In an inspired contemporary interpretation of Ormolu, silversmith Julie Blyfield and ceramicist Kirsten Coelho have collaborated to create a suite of porcelain containers with intricate silver lids and an accompanying collection of jewellery. Historically the decorative style of Ormolu involved lavish ornamentation of furniture, clocks and ceramics with gold-coloured metal alloys. The Chinese combined metal and porcelain in tea caddies, while the English created Ormolu snuff boxes and trinket containers, and made repairs using metal staples and components to prolong the life of an object. There is a rich history, too, of the Japanese Kintsugi tradition of repairing ceramics with gold, silver or platinum.
In their reinvention of these European and Asian traditions Coelho and Blyfield turn to humble domestic objects and ornaments that bear testament to an earlier Australian way of life. Together they have researched the historic connections between pottery and metalware in the Moonta Mines Museum, the South Australian Museum and the findings of the archaeological dig on the site of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Their pieces in Ormolu take inspiration from domestic utensils, mining implements and objects to be found on dressing tables and kitchen dressers.
Both artists share an aesthetic approach that involves the ‘making precious’ of these humble objects through the time and skill invested in their making. They have a shared interest too in the way an object’s meaning can shift and accrete new associations over time in response to changes in the social and cultural context as it passes through generations of owners or is re-positioned in a museum collection. Their collaboration grew organically out of an awareness of each other’s practice over the years and developed in a series of meetings and conversations.
Kirsten Coelho’s refined porcelain forms are a reinvention of everyday utilitarian lidded forms such as ginger jars, tea caddies, storage containers and bottles, as well as the open forms of jugs, cups, bowls and funnels. As a delicate counterpoint to the sublime simplicity of the porcelain, Julie Blyfield in her ornamental stoppers and lids, and in her suite of jewellery, subverts the shiny allure of silver, darkening it through oxidisation so that it resembles baser metals like tin and pewter, or softening its sheen to a lustrous matt finish. In a specific reference to Ormolu she sometimes combines fine layers of copper and silver in bimetal stoppers, where the reddish glow of copper emerges through the blackened silver as a burnished palimpsest.
An alloy is a fusion of metals to make a stronger new compound. Ormolu by Kirsten Coelho and Julie Blyfield is a metaphorical as much as actual fusion of fine crafting skills, to make precious things inspired by the humble objects of everyday life.
Margot Osborne 4 September 2017