If you've been a regular at OC stores over the past several years, you may recognize the names Mark Walsh and Leslie Chin, the artisan duo responsible for half the magic behind the Rodarte jewelry collections we carry. Being an avid jewelry collector and maker myself, I have always been drawn to the craftsmanship of their work. Their pieces, each unique and different in their own right, are like little sculptures - wearable art, practically - that have always left me wondering about their process. I couldn't help but ask the designers a few questions about their collections.
Mark Walsh and Leslie Chin's one-of-a-kind pendants and rings are available at OCNY and OCLA and online.
Meghan Farrell: What was the inspiration behind the SS10 collection?
Mark Walsh / Leslie Chin:
When we first began work on our FW09 Earthworks collection, we found ourselves completely drawn to rock crystal, pyrite, and other textural iridescent minerals. The end result was our creation of natural still life "assemblages" of these materials on the body, and SS10 was an evolution of this idea. We continued to be inspired by these natural minerals, but we explored their juxtaposition with hard-edged, colder materials as well as found objects. We ended up using bronze fixtures with various finishes, and mixed them with natural minerals, cut stones, and everything from screws and baby pins, to antique chandelier prisms!
MF: Where did you find these objects?
The hardware that we used for the collection came from many places, but primarily from a large Victorian estate in Pawling, NY. For that punk pendant
in your stores, the large chandelier crystal came from a flea market in Paris, and probably dates back to the 1920s! For the screw pieces, the rock crystal came mostly from our gem dealers in the Orient. With these pieces, part of the idea was to create optical illusions with very simple but conflicting materials - so we aimed to have the piece look as if the hardware had been actually "screwed" through the minerals. For the Rodarte Specimen Globe Cuff
(currently at OC), we used glass domes that we found in stock at an optical glass factory from the 1930s.
We will source anything from anywhere: vintage, new, custom and in any condition. Some of our pieces can have many mixed elements, and each material is individually sourced mainly from our travels and contacts. We have never used elements from the exact same place or contact. We sort of treat the process like collaging with found objects - from precious to worthless.
MF: I’ve researched and seen a lot of your work, and it seems to be all about the process - testing the waters with new techniques. What is a journey like for each piece? How do you arrive at the final product, and how long does it take?
When we first start thinking of new pieces, we "package" an assortment of textures and colors, then study and play with each until they feel right. We have tried all sorts of treatments on different materials. We're open to anything. We have burned, baked, bleached, dyed, acid fumed and destroyed so many different pieces - and have even tried to gold/silver leaf them after! As with many designers, some pieces come easily and others are more problematic. These difficult ones are always put on the back burner to be reassessed later - but they are the ones that always seem to be more interesting! We will take the time to develop our "eye" and acclimate ourselves to something we find strange or "not right". We know it will be a good piece if we cant make it work for months/years on end and are still are drawn to it!
We feel a bit like a pair of mad scientists who are sort of clueless. Once we went to Toys R' Us and bought one of those kits to grow gems and crystals with... We tried growing those day glo gems onto a frog skeleton we had found. It was an epic fail but that's half the fun, I guess!
MF: I thought it was so interesting when we both realized we went to Sarah Lawrence and now design jewelry. We both know that as a strictly liberal arts college, Sarah Lawrence students are encouraged to study in as many areas as possible—but neither of us studied sculpture. How did what you study inform your art and if so, how is this reflected in your work?
I studied Art History while at SLC and, at one point, worked in a museum writing grants. Beyond giving me a general knowledge base for art, my actual profession did not come out of these studies but rather the environment I was in. The neighboring wealthy suburbs around Bronxville were fuel for my collecting. It was truly the beginning of my couture and jewelry obsessions.
MF: So when did you first start designing jewelry and how did you discover it?
It was the late 80s when I started experimenting with combining and re-assembling found objects... I began by dissecting, breaking, and destroying (!) antique and period jewelry and reassembling it.. So, I am self taught basically! Back then, I sourced flatware and silver holloware to repurpose into body ornaments - soup ladles became epaulets, corn picks became earrings, figural salt and pepper shakers became brooches! Later I became more interested in the repurposing of antique jewels into surreal and kitsch formations - which looked anything but antique!
Mark and I began collaborating on jewelry design in the late 90s. We were both making frequent trips to France for the Haute Couture shows, and while there, were also meeting with artisans to develop a high-end home decor line in glass. This eventually morphed into us exploring jewelry fabrication of our own - and ultimately, our present jewelry collection.
MF: Objects of nature, whether literal or represented, seem to always be incorporated into the pieces. Is there significance to this?
In regard to its significance: Nothing is more perfect and stunning than what you encounter in nature. We have always referenced nature, from the very beginning. Particularly flowers. For one of our first collections, we had been experimenting with glass - and in doing so, found that the formation of the flower shape was a natural extension of the glass process. Ironically, the material naturally melded well with petal and leaf forms.
At the moment we are fascinated with natural minerals. We love exploring the juxtaposition of their colors and textures to one another, and in addition, to textures we can create in metal and glass.
It is important that our pieces don't look too familiar or "jewel" like. There needs to be a sense of something off-putting and strange to make these pieces provocative. If someone says at first glance that our pieces are "gorgeous" or "beautiful" then we haven't succeeded at pushing that boundary.
MF: What was the first piece you ever made? What was the process like?
Hmm, not sure of the exact first piece we created, however a pair of these Gingko earrings in jade-colored glass come to mind. You see, our early collections were all floriform/nature inspired and were originally intended solely for home decoration purposes. These gingko leaves were conceived for the purpose of being napkin rings, however, one of the editors at Vogue
had them on a shoot, straightened them out, and shot them in a moody photo on Jacquetta Wheeler (May 2002). That put us into the jewelry business. We still get requests for this style a lot. (See photo).
MF: Your favorite piece of jewelry you have ever made, and why?
My favorite piece thus far definitely are the 18th Century style Girandole earrings which we made in collaboration with Rodarte for their FW08 collection. From a distance, they appear to be massive antique agate earrings --but when you look at them up close, you realize that what appears to be “stones” are actually vintage doll’s eyes edged in crystals! Runner up would be the Wing cuff we created in collaboration for Rodarte’s FW09 collection-- in which we used panels of rock crystal! (See photos).
The MWLC Poured Glass "Bleeding Rose" Necklace! Runnerup? Our MWLC "KIKI" Bird brooch made of poured glass and ostrich.
MF: Are there any artists you would say influence your work and your design process?
Miro, Stephen Sprouse, The Flintstones, Dali,
Steven Arpad, Katrin Sigurdardottir, 18th Century France.
Leonora Carrington, Janine Janet. Kiki collaborative ca *?
MF: What should we expect for SS11?
For Spring 2011 we are veering toward a "sunnier and more childlike" version of our style. It should hopefully be odd, but also happy at the same time - like a foggy childhood memory. It will incorporate more glass and less minerals.