Men’s rings and women’s pendants 2011–2012

John Nixon,

March 15, 2014 to March 22, 2014

I’d never really been interested in jewellery but over the years have owned a few pieces of significance to me. As a boy I had a phantom skull ring that I had written away for using a coupon from a phantom comic—but this was subsequently lost. As a young adult I purchased a black square topaz men’s ring from a jewellery store, selecting it from various types housed in black velvet display trays. In more recent times, I purchased a men’s cast silver ring featuring two wolves’ heads. This ring, which I still wear on special occasions, became a type of model for my later pursuit of jewellery. Also whilst in Basel, Switzerland at the Petersplatz Flea Market in August 2012, I bought a rustic cast metal brooch featuring the footprint of a bear. And I wear a plain gold wedding ring.

I have thought for some time that I’d like to design and make some men’s rings. Driving back from Canberra in early October 2011 with my friend, the artist Karl Wiebke, who as a young man initially trained and practiced as a gold and silversmith in Germany, I began to discuss this idea. I wanted to make a ring to fit my hand, I had a clear idea about it and Karl offered to help me. So, shortly after our return to Melbourne we drove together to Reese Plumbing in Brunswick and having measured my ring finger, looked for a suitable piece of copper pipe to use as the material for the ring. My idea was to cut the metal to produce a flanged ring, wider at the front than back. Having found a copper sleeve with a diameter and gauge to my liking, I bought several of them, imagining I could cut three rings from each piece. I also bought some short lengths of cast iron plumbing pipe. I could now make ‘gold’ and ‘silver’ rings.

Initially I thought to cut the rings industrially. Artist and technician Jeph Neale helped to cut the galvanised iron tubing and copper with straight cuts on a lathe, but the flanged rings—my original idea— couldn’t be made by machine. I discussed this problem with jeweller Marian Hosking, a co-lecturer in the School of Art, Design and Architecture at Monash University and she advised that this style of ring would have to be cut by hand by a jeweller using a jeweller’s saw and she suggested one of her Masters students Anna Varendorff might be able to help me. Anna was, and so both types of rings could proceed. As the project progressed, Anna who is a jeweller in her own right has given assistance when needed with the necklaces and pendants.

I see art as an open and lateral field of enquiry—using the technical and visual skills and the intellectual philosophy you develop as an artist you can apply yourself to a range of activities. In my practice as a visual artist I work primarily with abstraction across painting, drawing and collage; colour and black & white photography; film and video; print making and graphic design; as well as experimental music and recently song writing for my New Music group The Donkey’s Tail. I work concurrently on different and various projects though there is usually a strong concentration on whichever activity is currently taking precedence. So when I had the idea to develop some pieces of jewellery it was just another activity to add to the list.

My rings draw from the same ideas that inform my broader practice, like the use of ready-made parts and simple structures. For the rings the idea of using non-precious metal and ‘stones’ was clear. The word or term ‘stone’ or ‘jewel’ is used loosely here—some are stones (though not precious ones, more like small rocks), others might be broken glass, or melted or milled metal. The rings are cut from manufactured industrial pipe, the ‘stones’ are collected from nature, or found somewhere on the ground. On occasion I have also used semi-precious stones purchased in their raw natural state, for example from a market.

Initially my intention was simply to join one metal ring with one stone, thus combining a circle and free-form organic shape. By cutting several metal pieces for the rings at once, some of them straight, others flanged, then the matter of finding suitable stones could continue. I realised I also liked them in this first ‘standard’ form and decided to have an assorted range of plain rings, without any stones. I sometimes used unusual metal forms, like leftover remnants of casting or burnt metal to fulfil the function of a stone. I found some large burnt exploded free-form pieces of aluminium among the rubble of a burnt-out store near where I live. These became useful as surrogate stones but apart from that, the larger size of these strangely formed organic pieces of metal led me to another idea for jewellery.

Although initially intent on make men’s rings, I now thought of using these burnt metal pieces to make women’s pendants on chains. I started to look for chains of different colour, gauge and length. The burnt metal components were either left in their found state or cut or ground to produce different shapes, in most instances retaining organic qualities. In addition to the more orthodox pendants form, I began to use simple metal bracelets and bangles attached to necklaces as pendants.

After wearing one of my standard flanged rings to some social occasions recently, a number of women friends, mostly artists, commented they would like to have one. I thought okay, I’ll use the same copper tubing etc but halve the measurements and re-size the diameter to make a standard women’s ring.

I see both the rings and the pendants as jewellery. Whilst they are an applied form of the principals that exist in my paintings, the rings and pendants are jewellery per se.

John Nixon, January 2014
Ring, 2011-12, aluminium
Ring, 2011-12, aluminium, metal chain
Pendants, 2011-12, metal chain, bronze, aluminium
Ring, 2011-12, pyrite, brass
Ring, 2011-12, glass, brass
Pendant, 2011-12, metal chain, tin lid
Ring, 2011-12, bronze, brass
Pendants, 2011-12, metal chain, glass, aluminium, string