's Vault space to a series of exhibits in the coming year, curated by Virginia Commonwealth University craft department professor Ganch. Once a practicing jeweler, Emerson is using her personal interest and experience with jewelry to occupy an unfilled niche among Richmond's galleries. S

"Sparkle Plenty 2" runs through Dec. 24 at Quirk Gallery, 311 W. Broad St., 644-5450.

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