Episode 156 Part 2: Deconstructing Classical Art for the Modern Era

Episode 156

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Why people get so concerned with categorizing art, and why some of the most interesting art is created by crossing those boundaries
  • How Joy balances running a business while handmaking all of her pieces
  • What noble metals are, and how they allow Joy to play with different colors
  • How Joy’s residences in Japan influenced her work
  • How Joy has found a way to rethink classical art and confront its dark history

About Joy BC

Joy BC (Joy Bonfield – Colombara) is an Artist and Goldsmith working predominantly in Noble Metals and bronze. Her works are often challenging pre-existing notions of precious materials and ingrained societal ideals of western female bodies in sculpture. Joy BC plays with mythologies and re-examines the fascination with the ‘Classical’.

Joy, a native of London, was profoundly influenced from an early age by the artistry of her parents – her mother, a painter and lithographer, her father, a sculptor. Joy’s art education focused intensively on painting, drawing and carving, enhanced by a profound appreciation of art within historical and social contexts.

Joy BC received her undergraduate degree from the Glasgow School of Art and her M.A. from the Royal College of Art in London. She has also held two residencies in Japan. The first in Tokyo, working under the tutelage of master craftsmen Sensei (teacher) Ando and Sensei Kagaeyama, experts in Damascus steel and metal casting.  She subsequently was awarded a research fellowship to Japan’s oldest school of art, in Kyoto, where she was taught the ancient art of urushi by the renowned craftsmen: Sensei Kuramoto and Sensei Sasai.

Whilst at the RCA she was awarded the TF overall excellence prize and the MARZEE International graduate prize. Shortly after her graduation in 2019 her work was exhibited in Japan and at Somerset house in London. In 2021 her work was exhibited in Hong Kong and at ‘Force of Nature’ curated by Melanie Grant in partnership with Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery.

Joy Bonfield – Colombara is currently working on a piece for the Nelson Atkins Museum in the USA and recently a piece was added to the Alice and Louis Koch Collection in the Swiss National Museum, Zurich.Additional Resources:

Joy’s Website

Joy’s Instagram



‘Frangere (Demeter)’ 2022.

18kt recycled yellow gold with champagne, honey and white diamonds pendant & handmade chain
4 cm length pendant
40 cm length chain (handmade)
Edition of 7 + 1AP
Unique within the series

My ‘Ruin-Lust’ works explore the allure and fascination of ruins. Recalling lost civilisations, and certain demise of our own. The also give rise to dreams of futures born from descruction and decay.

Many of the surviving artefacts from ancient Rome and Greece are no longer intact. Sculpted images, for example, are missing limbs or facial features. These losses reflect their personal history. They are also an intrinsic part of their beauty and continuing appeal. The slow picturesque decay and abrupt apocalypse ruins are both captivating and beguiling. This piece in particular is celebrating breakages, failures, scars and stress lines. These works survived centuries, broken, missing parts, and yet they retained their enigmatic presence. Their breakages somehow make them even more beautiful.

Demeter (Ceres), the green goddess of plants and fruits, agriculture and fertility. ‘Rich-haired Demeter…lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits (Homeric hymn to Demeter). Demeter is a very old goddess, who’s name means ‘earth-mother’.  Perhaps the most famous of Myths associated to her is that of her searching for her daughter Persephone, who was abducted by Hades. The adduction also revealed the power of Demeter. Demeter Threatening to permit nothing to grow on earth, and for mankind to perish, forced Zeus to negotiate the release of Persephone.  However, Hades reluctant to let go of anyone who enters the dark relm, let alone is beautiful wife, he tricks Persephone into eating some pomegranate seeds. This ties Persephone to be doomed to stay in the underworld. Eventually a deal is brokered that Persephone would stay with Hades for part of the year, and in spring would rejoin her mother on the earth above.’

‘Precious Tear’

Each piece is unique.

2.5cm length

925 silver, recycled 18k gold and  natural teal sapphire.

This is an ongoing body of work in my exploration of Tears and how I believe they are precious. By transforming an ethereal liquid tear into a hard stone sapphire, I am putting emphasis on the strength it takes to show one’s vulnerabilities. The wearer by engaging with this ‘totem’ becomes the owner of their vulnerability and honestly confronts the aspect of ourselves we often ignore or suppress.

This is an ongoing body of work in my exploration of Tears and how I believe they are precious. By transforming an ethereal liquid tear into a hard stone sapphire, I am putting emphasis on the strength it takes to show one’s vulnerabilities. The wearer by engaging with this ‘totem’ becomes the owner of their vulnerability and honestly confronts the aspect of ourselves we often ignore or suppress.

There are three types of tears, ones secreted to keep the eye lubricated and free of dust, ones to remove particles when the eye becomes irritated (think of cutting an onion), and ones that fall when we feel emotional stress, pleasure, anger, suffering, mourning, or physical pain.

Whatever the type of tear, in my view, they are all precious – and even more so in a moment of empathy or as an expression of mourning for a loss of someone who was important to us. There is even a type of butterfly in the amazon rainforest that survives by lapping up the salty tears of turtles.

This is an ongoing body of work in my exploration of Tears and how I believe they are precious. By transforming an ethereal liquid tear into a hard stone sapphire, I am putting emphasis on the strength it takes to show one’s vulnerabilities. The wearer by engaging with this ‘totem’ becomes the owner of their vulnerability and honestly confronts the aspect of ourselves we often ignore or suppress.

There are three types of tears, ones secreted to keep the eye lubricated and free of dust, ones to remove particles when the eye becomes irritated (think of cutting an onion), and ones that fall when we feel emotional stress, pleasure, anger, suffering, mourning, or physical pain.

Whatever the type of tear, in my view, they are all precious – and even more so in a moment of empathy or as an expression of mourning for a loss of someone who was important to us. There is even a type of butterfly in the amazon rainforest that survives by lapping up the salty tears of turtles.

Hypatia (ring)

Recycled 22kt yellow gold, Recycled Platinum, 18kt recycled white gold with color D/E natural diamonds
3.5cm length portrait
Edition of 3 + 2 AP
Unique within the series

Hypatia was force of nature. A Greek Philosopher and Mathematician. A woman who was written about by Plato in a patriarchal society.

In previous work, I have explored the hidden histories of forgotten female heroes, creating miniature-monuments in their honor. This ring is to celebrate and honor Hypatia – but also to protest against violence to woman. The historical recurrence of violence to women, for simply being a woman, is barbaric. Her portrait is carved and cast into 22ct yellow gold, welded into a platinum shank with Joy’s signature ‘Hewn’ texture which originates from her lineage which dates back to 12th century stone masons. 22ct gold is synonymous with ancient Greek Jewellery. The platinum and diamond tears are strong, noble materials that resonate with the subject.

‘Orlando’s Tears’.

25.5cm x 18cm x 4.5cm.

One of a kind.

Ink, paint, grants anatomy book, 18ct yellow gold and sapphires. 2019


The joyous tears, which subtly transcend from lilac to yellow, solidify a moment of change. The tears detach from the book to form a single earring. The inside of the book is carved into a skull because it is my belief that in whatever skin we are in, we are all the ‘same’.

For this piece, I was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel, ‘Orlando’. In it, the protagonist lives through several centuries and changes sex from man to woman.  When Orlando changes, she points out that nothing has changed apart from her sex. This was quite a statement in 1928 and is still incredibly poignant and relevant today.

I chose to create an earring because during the time of the Elizabethan courts, which is where part of the novel is set, it was the fashion to wear one earring.


While others are quick to classify artists by genre or medium, Joy BC avoids confining her work to one category. Making wearable pieces that draw inspiration from classical sculpture, she straddles the line between jeweler and fine artist. She joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to talk about why she works with noble metals; the exhibition that kickstarted her business; and how she confronts the often-dark history of classical art though her work. Read the episode transcript here.


Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. This is the second part of a two-part episode. Today, my guest is the award-winning artist and goldsmith Joy Bonfield-Colombara, or as she is known as an artist and jeweler, Joy BC. Joy is attracted to classical art, which she interprets from her own contemporary viewpoint. Welcome back. 

You’re alone, and it’s always a challenge to me, whether you’re a writer or jeweler, to find ways to get out of the isolation. You can only spend so much time alone. How do you figure out a way to do that?

Joy: I love it. I love it because I’m an only child. Often people don’t think I’m an only child, but I think that’s because we had so many people coming and going from our house when I was a kid. My mom would invite lots of people, and they would stay and go. They all added very much to who I am as well, all those people that came through our house. The thing with imagination, I used to spend so much time on my own. My mom and my dad were always working. They were fantastic parents, but they were oftentimes—I think also when you’re a child, time is a completely different realm. You experience it in a completely different way. 

I have memories of playing in the garden and looking at flowers, taking them apart, and putting together arrangements of stones or turning a copper box into a spaceship, all sorts of different objects transforming into other things. I still hold on to that aspect of being a child. I think it’s important not to lose the ability to play and imagine. I spend hours doing that. I’m now in my studio, and I often really like the early mornings or rare late nights when no one is around. There’s a quietness that I find quite meditative. When I’m carving, things can be going on around me, and I’m so focused that everything else disappears. So, I don’t mind the isolation because I really enjoy making.

Sharon: I like when it’s quiet, but I can only take so much. At some point it starts to affect me. It sounds like you handle it better. In the materials I read about you, it says that you work in noble metals and in bronze, but a lot of people don’t know what a noble metal is. What is a noble metal?

Joy: It makes them great. Just the word noble I think is lovely.

Sharon: It is. What is it?

Joy: A noble metal, apart from the metal family in the periodic table, is a reluctant oxidizer combined with oxygen. I have the exact definition for you. Let me find it. “A noble metallic chemical element is generally reluctant to combine with oxygen and usually found in nature in a raw form, for example gold. Noble metals have outstanding resistance to oxidization, even at high temperatures. The group is not strictly defined, but usually is considered to include palladium, silver, osmium, iridium, platinum and the second and third transition series of the periodic table. Mercury and copper are sometimes included as noble metals. Silver and gold with copper are often called the coinage metal, and platinum, iridium and palladium comprise the so-called precious metals which are used in jewelry.”

This also goes back to the fact that I had bad eczema when I was a kid. I remember putting on a pair of costume earrings that had nickel in them and they made my whole head swell up. I don’t like the smell of brass. There are certain materials I find an attraction or a repulsion to. Noble metals, because of the way they don’t oxidize, can sit next to your skin, and I love the feeling of them.

Sharon: That’s interesting, because I’ve only heard the term noble metals in a couple of places. One was at a jeweler’s studio, making jewelry, but it was explained to me, “It’s gold, it’s silver, but it’s not copper.” You said it’s copper. I never realized it had anything to do with whether it oxidizes or not. 

Joy: Interestingly, copper also is really precious in Japan. Some of the most expensive teapots are copper ones.

Sharon: Oh, really?

Joy: It’s a type of copper where you’ve created a patination, which is beautiful, deep red color. This technique is quite hard to explain and is really highly prized.

Sharon: What’s the name of the technique?

Joy: Shibuichi. I’m not good at the pronunciation, but I can write it down afterwards. I love metal patination and metal colors. In fact, that’s why I love bronze. Bronze is mostly composed of copper as an alloy. It doesn’t smell in the way that brass does, and also I love the reactions you get. Verdigris is one of the techniques I like to use a lot in my work, which is used with copper nitrates. You get these incredible colors of greens. When you think of classical bronze sculptures or bronzes that are found under the sea, they often have these incredible green colors to them. I think about it like painting or a composition, the colors you find in metal colorations. People often question what the color of metal is, but actually the different alloys or treatments you can give to metal can give you an incredible array of different colors.

Sharon: I’m curious. I agree, but I see the world through a different perspective. I might look at the statue you’ve taken from the under the sea and say, “Somebody clean that thing.” I don’t clean things that have a patina, but that would be my first reaction, while you appreciate that right away. Why did you go to Japan?

Joy: The first time I went to Japan was through The Glasgow School of Art. There was an exchange program you could apply for, and if you were awarded, there was also a bursary that you could apply for. The first time I went, I was awarded this bursary. One of my friends while I was studying at The Glasgow School of Art was Japanese, and she said to me, “Go and stay with my grandmother. She will absolutely love you.” I went to stay in her grandmother’s apartment in Japan, and I studied at the Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry, which is in Harajuku. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it before.

Sharon: No.

Joy: This school is really interesting. Actually, when I was there, they hired Lucy Saneo, who recently passed away. They did an exhibition of hers at Gallerie Marseille. She was there as a visiting artist, and she was lovely. We had some interesting discussions about different perceptions of materials and jewelry between Europe and Japan. I was there on a three-month exchange, and I met Lucy as well as the teachers that I was allocated. 

One of them, which I mentioned before, was Sensei Ando. He taught to me how to make Damascus steel. I made a knife when I was there, but the whole process had a real philosophical theory around it, with how difficult Damascus is to make. Often in modern knife making, you have pneumatic hammers. The hammering is done by a machine, whereas we have to do everything by hand in 40 degrees Celsius with 90% humidity outside with a furnace. We had to wrap towels around our heads to stop the sweat from dripping into our eyes. It was really difficult, but the end result was amazing. He said, “Life can be hard, but if you push through it, you can find its beauties.” It stayed with me, the way he had the philosophy, that process, and what that means to put yourself into the piece. 

I also did metal casting and netsuke carving with Sensei Kagaeyama. It was in Tokyo that I first saw netsuke carvings in the National Museum in Tokyo. They really fascinated me, these tiny carvings. Do you know what a netsuke is?

Sharon: Yes, a netsuke, the little things.

Joy: They’re tiny carvings. If anyone doesn’t know, in traditional menswear in Japan, you would have a sash that goes around your kimono to hold your inro, which is your pouch which would hold tobacco or money or medicine. You would have a sash buckle to stop it moving, which was sometimes simply carved. Other times they were incredibly elaborate and inlaid. It could be this tiny bird so that the underside of the bird, even the claws, are carved. It was only the wearer that would necessarily see those details. In the same way that really good pieces of jewelry have that quality, the back is as important as the front.

Sharon: Oh, absolutely. My mom sewed, and it was always, “Look at the back of the dress, the inside of the dress. How’s the zipper done?” that sort of thing. The netsuke, they were only worn by men?

Joy: They were only worn by men. It was combs that were worn by women, which were a social hierarchical show of your wealth or your stature. They were also given as tokens of love and were the equivalent of an engagement ring. They were given in this way. A comb is something I’ve always found interesting. I didn’t know the scope of the importance of the comb in Japan, specifically in the Edo and Meiji periods.

Sharon: Are you considering adding combs to your repertoire? Maybe the comb part is plastic with a metal on top.

Joy: Combs are one of the things I explored within my degree show. I did a modern iteration of Medusa as a body of work, 17 different bronze sculptures that were a collection of combs with all different bronze patinas, but those were sculptures. They were not actually wearable. There was a whole wall of these pieces. My whole degree show was about metamorphosis and the ability to change. It was a combination of sculpture and jewelry. 

For “Force of Nature,” the exhibition Melanie invited me to do, I did one wearable comb. It was called Medusa. The bristles were moving, and they had fine, little diamonds set between all the bristles so they would catch the light in certain movement. It also had a pin at the back so you could have it as a sculpture or you could wear it.

Sharon: It sounds gorgeous. You mentioned classical art, and I know classical art is a big catalyst or an influence on your jewelry today. Can you tell us about that and where it came from?

Joy: Growing up in London, London has some of the most amazing collections of ancient art. Also modern collections, but if you think about the V&A or the British Museum, there are artifacts from all over the world which are incredible. As a child, they were something my parents would take me to and tell me stories or show me things. There was also a moment when my mom took me to Paris when I was about 13 years old, and I saw the Victory of Samothrace, which is this huge Hellenistic statue which is decapitated. She doesn’t have a head and she doesn’t have arms, but she has these enormous wings and retains this incredible sense of power and movement, and that stayed with me. I’ve always found particularly the Hellenistic—not the Roman copies, but the older pieces—incredibly beautiful. I don’t why, but I’ve always felt this attraction to them.

When I studied at The Glasgow School of Art, there was also a collection of plasters of Michelangelo’s Enslaved and the Venus de Milo. They were used since the 1800s as examples of proportions, and you would use them in your drawing classes. I used to sit with them and have my lunch and draw them and look at them. I started to look at the histories or the stories behind some of them, and I didn’t particularly like how they were often silencing women. Some of the stories were quite violent towards women, so I started to deconstruct and cut apart these classical figures. 

I also looked to Albrecht Durer’s book on proportion, because they had a real copy of it at The Glasgow School of Art that you could request to look at. I also believe that to understand something, you can deconstruct it and take it apart. Like a clock, if you start to take it apart, you understand how it works. So, I started to take apart the proportions, literally cutting them apart, and that’s how the deconstructed portrait series started. It was not just the form; it was actually what classicism stood for. Many of the collections at the V&A and the British Museum were stolen or taken in really negative ways. They’re a result of colonialism and the UK’s colonial past. There are often darker sides to those collections. 

That was something I had to confront about this attraction I had towards these classical pieces. Why was I attracted to them? How could I reinvent it or look at that in a new way? I still love these classical pieces. My favorite painter is Caravaggio, and my favorite sculptures are the bronze and stone pieces from the Hellenistic Greek period. It didn’t stop me from loving them, but it made me rethink and redefine what classical meant for me.

Sharon: Is the deconstruction series your way of coming to terms with the past? Besides the fact that they’re beautiful, ancient statues, is it your way of reinventing the past in a way?

Joy: Absolutely. The past, you can’t erase it. It’s been done, and the fact that these pieces have survived all of this time is testament to their beauty. Something survives if it’s beautiful or evocative or has a power about it. I think it’s interesting that Cellini, who was a sculptor and a goldsmith, is known more famously for his bronze statue of Medusa in Florence. He made lots of work out of precious metals, but they didn’t survive. It was the bronzes that survived. 

Translating these works into precious metals also makes you reflect or think about them in different ways, and it makes the cuts or the breakage something positive or beautiful. The way I placed diamonds into the breakages or the cracks is also to celebrate our failures or celebrate our breakages. That moment I had the accident and everything in my life fell apart, it was also through that process that I discovered the most. We need creation and destruction, but it’s a cyclical thing.

Sharon: Interesting. My last question has to do more with the dividing lines. Do you consider yourself an artist who works in jewelry, or do you consider yourself a jeweler who happens to make art through your jewelry? There are a lot of jewelers who don’t consider themselves artists; they just make jewelry and that’s it. How do the two rub together for you?

Joy: I see myself as an artist. I think within the arts, that encompasses so many different disciplines. A beautiful piece of literature written by Alice Walker, I think, is as moving as an artwork or a painting. The same with a composition of music. I see jewelry as another art form and expression. I don’t divide them. However, I don’t like all jewelry, in the same way I don’t like all paintings or sculpture. The way in which we look at or define art is so subjective, depending on your norms, the way you were brought up, which part of the world you grew up in, how you have been subjected to certain things. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m an artist and goldsmith because I particularly work in noble metals and bronze. There’s still a jewelry aspect of my work. It is very much jewelry. You can wear it, but it is also sculpture. It is one and the other; it’s both.

Sharon: Have you ever made a piece of jewelry in gold where you said, “This is nice, but it’s not a work of art. It doesn’t express me as an artist; it’s just like a nice ring”?

Joy: Definitely, and definitely through the period of time when I did my apprenticeship. I learned a lot. I made pieces where people would bring me albums or pieces they wanted to reinvent and find modern ways of wearing. I thought that was pretty interesting and I enjoyed that work, but I don’t necessarily see it as an artwork that moves the soul or has the same effect as one of my deconstruction portraits or the Medusa series. I still think it has its place and it means a lot to that individual, and I enjoy the process of making it, but it’s different.

Sharon: I know I said I asked my last question before, but I’m curious. Did your friends or colleagues or people in the street see something you had on and say, “Oh, I want that”?

Joy: Yes, definitely. I think if you like something and wear something because you like it enough that you wear it, usually someone else will like it, too. That’s definitely part of it; I started making things and people still wanted them. I think my mom and dad were also sometimes the first port of call I would test things on to see whether they liked it. My dad is much more challenging because he doesn’t wear a lot of jewelry. I made him a piece recently and he does wear it occasionally. He’s quite a discerning artist. He won’t sell his work to certain people. He’s very particular about how he works and who he works with. But yes, that did start happening, and it’s grown. I’m not sure how else to answer that question.

Sharon: I’m sure it’s validating to have people say, “Oh, that’s fabulous. Can you do one for me?” or “Can I buy it from you?”

Joy: I think that sense of desire, of wanting to put your body next to something or wear it, is one of the highest compliments. I went yesterday to a talk at the British Museum about an exhibition they’re about to open called “Feminine Power: The Divine to the Demonic.” I went with a friend of mine who’s a human rights lawyer. I made a piece for her recently which is very personal and is about various important things to her. Seeing her wear it made me feel really honored because she’s an incredible person, and I could make her something that’s part of her journey and that she loves so much that she wears it. Knowing it gives her power when she wears it is an incredible feeling. Also knowing that she may pass it down; that’s another aspect with jewelry. 

My mom has this one ring that was passed down in her family. My parents were struggling artists in London, and she sold most of her elegant pieces. I also find that aspect of jewelry really incredible, that it could transform by being sold so she could continue to do projects and things she wanted to do. I think jewelry’s amazing in that way, that the intrinsic value can transform and be handed down and changed. I think that’s interesting, but there was one ring she didn’t sell because it’s a miniature sculpture, and we all agree that it’s incredibly beautiful. The rest of the pieces weren’t things my mom or I or anyone really engaged with, but this one ring, to me, looks like a futurist sculpture in a seashell. It’s a curved form. I think it’s the Fibonacci proportions, and it’s incredibly beautiful. Going back to your very first question, I think that may have had a strong influence in my appreciation and realization that I liked jewelry.

Sharon: It sounds like you’re several years into a business that’s going to be around for a long time. I hope we get to talk with you again down the road. Thank you so much for talking with us today, Joy.

Joy: Thanks for having me.

Thank you again for listening. Please leave us a rating and review so we can help others start their own jewelry journey.

Sharon Berman