Barren Texas inspires playful jewellery

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“5807” found steel pendant, titanium, vitreous enamel, 18ct gold. 200 x 120 x 10mm on a 56cm chain.

craft / “Marfa TX” by Melissa Cameron at Bilk Gallery until October 13. Reviewed by MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE.

MELISSA Cameron approaches her work with the intellectual curiosity of an archaeologist.

She was drawn to the work of Donald Judd, who’s striking and imposing sculptures and his preserved studio is located in the small, isolated town of Marfa, Texas, which Cameron visited in 2017. The ground is seemingly dry and barren there, however, Cameron found treasures of tiny pieces of steel which she rescued and repurposed into jewellery.

The locations give their name to the works. So that “Venn 6” is a necklace made from several pieces of steel covered with vitreous enamel, linked with gold. The pieces are photographed and geotagged with her camera, so viewers can see a “before and after” image of the material. The works come with the photo.

“6003a”, brooch, found steel, stainless steel, vitreous enamel, 18ct gold, 95 x 80 x 20mm

“6003a” is a triangular brooch with three steel screws held in a void by gold and pieces of steel in vitreous enamel. This work is strong and I enjoy the contrast of materials. 

While the materials cost her little, the time and effort taken so they can be used for her purpose is considerable. After a great deal of cleaning, each piece is “painted” in vitreous enamel several times, to give an even surface and combined with gold.

Perhaps unlike much of other work I have seen from Cameron, the pieces in this exhibition are eminently wearable. Necklaces and pendants, earrings, pins and brooches are simple. The glossy black of the enamel contrasts with untreated steel and the necklaces and pendants are hung on gold chain. She has taken particular care so they sit comfortably on the body.

Five pendants are hung on a floor to ceiling map showing the small town of Marfa, Texas and its surrounds. The locations where she found the original steel fragments are identified. Many are shown on distressed backing boards, as if to emphasise the nature of the materials.

This exhibition shows the rigour and depth of knowledge of materials of a leading Australian artist. At the same time, it is playful and encourages viewers to explore the ideas Melissa Cameron is deeply involved with.

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