Margaret West was the head of Jewellery and Object Design at Sydney College of the Arts when I attended there from 1991-3. Under her direction, we were encouraged to think and to research, to explore and to investigate, to analyse and really see objects and our surroundings.
Her own practice explores the “expressive potential and cultural resonance of a wide range of materials in the making of series of enigmatic objects” (from her website).
When I was first introduced to the work of Margaret West, she was making jewellery and objects from lead. As Julie Ewington writes in her catalogue essay to Margaret’s interstices exhibition from 1993, Lead is… “malleable and toxic, protective density its major virtue”
I remember most strongly her lead bibs. They looked like they would be delicious to wear. Heavy and protective. But knowledge of their materiality made me recoil. It was this emotional reaction to a material that intrigued me.
In the mid 90’s (it would seem as a reaction to the years of working with the density and mass of lead) Margaret produced a series of large balsa wood brooches called Light as Air. Smooth hand painted surfaces that looked like stone, but would be light and warm to the touch.
And it is stone that seems to now be West’s choice of material. Granite, basalt, marble and slate; thinly sliced, cut, polished and painted to represent flowers, sky and clouds.
The impenetrability and heaviness of stone is thus at striking odds with the imagery West conjures out of their surface and substance. There is an essential play here between solidity and lightness, surface and depth, which ultimately poses an unanswerable question: how can stones float, or flowers become as lasting as geological time?
Wide (true) blue yonder, by Julie Ewington, first published in Object, 1/2000,
I really value the education I received under the tutelage of Margaret West; she helped me to gain a knowledge and understanding of materials and how and why we use them.
She also introduced me to jewellery and craft theory and in particular the book Craft In Society (ed. Noris Ioannou) published in 1992. In it, I found an essay by Kevin Murray, which changed the way I thought about the wearing of jewellery and I will introduce it to you next week…
All images and quotes taken from the artist’s website with permission.