Deep and ornamental

Ten of Britain's best jewellers are glittering in the limelight as the Jerwood Prize for Applied Arts comes full circle.
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The Independent Online

Of all applied arts, jewellery is the most accessible, and it is a field into which a huge amount of creative energy is channelled. In 1995, when the Jerwood Foundation established their prestigious annual prize for the applied arts - the crafts equivalent of the Turner or the Booker - it was jewellery they chose as the first discipline to celebrate. Since then, ceramics, glass, textiles and furniture have all come under the spotlight. Now the wheel has turned full circle and the Jerwood is focusing on jewellery again.

Of all applied arts, jewellery is the most accessible, and it is a field into which a huge amount of creative energy is channelled. In 1995, when the Jerwood Foundation established their prestigious annual prize for the applied arts - the crafts equivalent of the Turner or the Booker - it was jewellery they chose as the first discipline to celebrate. Since then, ceramics, glass, textiles and furniture have all come under the spotlight. Now the wheel has turned full circle and the Jerwood is focusing on jewellery again.

Earlier this year, 10 makers were shortlisted, all extremely varied in their materials and aesthetic, ranging from the subtly-tinted, anodised aluminium bangles and neckpieces of Jane Adams, to Christoph Zellweger's funky white globular expanded polystyrene Commodity Chain. "My work is about the present," says Zellweger. "I feel that every material and every surface is a tactile window into finding layers of meaning." Also very "now" is the work of 28-year-old Adam Paxon, the youngest of the shortlisted makers. Inspired by what he describes as "nature's colourful language of warning and courtship", he creates spiky nodules out of coloured acrylic, which serve as earrings and brooches. Even more challenging is the work of Naomi Filmer, who sculpts ephemeral pieces from chocolate and ice. These are then recorded as they melt on the body through the medium of video.

While Filmer's work, one suspects, was included as a concession to current fashions in the fine art world, most of the other shortlisted makers have secured their places for their technical accomplishment combined with pure artistic talent. Edinburgh-based silversmith Dorothy Hogg, who has been practising since the Seventies, has a lifetime's achievement behind her. The evocative titles of her jewellery - Plumb Line Necklace with Pods, and Spirit Level Brooch, for example - convey something of her aspirations. "I am creating austerely sensual pieces which involve the senses of sight, touch and hearing,"she explains. "My intention is for the pieces to come alive when worn by interacting with the movement of the body and establishing the wearer centre stage."

Concerns about the sensory and the sensuous also underlie the delicate, feathery necklaces by Cynthia Cousens, made from silver and gold combined with twigs, paper and various other natural materials. "Imagery is drawn mainly from the landscape, paralleling emotional themes," says Cousens. "My work explores the ambiguous area between two and three dimensions via silhouette, line and mark making."

Jack Cunningham is another maker who employs traditional materials, but he subverts them to non-traditional ends. His recent work includes a series of brooches called "Love Kits", consisting of polished gems such as moonstone and coral, projecting inwards on twigs within a geometric white metal frame. Intended to evoke a sense of intimacy, these pieces use colour and metaphor to suggest eternal themes such as love and passion, growth and renewal.

The major difference between the Jerwood Prize and the Turner Prize is that the applied-art award avoids the pitfalls of being market-driven and fashion-led. The choice of this year's winner, Jacqueline Mina, bears witness to the Jerwood's independence and integrity, and represents the triumph of proven talent over fly-by-night trendiness. Mina is best known for her contoured and creviced brooches, decorated with lightly-textured grainy or puckered surfaces, sometimes laced with spidery patterns. These mesmerising effects, the result of many years' painstaking experimentation, are produced by fusing platinum fragments onto a layer of 18-carat gold. The judges praised Mina for "subverting and taking precious metal techniques to the extreme." Of her own work she comments, "I search for forms of universal resonance and harmony, eschewing fashion. I work rigorously to satisfy my own aims."

Awards are always somewhat controversial, though, so if you would like to decide for yourself about the relative merits of the 10 Jerwood jewellers, their work is on show at the Crafts Council until the end of the month. Also featured concurrently in the shop is an intriguing new collection by silversmith David Clarke called Urban Gardens. Marking a departure from his eye-catching earlier compositions in which pieces of fruit were suspended from a structure of silver wire, Urban Gardens are intended for apartment window sills, and juxtapose a minimal silver framework with a sprouting vegetable or a small green bushy container plant.

Meanwhile, if all this talk of precious metals has whetted your appetite, this is the final weekend of the Goldsmiths' Fair, a major selling exhibition of silver and jewellery at the Goldsmiths' Hall. Here you can take your pick from 80 of the country's leading makers, including silversmith Chris Knight, who daringly combines sculptural forms with dashes of colour. Among the many exciting jewellers participating are Ulla Hörnfeldt and Catherine Martin. Hörnfeldt creates stylish modern pieces inspired by sources as varied as the natural world and urban architecture. Martin limits herself to a single process - the classical Japanese technique of braiding fine gold wire, which she then uses to create fluid scrolling forms with grace and refinement. Given the choice between Catherine Martin and Jacqueline Mina or Cartier, I'd go for Martin and Mina every time.

Jerwood Applied Arts Prize 2000 is at the Crafts Council Gallery, Pentonville Rd, London to 29 Oct. David Clarke's Urban Gardens are at the Crafts Council Gallery Shop to 5 Nov (020-7278 7700). Goldsmith's Fair is at Goldsmiths' Hall, Foster Lane, London (020-7606 7010), 7-8 Oct, 11am-5pm

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