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
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
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
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.
*Gavin Rain, Neo-pointillist Painter, Cape Town