Monday 14 September 2015

Interview: American Jewellery Designer Andy Lifschutz in Rome

DAM Gallery presents:
New Renaissance man: Andy Lifschutz photographed at his atelier in Rome's centro storico where artisans have worked since the 16th Century. "I love ancient history, psychology, mysticism, spirituality, working with my hands....The canvas of the human form gives me the best response and critique of my craft. Cover photograph and portrait by Paul James McDonnell
American jeweller Andy Lifschutz has a studio in New York’s hip Bushwick neighbourhood but has recently opened a gallery and studio in the heart of Rome. An artist in metal and stone, the designer's richly-textured pieces are hand-crafted and full of whimsical metaphor and poetry. Jeanne-Marie Cilento talks to the tall, laconic Portland native at his 16th Century bottega in Via Arco Di Palma

LEANING over his worktable covered in tools under a high, arched ceiling and an ancient map of Lazio, the bearded Andy Lifschutz could be a Renaissance artisan himself ~ apart from the small expresso in a stylish glass at his side. The jeweller describes how the sense that artigiani have worked in this same space for centuries is both an inspiration and reminder of the long history of his craft. The light and airy gallery at the front of the studio opens through an arched glass door on to a cobbled street that leads on to Rome’s famous avenue of antiquaries and art galleries, Via Dei Coronari.

Glinting golden in the afternoon light, Lifschutz’s pieces have a rough-hewn, organic quality that suggests his inspiration from the animals and wild forests of his Oregon homeland. A long brass cuff and collar have a sinuous texture of imprinted leather and tempt you to run your fingers over their surface to feel their lustrous curves. Chunky rings bristle with glimmering pieces of brilliant quartz that seem like a crystalline explosion ~ giving the natural stones an unusual sense of dynamism and life. Mixing artisanal techniques with raw materials such as reclaimed metals, wood, bone and stone, his pieces exude a natural spirit and form.

Andy Lifschutz' professional career is as original and complex as his pieces of jewellery, encompassing acting, wine making and working in politics. But he found his creative métier after being inspired by a piece of hand-made jewellery in the shape of a rose in London. He then passionately pursued learning all of the techniques and craft of jewellery design and making.

He began metalworking in Brooklyn with designer Kristin Hanson and then gained more experience in Portland, Oregon with Gunnar Adamovics. But it was under the tutelage of William "Billy" Thomas King at the Sterling Quest School of Jewelry Design and Creation in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico that set Lifschutz on his professional path after graduating in 2008.

Today, the jewellery designer's work has been featured in New York fashion shows and in top magazines around the world. He creates not only special custom made pieces but has his own collections of rings, bracelets and earrings.

1. After having been an actor, wine maker and working in politics how did you begin your career as a jewellery designer? 
Craft is a part of my framework. My grandmother is an award winning quilter and my father is a carpenter. Growing up I was encouraged to explore my creative aspirations to the fullest. After travelling the world, exploring a career in acting, wine making, and (yes) a brief stint working in politics I was called to a create objects of adornment. This happened while I was living in London with my then girlfriend, who introduced me to the amazing hand crafted work of a Roman jewellery designer. I fell in love with the detail and emotion that was shared through this artist's work in silver and gold.

Once I began apprenticing in New York all of the pieces of the puzzle started to come together. I was able to explore the human relationship to objects; the emotion behind something that is cherished, the value of creating something that will be treasured, loved and passed down. This process I found rewarding, and I possessed the ability to sit still for hours on end crafting one single piece of work. So it stuck.

Passion turned to obsession and soon I was up to my eyebrows in metal courses, study and practise. I didn’t really do anything else for a few years. It pissed my friends off at times as I was very much engulfed in developing my craft. There were a lot of months where I would only sleep three to four hours a night in order to get the most out of each day. That thankfully has got better now!

2. Why did you choose jewellery design as your artistic métier?
I’d say it chose me. I love ancient history, psychology, mysticism, spirituality, working with my hands, the continual search for what it means to be living here and now in 2014. All artists get to express the sentiment of what it means for them to be alive today, and express that in their own medium. I enjoy being able to see my work enjoyed by friends, clients and the general public. The canvas of the human form gives me the best response and critique: it helps me to refine and redefine my craft.

3. Can you describe the experience, person or training that has had the greatest impact on your design career so far?
I have been very fortunate to study and train with some of the best jewellers and teachers in the world (in my humble opinion). Of course, there is one that stands out more than others, mostly due to his larger than life approach and technique, William ‘Billy’ Thomas King, who runs the Sterling Quest School in San Miguel De Allende.

I decided to go to Mexico based on word of mouth that I needed to study with this guy. His website was down at the time, and all I had to go on was an expletive-laced 20 minute phone conversation on Boxing day of 2006. Billy’s method teaches you the technical side of metalsmithing, while insisting that your creative spirit is in charge of translating your design into metal. This approach allowed me the freedom I needed to build my creative set.

4.  Where did you grow up and does this place inspire your creative work?
I grew up in the Great Northwest of the United States in and around Portland, Oregon. I continue to be inspired by Oregon, with its unscathed natural wonders of forests, mountains, beaches and good people.

5. Today, you split your time between studios in New York and Rome. What does each city give you?
Well Rome is connected to all empires both current and former, so there is a similarity in a sense. For me, Rome now is more laid back and the pace of life is much more agreeable. However, in our current world New York offers so much to an artist and growing brand. There is no other place in the world that has so many wonderful and successful ideas being activated all at once. That synergy is magnetic.

Sure, it’s a tough place to live, but once you get the hang of it there is a real magic to being a New Yorker. So I’m grateful to have both for now. I can get out of town to the hot springs in Tuscany one month and next month I’ll catch my favourite flea market in Chelsea on Saturday. For this balance I am extremely grateful.

6. Do you find your creative process when designing jewellery is more rational or instinctive? 
Instinctive. If it’s a custom piece I want to study the hand of my client when designing a ring for them. So not just that the size fits, but also the actual design responds well with the shape of their fingers. For my collections I try to be as present-minded as possible and create in relation to what is going on in our world and how I feel about those realities.

7. What do find the most challenging aspect of your work as a jeweller?
Time!!!! I love creating my work and there are so many directions that I have yet to explore.

8. What part of the jewellery designing and making process gives you the most happiness?
When the perfect piece finds the perfect home. That smile on someone’s face when something that I have created really speaks to him or her.

9. Do you have a set schedule of working creatively everyday or is the process more fluid?
I have different parts of the year where I divide my time into separate camps. If I am finishing an order and getting ready to meet my deadlines then I am on a strict schedule. Whereas, if I am doing research for the next collection or working on a custom piece I ignore all clocks, timers, phones and immerse myself in the creative task at hand.

10. In our digital age, what does jewellery give us as an art form?
Trick question? Sadly, most of the jewellery that you see on the high or low streets today is at least partially designed by a computer program. I’m not completely anti CAD program, but I do feel that there is something very special about a truly hand crafted piece of jewelry. 

Given that you are choosing to put something on your living, breathing, conscious body, isn’t it nice to know that you are expressing yourself with a piece of jewellery that came from the process of someone else’s own creative spirit? I think that jewellery gives us a connection to a greater depth within ourselves. We are not reminded of how many apps we have, or what TV program we plan to watch by what jewellery we wear. Hopefully we are reminded of those we love, a special moment and the unique individuals that we all are. 

To view more of Andy Lifshutz's work visit:

Click on photographs for full-screen slideshow
Andy Lifschutz working in his studio in Rome on his hand-creafted jewellery: "If you are choosing to put something on your living, breathing, conscious body, isn’t it nice to know that what you are expressing yourself with a piece of jewellery that came from someone else’s own creative spirit?" Photograph by Paul James McDonnell
The Caipora cuff from Lifschutz's Le Havre collection. Model Alisa Nadolishny. Photograph by Rudolf Bekker

Caipora Collar from the Le Havre collection that explores decay and reclamation. Lifschutz deconstructed a 1920's leather handbag and transformed the worn material into jewels of reclaimed bronze and sterling silver. Photograph by Jeremy Kirby
Andy Lifschutz working in Portland, Oregon at the short lived but successful Mercy Studios. He is pictured working on one of the pieces for his debut collection Love Letters.  Photograph by Basil Childers
Ice on Fire ring from the Nature Speaks collection hand-made by the jeweller in cobalt quartz and bronze. The quartz stones are from Arkansas in the USA and are set in their raw and uncut form. Photograph by Jeremy Kirby
The jeweller's chunky rings bristle with glimmering pieces of brilliant quartz that seem like a crystalline explosion ~ giving the natural stones an unusual sense of dynamism and life. Model: Alisa Nadolishny. Photograph by Rudolf Bekker  
Artemis Ring in Rose Silver with sterling silver prongs and set with rainbow quartz is an original piece part of Lifshutz's Nature Speaks collection. Each piece is custom made from by the artist using uncut quartz crystals and reclaimed metals. Photograph by Jeremy Kirby

From the Garbo Collection, the rings are made of yellow gold and set with sapphire's, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. The collection was inspired by the intriguing actress Greta Garbo.
The Smoke on Water ring from the Nature Speaks collection is hand carved by the artist. The quartz stones are from Arkansas in the USA, are set in their raw and uncut form. Photograph by Jeremy Kirby

An original neckpiece created by the jeweller for Delphine Diallo's pictorial Faith. The leather was salvaged from a 1920's leather handbag and reconstructed into this wearable art collar. Photograph by Delphine Diallo

Custom brass knuckles created for one of the jeweller's clients. The hand-engraved rings read: Mina Mama. Photograph byTyler Kohlhoff

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