The art of the jeweller

June 27, 2018

The art of the jeweller

Creating modern-day heirlooms is at the forefront of Holly Ryan’s mind, not only because of the sentimental value of her jewellery and sculptures, allowing her designs to transcend time, but also to maximise the sustainable and ethical ethos, which is at her very core.

Living in a throwaway society has morphed us into consumers driven by trends, buying cheaper pieces that only serve a season or two. Because of this, it’s refreshing to meet artisans like Holly Ryan, who is creating jewellery and sculptures injecting a little bit of luxe into our lives.

Before speaking with Holly, I knew she had learned the art of jewellery making from her parents, who studied ancient art in Taxco, Mexico; but I didn’t realise it was at the fibre of her very being.

“I was actually conceived while they were there studying silversmithing,” Holly says with a laugh.

In their early 20s, Holly’s parents were travelling and chasing the waves, when they met an artisan in a bar and signed up for his silversmithing course.

“Taxco is a beautiful Colonial city with white rendered walls and red tiled roofs, cobblestoned streets and mariachi bands everywhere, it’s absolutely stunning,” she says.

When Holly’s parents headed home to Australia to prepare for the arrival of their beautiful baby girl, her mum continued her newfound passion in the arts and set up a studio in their home.

“I grew up with her doing the markets, making things for friends and I had a lot of jewellery from a young age – I had a baby bangle as soon as I was born,” says Holly.

In the final year of her fashion degree at QUT in Brisbane, Holly was given the choice of writing yet another 5000 word essay or creating an accessory line to complement her clothing collection for the graduation runway.

At the show, Holly caught the attention of buyers, who were all interested in her jewellery and not-so-much her clothing, which she says at the time was disappointing, but in hindsight steered her in the direction she was destined to follow.

“Mum helped me with that first range and I ended up learning on the back verandah of their house with her teaching me how to solder. She was the harshest teacher on earth! I had to do each step of the process 10,000 times to perfect it before I could move on; but it meant I became pretty good, pretty quickly,” she says.

While completing a few small courses such as diamond setting and wax carving for casting jewellery, Holly unveiled another hidden talent – sculpture work.

But it wasn’t until she was prepping for her display at Carriageworks at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week last year, that she unleashed these new skills.

“I really wanted to find a way to present the jewellery that wasn’t on marble, because that’s what every jewellery designer does and it’s beautiful but I didn’t really feel it would stand out,” she says, explaining one of her staff suggested she create sculptures to model the pieces, given her primary source of inspiration is sculpture, architecture and conceptual art.

“It turned out I wasn’t actually too bad at it because it’s basically like carving wax and making jewellery, but on a much bigger scale. I use sandstone, hebel and I’ve just ordered some limestone, so moving into different materials.”

Holly was picked up as a sculpture artist by gallery Jerico Contemporary in 2017 and in February 2018 had her first exhibition, which was an almost sell out on the opening night. She is currently working by commission-only until her next exhibition in February 2019. 

“It’s a truly incredible feeling, having another creative place to go other than jewellery; sculpting has now begun to inform my jewellery design process, which makes me really excited about jewellery again,” she says.

“I’ve always been really inspired by the Wabi Sabi aesthetic design, which is a Japanese thought process about finding beauty in imperfection and accepting transience and change. That’s something I really like about having a handmade jewellery label and then doing the sculptures – each piece is unique.”

Admiring Holly’s most recent pieces, you can see the influence Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Barbara Hepworth and Jean Arp have had on her work.

“Art is always open to interpretation and that’s what I really like about all of these people’s work, is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it is that Wabi Sabi aesthetic of finding beauty in imperfection and beauty in abstraction,” she says.

In September last year, Holly uprooted her life here on the Sunshine Coast and moved to Bronte in Sydney (making sure she still had ties to the ocean).

“I was flying down so much for work that it was becoming silly not to be in the place where there is the biggest demand for my jewellery in Australia … it’s also where my gallery is and the biggest audience for my sculpture work,” she says.

“Sydney is very intense by comparison to what I’m used to, but it’s nice to be at the heartbeat of fashion in Australia and for art as well.”

It’s obvious this new wave of inspiration is serving Holly well, with a number of new collaborations accessorising her portfolio. Holly has recently teamed up with Noosa footwear brand Woven Palm, sunglass label Pared Eyewear, and Holly Ryan is now launching a range of belts and bags made in-house.

Having been brought up with a sustainable mindset, for Holly, it’s second-nature and the ethical production of anything she puts her name to is of utmost importance.

“It’s about having respect for the materials I’m working with. We use all recycled metals because it means we’re not mining the earth for more and we melt down all of the scraps in the studio to reuse it in new designs,” she says.

“A lot of the time we are creating stock on styles we know are popular and will sell well. When a design’s time is over, if we have excess stock of that, we’ll melt it down and reuse it. There’s no point in holding that stock when we could be making it to create new designs.

“So we really try and reduce our impact wherever we possibly can, to be responsible for the pieces that we create and put out there so hopefully the people who buy them will appreciate and take care of them just the way we do. 

“I’m trying to create modern heirlooms, pieces people will look after and care for and keep for a very long time or pass onto someone else when it’s not serving them anymore.”

In abiding by this philosophy, Holly has introduced a recycling initiative whereby people can send in their Holly Ryan jewellery if they don’t wear it anymore or it’s been damaged, and receive a credit to buy a new item from the collection. 

This month, Holly returns from Europe, where she worked in a showroom in Paris with other Australian and New Zealand designers. Making the most of her trip, Holly and her boyfriend also spent a few weeks soaking up the galleries and architecture of Italy and Spain.

Given Holly’s heavy European influence, I anticipate she will return home with a caseload of inspiration.

“I’m more freestyle in my design process, I literally sit down and start making and see what happens and a lot of the time that means carving wax because it’s such a free form way to create jewellery, you’re following the curve of something you’re creating and seeing what happens,” she says.

“Sometimes I do sketch when I have something particular in mind. I’m the type of person who wakes up at 3am with an idea and have to immediately sketch it down or write it on my notes in my phone so I remember. 

“Then the next day I have to create that immediately or the idea is lost or I lose excitement for it. There are a lot of designs that are still sitting in my studio that haven’t been released yet, it doesn’t go with the collection and I’m holding onto it because it’ll have its moment.”

There’s no doubt Holly is having her own moment in the spotlight right now, and it’s awe-inspiring. 

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