Jewelry Journey Podcast

Sharon: Welcome to the Jewelry Journey. Today, my guest is multi-award-winning artist and art jeweler John Moore. He is based in Brighton, England, but his work has been shown around the world. In addition, he won the Goldsmiths’ Company Award in 2016 and 2019. This award has been called jewelry’s Oscar. We will hear all about his jewelry journey today. John, welcome to the program.

John: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Sharon: Glad to have you. Can you tell us about your jewelry journey? How did your penchant for the arts lead you to jewelry?

John: It all started from before I was old enough to remember anything. Both my parents are artists, so I grew up in a very creative household. My father is a painter and my mother happens to make jewelry, so I was always watching them at work, fascinated. If I wasn’t watching them, I was busy making my own stuff, generally things that have movement in them. I only realized this recently when I thought back to my childhood. I was writing a statement on something else, and I suddenly realized that all these objects I created could either be manipulated by the hands, like puppets or an autonomous sculpture, or they were wearable, perhaps a mask or a pair of wings or something you would put on and bring to life. This thread runs through, and it’s continued into my adult life. I went to college after I finished school and did what we call an art foundation course, which is one year, in between university. In that year, I realized I wanted to work in three dimensions and chose a degree course in 3D design in Manchester. I was still keeping my options open, but inevitably I came back to wearable objects in my final year of that course. I graduated with a collection of quite bold, big jewelry made from brightly-colored anodized aluminium, and that marks the beginning of my career as a jeweler.

Sharon: Wow! That’s such a beginning, with your parents both involved in the creative arts. It’s a great launching pad.

John: Yes, I’m so lucky to have them as an example and role models. They’re successful in what they do, and they encouraged me to pursue my own dreams as well.

Sharon: You have also said that not fitting in has been a drawback as well as a gift. How did you not fit in, and can you tell us more about that?

John: I suppose there came a point during my growing up at secondary school or high school where you start to realize your sexuality particularly, and I’m a gay man. That was sort bubbling away in the background even if I wasn’t aware of it yet, but I felt different to lots of other people. I was resistant to following the crowds and conforming in any way, and I would take my clothes and hats and things to school where there was no uniform, which was great. That’s when those feelings began. Fast forward to my adult life and being an artist, I feel like the work I produce doesn’t fit neatly into existing categories, but it does overlap with various things. I used to worry disproportionately about where I fit. It was a huge waste of energy and brain space, because as soon as I gave myself permission just to do it without worrying about what to call it, suddenly I was able to grow into a new space where there was freedom to explore and not just make objects, but also have that represented by video, for example. It also brought my interest in performing arts back into my work as a jeweler—I shouldn’t say jeweler because that’s too specific; as an artist. I think I forgot to mention that as a child, I trained as a dancer. My interest in movement has very much influenced the work I produce and the way I experience it as well.

Sharon: When you say you trained as a dancer, was that when you were very young or high school? When was it?

John: It was from the age of three to about 18. Unfortunately, a knee injury forced me to stop, which was a shame, but I think realistically my artistic abilities were stronger. I’m not sure I would have made it as a professional dancer, but it was something I loved, and it informs the work that I’m making now.

Sharon: You’ve won the Goldsmiths’ Company Award twice. Tell us about this fantastic Lacewing neckpiece and how it came about. We’ll have a picture of it on the website.

John: The Lacewing is another iteration of a series of necklaces, or what has become a series of necklaces, which expands on this theme of being able to change shape and transform. The series is called “Verto,” which is loosely derived from a Latin word meaning change. It’s comprised of a series of flat discs which are threaded onto a rubber cord. The rubber is able to flex and mold to the shape of the wearer, and it also allows the piece to twist into different shapes. I produced other similar versions in aluminium—I should say aluminum for you guys—and also in wood.

Sharon: In wood!

John: Yeah, which was more for the purposes of a video I produced in 2015 with a dancer. I needed the material to be extremely light, even lighter than aluminum, so that’s how the wooden ones came about. At the same time, I was also exploring precious metals, which are obviously heavier. I made a smaller version, which had to have a magnetic catch. A collector who I’ve worked with before, she saw this piece in silver and it had some diamonds in the front. She’s very well known for wanting large-scale pieces, and she commissioned me to make essentially the same thing but on a large scale in silver with diamonds in it. That was how it came about.

I was faced with some technical challenges because of the weight of the material. In order to overcome that problem, I pierced holes from the interior area of each disk, and I did that with a design based on the vein pattern of an insect’s wing, which is how it got its name. It wasn’t until I had actually completed the piece that I could appreciate what that did to the piece visually. It creates this illusion of transparency, especially when you look at it from a bit of a distance, because there’s so much negative space going on within the piece. So, Lacewing was very fitting for it.

Sharon: Looking at the piece, I can see that. That’s the piece you submitted for the award, right?

John: Yes, I submitted it. I should backtrack slightly. The smaller piece I mentioned, which the lady saw before commissioning the big one, was the winner of the Goldsmiths’ Company Award in 2016. To submit the larger one felt like a natural step because it was an evolution from that. It took the same principle, but expanded and blew it up. The effect is far more dramatic the bigger you go, basically. So, I thought I’d give it another shot. It feels a bit nerve-wracking, because when you’ve been a winner in the past, you set the bar for yourself a little bit. You have to let go of any concerns that you might not win the prize. You know what I mean.

Sharon: No, I understand it. I’m always surprised they let you submit it, that they didn’t say, “Oh, that’s a repeat of what you did before.” That would have been my thought, that they would have said something like that.

John: I know what you mean. That was my hesitation with submitting it, but I think it was an evolution enough from the original for it to be appreciated as a different piece in its own rite. If you could see the two pieces next to each other, you would see what I mean. If you’re looking at the photographs on the website, you can’t put them side by side to see the difference in scale, but they are quite different.

Sharon: Are they disks on the core or piece of rubber? Is that how you did it?

John: Yes. They’re all completely flat, which they have to be in order for the twists to occur. If there was any irregularity in each disk, then you’re entering new territory, where the actual flexibility of the piece begins to be restricted because the disks will hit each other. It’s actually something I’m exploring at moment. I’m sacrificing some of the movement for the sake of exploring different visual aesthetic, where the edges of the disks become the underside of the piece and what you’re seeing instead is almost like an armor-plated creature from the top.

Sharon: Is your work one-of-a-kind, or do you do production or limited editions? Is it all three?

John: I spent many years only making production work, actually, for sale in small galleries and shops around the UK and abroad, and also to sell directly at fairs such as the Goldsmiths’ Fair and Sieraad in Amsterdam. I found myself getting tired of that because it’s so repetitive and there’s repetition in the pieces themselves. In the last 12 months in fact, I’ve sort of put a stop to that in favor of making either one-off pieces or limited editions, depending on the complexity of the design or how special it is. If it’s something really, really, special, I might leave it as a single piece. If it’s something that I feel would sit better in a group of pieces, then I may reproduce the design, but each time change the coloration. There might be five in a set, but they’re always unique in a series. Not necessarily one-off, but unique in a series.

Sharon: Another philosophical question. At one point in your life, when you were deciding what direction to take, you realized the only obstacle in your life was you. Can you tell us more about that?

John: Yes, how do I explain that? The best way to explain that is as a child—forgive me for going back to childhood again, but it’s important in forming the rest of your life, isn’t it? Maybe your other listeners will identify with this, but as a child, you have this incredible freedom to create without any limitation, only what materials you have available or time. As you go along, you start to gather limiting beliefs: you can’t do this; you can’t do that; you’ll never make it as an artist; you’ll never earn any money; if you want to sell work, it needs to be this size and this kind of price. You’re bombarded with things which gradually make your world shrink and shrink and shrink. The realization for me, that I was the one in my way, was that all these things are external. The environment around me has an effect on me, but they only have that effect if you take them on board. When I said I was the only one in my way, I realized it was up to me to shed those limiting beliefs I’d gathered over the years. My thirties have been a slight process of trying to unlearn all those rules that people will so quickly tell you, and then finally, finally arriving back at the sense of freedom I had when I was a child. I’m very excited by that.

Sharon: Yeah, that’s fabulous. A lot of people can never break that. They live by the rules; you live within the confines of the rules you learn after childhood. You have to make a living, of course, but you can’t do this; you can’t do that. This is the way society sees things, and you can’t cross those lines.

John: Exactly. Everyone responds to that in different ways, but I, for one, felt very restricted, and it can affect you quite deeply. When there’s a voice inside you saying, “I want to do this,” and you’re quieting it constantly, as if you don’t deserve to indulge in that activity, because why should you get to do it and the person next to you doesn’t? Actually, I find a lot of inspiration not just in jewelry—in fact, it’s not much in jewelry at all, but more so in lots of different things, from architecture and nature and the achievement of another. A musical artist is extremely inspiring. Generally, what you see is that it’s the people who have ignored what’s going on to their left and to their right and just done what they want to do, whether it gets received by the masses or whether it’s just for their own pleasure. I think it’s so important to do that, because then what you’re putting out is authentic. It might resonate with only a few people, but it will resonate strongly with those people. I prefer to be that than try and please everybody, which I’ve spent years doing, and it didn’t make me feel good.

Sharon: I think that’s what I admire about so many jewelers, but art jewelers in particular. In a sense, they weren’t able to take a different path. Like you’re saying, they were driven by their own personal passion. It’s something I couldn’t do, to say, “O.K., I’m going to do this. This is what I want to do, even if people think I’m crazy or people say, ‘You can’t make a living,’ or ‘How are you going to create your own work and not be a starving artist?’”

John: It’s very true. That’s a challenge. I’ve been helped along the way by the awards. They elevate to me to another level, and suddenly you’re in the midst of a new group of people, but it didn’t have an immediate effect at all. I imagined that the phone would ring and someone would commission another piece, or something would happen. None of that happened, but the confidence it gives you is tremendous.

Sharon: I bet.

John: It gives you a thumbs up. By taking those risks, you are leaning in the direction of where you want to go. You can keep going and persevere and beg, borrow and steal to pay your rent, find a way, but unless you put it out there, how can you know what the world will say back to you? It takes a lot of guts and a bit of madness. I think you have to be a little bit crazy, but it’s almost like there’s no choice for me. It’s my calling, I suppose, and I’m somehow incomplete.

Sharon: The Lacewing piece that won the award, that was on the cover of The Economist pullout section, like the Financial Times’ “How to Spend It.”

John: It was, yeah. Would you like me to tell you how that happened?

Sharon: Yes, please. It must have been so exciting.

John: It was. It was exciting. A few years ago, I was approached by the luxury editor of The Economist magazine, not with regard to the magazine itself, but because she was commissioned to write a book, which is actually about to be published by Phaidon. It’s called “Coveted,” and she wanted to include a piece of my work in this new book, which I’m really excited about. That was how our relationship began. We kept in contact, and then she approached me to be on the cover of this magazine. It’s what they call the high jewelry inclusion, and it only happens once a year. My piece, the Lacewing, and a necklace by Dolce and Gabbana were both being photographed. The final decision was left with the board of directors as to which one they featured, and in fact they featured both, but they put the Dolce and Gabbana piece inside with some copy about it. They chose my image for the cover, which is a huge, huge honor. It got seen by a lot of people. I’m really proud of that.

Sharon: Talk about introducing your work to a different world that wouldn’t have known about it. You mentioned that you are interested in a lot of different things. You segued into filmmaking, didn’t you?

John: Yes, I’ve produced two videos now, short films, which feature dancers wearing these large-scale pieces. Still photography is a fantastic and extremely powerful and useful medium for getting your work out there, but because of the movement of my pieces, a still photograph doesn’t convey that. It was important to me to capture the movement with a moving image. I had no experience recording or editing or anything at all, but I was very fortunate, through serendipity, to meet the filmmakers I worked with and the various other people that were involved. It somehow happened, and I was so fixed on the vision that I would have done whatever I needed to in order to make that happen. Because of my understanding of the body and movement from my dance training as a kid, I was able to confidently direct the dancer, and the filmmaker and I would work together on how it was going to be lit and the camera angles. There was a lot of improvisation happening during the shoots. We didn’t really know how the model, or the dancer, I should say, would respond to the piece and how it would work on that particular body. It was a case of then exploring the movement, putting the piece on, and then I would shout and say, “Wait, could you do that again?” or “Can you do more of this?” or “Move your arms this way or this way.” It evolves on the day of each shoot. After that, it’s a case of selecting the moments that are the most special and putting them together with some music.

Sharon: And that’s the one your website?

John: They’re both there. The first one was produced in 2015 and it’s called “A World Away.” The music in the background is a track made by a friend of mine, and the video actually became the official video for that track in 2015. The second one I produced—gosh it was 2018, two years ago, wow! That one is entitled “The Lacewing Video.” They’re both on my homepage, if anyone is interested in checking them out.

Sharon: We’ll have links on the website to those. We’ll post links when we post the podcast. Do you have more filmmaking aspirations? Do you want to continue with your videos?

John: At the moment, I don’t have anything imminent. It depends on what work I produce and how I want to present it, so I’m just working on another large neckpiece at the moment. Until I have it in my hands and see it moving in 3D space, I’m not sure whether I want a video or just a still shoot, but I’m open to what happens. I did actually create and shoot my own film, without collaboration, just on my own earlier this year. Just as lockdown started, I finished a necklace which I’ve called “Vortice Two,” which you can see on my homepage. It’s a smaller piece for me. It makes a point at the front, and it’s a series of discs and there are some diamonds in it. Because of lockdown I had all this time on my hands, so I lost myself in shooting it with my Ascella camera and ended up with this little film, which is also on my homepage. That involved learning how to use the editing software, which was a whole other ballgame.

Sharon: Yeah, I give you a lot of credit.

John: I’m just learning what I need to learn ad hoc as I go along, but I’d love to make more videos. Who knows? We’ll see. Watch this space.

Sharon: What are your thoughts or your plans for your business right now? Do you have a vision in terms of world domination? What are your plans for your business, or where would you like to take it?

John: I’m really bad at anything business-related. I tried to be business-like since leaving university and did a terrible job. The way I imagine my future is through envisioning the objects I’m going to make. That very much leads the way. Of course, we’ve all been faced with this incredible hiatus and the economic effects of it. I’m not going to lie; it’s been a tough time, and it throws into question whether as an artist I’m being silly, trying to produce work when there are apparently more pressing issues. But having spent the last few years transitioning from reproducing small collections in favor of making wearable pieces of art, I’ve come too far to give that up now. I’m really determined to make it work. I was talking to somebody the other day about this exact issue. I think perhaps the old me, when I was reproducing collections, would have panicked and probably started making things cheaper with lower-cost materials and sped up the process, but that’s not where I’m at now. I have this vision, when a tree falls in the forest and there’s a gap in the canopy above, it’s a chance for new vegetation to grow up, for new trees. I see this as that kind of opportunity. I think an artist’s staying power and perseverance are going to be put to the test, and I want to be one of the ones that makes it out the other side, if there is another side.

Sharon: I’m sure you will be. You’ve made it this far, and you’ve really persevered. I have faith in you. How about that, for what it’s worth?

John: Thank you very much.

Sharon: John, thank you so much for being with us today.

John: Thank you for having me.

Sharon: It’s been a pleasure. To everybody listening, that’s it for the Jewelry Journey today. Don’t forget we’ll have pictures of John’s work posted on the website along with the podcast, as well as links to his videos. Please join us next time, when our guest will be another jewelry industry professional sharing their experience and expertise. You can find the podcast wherever you download your podcasts, and we would appreciate it if you would rate us. Thank you so much for listening.