Karl Wunderlich

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN GAVIN RAIN*,

CAPE TOWN, AND KARL WUNDERLICH, BERLIN

GR    So  let  me  start  off  by  asking  you  about  the

direction  you’ve  taken.  You  have  a  degree  in  Fine

Arts. Now you’re using jewellery as a medium. Why

the shift?

KW   Well  I  don’t  really  see  this  as  a  shift,  but

to  explain  this  I  have  to  go  far  afield.  My  parents

worked  in  various  museums.  I  was  pretty  much  at

home in exhibitions and archives. I was surrounded

by  artefacts,  art  and  artistic  craft-work  since  early

childhood.  When  I  was  about  five,  I  hammered

arrowheads  in  my  father’s  restorer’s  workshop  from

brass and copper wire. I was in touch with the crafts

aspect of art quite early. In school it became obvious

to me that I should become an artist.

All things I did were small of size probably because I

am short sighted. A book on japanese  tosogu  inspired

me  to  become  a  trained  goldsmith  before  I  even

embarked on the study of Fine Arts. Later it turned

out to be a fortunate decision. Jewellery is a melting

pot of the Fine Arts. Sculpture can be combined with

painting and architecture in miniature in a free and

easy way. So it is my ideal playground.

GR    Some of your subject matter is rather unusual for

jewellery. What made you go down this path? Is there

a statement here?

KW   Human   communication   is   mostly   using

stereotypes  and  clichés.  Their  use  makes  mutual

understanding a lot easier. But I am interested in the

discontinuity  and  gaps  within  the  meaning  of  those

stereotypes.  I  am  letting  a  big  cat  yawn  instead  of

roaring and I do show sexually exhausted gods.

I  am  striving  for  expression  instead  of  making

superfluous  adornment.  Otherwise  one  would  be  a

maker of so-called beautiful things which are repeated

billions  of  times,  like  the  unavoidable  bejeweled

butterfly. These I find endlessly boring.

GR   A lot of your work seems to create the feeling of

aged and bygone beauty. What’s your thinking behind

this?

KW    One of my earliest conscious memories is the

burned black sculptures and damaged palaces which

were left behind by the Dresden fire storm. Those were

still visible back in the mid-seventies and impressed

upon  me  deeply.  The  destruction  created  an  empty

space  which  I  could  fill  with  my  own  fantasy.  Still

this feeling creeps into my pieces while I am making

them.  A friend of mine from Japan once called my

work  shibui . I am really not interested in the pursuit

of some kind of industrial perfection like they do in

the jewellery trade. I am on a quest for expression.

GR    So to get technical for a second, how are these

bejewelled objects being made?

KW    At  the  beginning  there  are  always  drawings

and  sketches.  Later  I  am  making  a  rough  model

or  maquette  in  Plasticine.  Thereafter  a  detailed

sculpture  is  formed  in  plaster,  from  which  a  mould

can be made. This process allows the use of casts from

nature  like  the  Renaissance  jewellers  of  Nuremberg

used to do, or the use of other Objects Trouveés like

in the sculptures of the classical modern masters.

But  in  the  past  few  years  I  am  more  interested  in

what  Cellini  called  lavorare   della   minuteria   in

his  trattati . This means the process of chasing and

hammering  a  single  sheet  of  thin  metal  into  a  full

three dimensional sculpture. I use the model just as

guidance.

It is enticing for me to work directly in metal; to see

and to feel how the body of the miniature sculpture

slowly  emerges  almost  like  from  a  liquid  under  the

constant hammering.  The metal is literally flowing.

The  whole  piece  reacts  to  every  single  blow.  It  is

almost impossible to make corrections.

GR    Your  technique  of  using  enamel  and  jewels  is

quite different – it’s unusual and special – can you tell

me a little bit more about this?

KW    My interest in tales and myths does not end in

my subject matter; it is also mirrored in the choice of

materials. Like oils on a canvas: gems, enamel, and

the metals themselves are part of artistic expression.

They are not a decorative end unto themselves. When

I  look  at  rubies,  orange  sapphires,  or  Pink  Ivory

wood I see images of caravans on the Silk Road, fat

moguls or african slavers in my mind’s eye. Enamel

is associated with chimeras of the Gothic Age or with

the powdery bosom of a court lady.

For me gold and silver are always both: a kind of paint

and  carriers  of  meaning.  Irogane,  japanese  colour

alloys on which muted hues are produced by artificial

corrosion, contribute to my palette.

If  precious  stones  appear  like  a  volatile  note  within

a  perfume  -  contributing  to  the  overall  impression

without dominating - than that’s perfect.

That’s  why  I  love  stones  with  natural  defects  or

gnarled antique cuts.

Old  stones  are  more  tiny  abstract  sculptures  than

perfected  optical  units  because  they  were  cut  by

intuition  and  their  reflectivity  was  not  optimized

by  computers.  Their  warm  sparkle  blends  with  the

metal’s surface and does not dazzle brutally.

Enamel  -  ronde  bosse  enamel  in  particular  -  has  a

sculptural  quality  which  I  am  after.  The  physicality

of the glass is so much different from a coat of paint.

(2015)

*Gavin Rain, Neo-pointillist Painter, Cape Town

(www.gavinrain.com)