Thursday, September 01, 2016

Creative heART Challenge: Elemental Earrings...

There is a drawer in my refrigerator that is filled with things that can't be eaten.  In it, I store materials to lengthen their shelf life.  I have a couple bags of cork clay and an assortment of different kinds of metal clay.  Even though I have read that it isn't necessary to keep it in the refrigerator, I find that it keeps the clay nice and evenly moist.  Squirreled away were a few tiny little bags of fine silver clay.  I've been saving them for a special project.  As it turns out, that special project was this one!  For my first new Creative heART Challenge project, I made a collection of earrings.

In life, the only constant thing is change.  Heraclitus once wrote, "all is flux" and throughout my life, this is one of those essential truths that I have discovered to be without exception.  From the smallest atomic scale, to the largest roiling cosmic stage, we can be assured that there will be some form of change.  Somewhere in between the micro and the macro, there are humans just trying to make sense of things.

I've always been fascinated by alchemy.  Even when I was a little boy, I loved hearing stories of mad scientists turning lead into gold.  Later, I fell in love with Paulo Coelho's, "The Alchemist".  The book is a beautiful fable about chasing one's dreams.  If there is something you desire, the Universe will conspire to help you.

At the heart of alchemy is the process of transformation.  Working with the elements, moving through a series of stages, almost anything can be achieved.  According to the alchemists, even the most impossible of dreams can be made real.  One can live forever or even purify their soul.  They recorded their findings, but the wisdom of the alchemists was shrouded by mystery and secrecy.   To protect their knowledge they developed a series of symbols, cyphers, and codes to keep their work hidden.  When I was in art school, I poured over the illuminated manuscripts, detailing the processes. They were so rich with layers and it would be easy to see why people devoted their lives to this study of the Universe.

The earliest forms of Western alchemy deal with the four elements: earth, air, fire and water.  They were believed to be the building blocks of the Universe and Life.  But... they weren't just seen as forces or ingredients, but held symbolic qualities as well.  Earth was cold and dry, air was hot and wet, fire was hot and dry, and water was cold and wet.  Depending on their combination, secret messages and processes could be described.  It makes sense that the symbols used to represent the four basic elements, so closely resemble the Greek letter "delta".  In mathematics, it is used to signify change and variation.

We come back again to one simple truth: All is change.

For my first Creative heART Challenge projects, I wanted to create something that embodied the simplicity and beauty of that sentiment.  I decided to carve molds that had these alchemical symbols. I dug out my secret cache of fine silver clay, and pressed the components out.  If you think about metal clay, it's almost like magic.  It starts off as a sticky, wet thing.  It can be almost anything.  The artist shapes the clay and then subjects it to fire.  Heated in a kiln to blazing temperatures, the clay is transformed from one state into another.  What was soft and mutable, is now made solid.  The organic binder burns off and all that is left is a near perfectly pure form of silver.  Once they are pulled from the kiln, they're work hardened with hammer and mallet, hand-polished, patinated with liver of sulfur, and buffed with Renaissance Wax.

Being an artist is much like being an alchemist – taking an idea, working with ingredients and processes that have to be executed just so, and turning it into something real.  Each of the components that I have made have hallmarks that call to that process and show my hand in the work. In some cases, very literally, as my fingerprints can be seen on the backs!  There are slight irregularities and there are tiny cracks and crevices, but I don't like to think of them as flaws, but as evidence.  They are evidence that I was here and that I made that.  There's a little of me in each of my creations.  I could cut and file and sand and grind and polish away all that... but I think there's something minutely beautiful in the details that make them unique and individual.

I have a tendency to gild the lily, so to speak.  So instead of adding too much embellishment, I kept the earrings simple so that richness of their symbolism could shine through.  The charms that I handcrafted dangle from sterling silver jump rings on silver-plated brass lever-back earwires.

I hope that the wearer feels empowered and energized by wearing them.  I hope that they feel connected to the Universe and a part of something bigger.  I know that they will be connected to my own story and our dreams and making them a reality... and that in itself is a form of alchemy.

If you are interested in these earrings, you can find them on Etsy.  CLICK HERE to go to the Air Over Water Earrings and CLICK HERE to go to the Four Elements Earrings.


Shai Williams said...

Just beautiful!

And as a fan of alchemy, great post!

Lynne said...

Love hearing about the building blocks of the Universe... and how your earrings used this symbolism, Andrew.

Eileen The Artful Crafter said...

Beautifully written, Andrew. I love the symbolism behind the earrings as well as what you wrote about leaving evidence behind. Love the earrings!