‘Julie Blyfield’, Object Magazine 54, December 2007,
Stephanie Radok and Dick Richards / Wakefield Press / 2007 / 112pp. / full colour / hard cover / RRP $45 (NZ $60)
There’s no denying that this is a coffee table book – but what an appealing one. It’s also reassuring to see handsome hardback monographs published on contemporary Australian artists and craftspersons, and this one comes at a perfect point in Blyfield’s career – with a solid body of work behind her, book-recognition is apposite.
The publication provides a thorough overview of Blyfield’s practice from 1989 to 2007. Chronologically arranged, the photographed works encourage consideration of the jeweller’s artistic development – from the simple circular forms and found objects of her early work to the elaborately textured, sinewy and increasingly botanical forms of her later work. Blyfield’s mature work is distinctively her own: botanical in both sources and aesthetic, it is organic, intricate, embellished and elegant.
Blyfield’s work has been expertly photographed by Grant Hancock in tableaus that heighten the contrasting features of individual works made in a series. For example, in the Paris Collection (2007) six pieces in sterling silver, oxidised bronze and copper, play off each other’s variations in surface texture, colour and specific organic form. Similarly, in the brooch series Pressed Desert Plant (2005), the differences in enamel colouring and branch or leaf structures heighten the expressive power of the ensemble.
Two well-researched essays provide insight into Blyfield’s sources and influences and her place in the history of Australian jewellery (with an emphasis on its South Australian context). Author Stephanie Radok identifies a suite of reference points in Blyfield’s work, mainly deriving from encounters with heritage culture ranging from ancient Aboriginal rock art sites in South Australia, herbaria collections in British and Australian museums to personal family artefacts. Co-author Dick Richards casts light on Blyfield’s technical and iconographic links with colonial Australian jewellery, mentoring with the prominent German/Australian metalworker Frank Bauer, involvement with Adelaide’s Gray Street Workshop, and her own technical innovations.
It’s a delight to uncover stories behind the work. A piece inspired by her grandmother Jessie’s letters takes excerpts that reference jewellery. Referring to a trip to Egypt in 1966 Jessie wrote ‘then fell for a necklace and bracelet of moonstones set in silver’. This phrase becomes the title and content of Blyfield’s work – she affixes a copy of the letter to a sheet of sterling silver then saw-pierces the individual letters and arranges them in a loose cluster.
These historical and technical perspectives considerably enrich the reading of Blyfield’s work but in the end the work speaks for itself – finely wrought specimens that are nothing short of exquisite.
Julie Blyfield, Four Brooches