Canberra Times: Unfold and Construct Review by Kerry-Anne Cousins

“Phoebe Porter chooses simple shapes for her jewellery, but their uncluttered design makes an impact.”

Phoebe Porter was born in Canberra and graduated from the ANU School of Art in 2001 majoring in gold and silver smithing. Her principal tutor at the time was Kuhnen so it is appropriate that she has a solo show now at Bilk in Canberra under the auspices of Helen Aitken-Kuhnen and Mio Kuhnen. After graduation Porter went to Melbourne to undertake a mentorship with Blanche Tilden whose creations in glass and metal are, like Porter’s own work, highly structural pieces. Both artists are renowned for their skilled workmanship and use of modern technologies in collaboration with the handmade. Porter initially had a studio at the Abbotsford Convent Arts Centre in Melbourne but then worked in 2005 with Blanche Tilden at Studio Hacienda, also in Abbotsford. Both artists, while maintaining their own practice, collaborated on several studio projects. Porter has now returned to live and work in Canberra.

Porter’s jewellery has been widely exhibited overseas. Recently her work has been included in the contemporary section of the large exhibition of jewellery – A Fine Possession: Jewellery and Identity – at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Porter has had solo exhibitions in Canberra, namely Wings (2004) and Material and Structure (2014) at Craft ACT. Last year Porter was part of the popular Bro.och exhibition at Bilk that attempted to convince more men to wear brooches. Indeed Porter’s jewellery fits this brief well as it is on the whole gender neutral.
Porter’s current exhibition at Bilk has a selection of bangles, necklaces, brooches, rings and earrings. Colour is used but it is limited to primary colours of black, red and yellow. It is this restrictive use of colour that, when it is employed, gives a startling emphasis to the work.

The bangles are made from titanium, silver, stainless steel and anodised aluminium. Porter’s vocabulary of simple round, oval or square shapes result in a surprising variety of bangles which can be made to fit the individual. Each bracelet is subtly different. In the Mirror series one half of the bracelet in metal is mirrored with the other half in coloured aluminium or wire. In the Cubist series a small gold cube is held between two dark metal arms of the bracelet; its glint of gold providing a subtle gleam in contrast to the austere metal lustre. This same contrast of gold and metal is also used in a matching ring.

The necklaces are geometric in style. There are Porter’s signature chains with links made of red, black or yellow anodised aluminium (the Hidden Line series); necklaces based on the style of the Victorian Albert watch and chain as well as stylised geometric neck pieces. The Albert watch chains are particularly clever and beautifully designed with a circle and crossbar at each end. While acknowledging the historic deviation of the design, the artist has conceived something fresh and contemporary. These chains can be worn with the circle and red crossbar of the clasp kept separate or they can be fastened together. Either way they look elegant.

The brooches (Brooch for Kandinsky series) pay homage to the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944). Kandinsky’s abstract paintings of geometric shapes in carefully balanced and arranged compositions were painted mainly between 1922 and 1933 when his links were strongest with the Bauhaus School of Art and Architecture in Germany. Porter’s brooches are in anodised aluminium in black, yellow and red. Their shape – a simple square, circle or triangle – means that they need to be worn to be fully appreciated. Porter has made the clasp of this brooch fasten neatly and almost invisibly in front so that the garment becomes part of the brooch thereby changing its appearance each time it is worm.

Among the earrings what is striking is the artist’s attention to the importance of balance in the asymmetrical placement of the metal shapes in the drops and wire circles. The attention to detail ensures that the wire shapes of the earrings will spring back and will not lose their shape when constantly worn. Of special note are the Disc earrings with simple black discs floating on a circle of stainless steel like planetary spheres. Notable also are the asymmetrical Off-centre drop earrings and the striking Line earrings where coloured crossbars transverse wire circles.

Initially Porter’s jewellery does not visually seduce with colour and artifice – rather it needs to be worn and appreciated over time. Its finely considered craftsmanship becomes apparent in the precision of its making and the technical skill involved in its construction. Colours become of major importance as they strike a high note of contrast against neutral metal backgrounds. If that sounds rather dull then rest assured, Porter’s jewellery will beguile you with its subtle textures and surprising wearability. Phoebe Porter is only a relatively young artist but this exhibition reveals her as having the discipline and expertise of a master jeweller.

Unfold and Construct: Jewellery by Phoebe Porter.
Bilk Gallery for Contemporary Metal and Glass. On until 14 March.