Interview with Kevin Hughes: The Beauty in the Ordinary
Brooches originally served as fastenings for cloaks and gowns. Only after the invention of buttons they became purely ornamental. One key attribute of all jewellery that they never forfeited, however, was to be a bearer of meaning and a badge of distinction. Unfettered by the limitations intrinsic to pieces worn around the neck, finger or wrist, brooches present a chance for contemporary jewellery artists and designers to negotiate fundamental design parameters such as shape, colour, material, and composition on a miniature scale. The objects now emerging beyond the bounds of the mass market at the interface of art, design, and craftsmanship, moreover, seem to manage perfectly well without precious metals.
In his designs, Kevin Hughes, a jewellery artist from the US, uses both natural materials and artificial objects that he works into ensembles rich in contrast. We have talked to him about his working methods and views on jewellery.
The generalised formal appearance of your pieces is abstract, simple and clear, but not without direct or indirect reference to the concrete lived-in world. How do you choose the materials you work with, where do you find the „found objects“?
There is a big trend in the art jewellery world to explore different materials and push the boundaries of what is expected in jewellery, but in my case I’m often attracted to very simple, solid materials such as brass and wood. In fact, my latest solo show was based on the idea of these basic foundation materials. As far as the found objects, I spend a lot of time scavenging for old toys and bits of plastic pieces at flea markets, antique stores and have even found a piece or two on the sidewalk. I’ve found that most artists – or probably most people – are collectors. I am excessively a collector. I have boxes full of these plastic pieces. Often the pieces are very reminiscent of toys I had in my childhood, old plastic tools or cheap objects I would have won in an arcade. I like the idea of this artificial man-made material with its artificial bold bright colour in contrast to materials like wood and metal.
What do you want to express with your work, also in respect to the function jewellery has in your eyes?
Often my work is based on an aesthetic or concept that I’m really interested in, so my goal for what I’m trying to express is different from series to series. Often I feel I’m trying to help the viewer understand or appreciate an idea that I’m focusing on. For example, the brooches “Inlay” and “Cross Half-Lap” were explorations in old traditional woodworking and craft techniques. These are techniques and skills that I feel are often overlooked and underappreciated. For the pieces that involve found objects, I often find those found objects really captivating. In working the pieces into my work I was hoping to highlight the beauty that lies in the plastic as well as metal and wood. Often art jewellery can be appreciated as one would appreciate sculpture, but also there is an intimacy that comes with the functionality of jewellery. The wearer is able to handle the piece, to explore its details, its texture, and weight. As the pieces are worn their context is transformed based on the wearer, based on what else the wearer is wearing, based on where the wearer is. What does the piece mean when it is worn by a 80-year-old man versus a 20-year-old woman? What does the piece mean if it’s worn in a church as opposed to a gallery?
Who is supposed to wear it, in case this question occupies your thoughts?
Everyone! I don’t really find myself making pieces with a specific wearer in mind. It’s exciting to see the transformation of the piece based on who is wearing it.
What makes the form of the brooch attractive to choose for jewellery, in comparison to a necklace for example?
The brooch is a great form because there is a lot of room for exploration. The wearer can play with placement. With a necklace you have to consider the neck and where the piece lays on the wearer. Also for a brooch, there are no major size constraints as opposed to rings or bracelets. The brooch feels more open to more wearers, for all genders and for all ages.
Where do you position yourself between craft, design and art?
That is a tricky question and if you would have asked me that ten years ago, I would have vehemently answered art! But there’s a tradition and heritage connected to the craft of jewellery and metalsmithing that is an important backbone to my work. So I would probably be more positioned between craft and art, and not so much in design.