A self-taught jewellery artist with beginnings in the fashion industry, Beatrice Carlson creates one-of-a-kind pieces, often with a nod towards her love of beach combing at her adopted hometown of Devonport. We caught up with Beatrice for a chat at our Ponsonby depot.
You're originally from France, how did you come to live in Aotearoa?
I’m a Devonportian. I’ve been in New Zealand since 2004, nearly 8 years in Devonport - you go there and you don’t leave. It’s like being on an island, the ferry is so pleasing. My husband is a New Zealander - he wanted to stay in France, I wanted to come here! I love it here, every day of my life in New Zealand is bliss.
I’m from Nice in the South of France. Culturally I love champagne and I cook a lot of Provençal food. I’m a maker - when I don’t make, I cook and it relaxes me. And I like to have a drink while I cook.
Are you formally trained as a jeweller?
My background is in fashion design, I was trained as a fashion pattern maker, I got a prize in France, the Golden Needle. Then I went freelance and created my own line of lingerie. I used to exhibit in France. So I have always been a maker, I taught fashion design in France as well. After that I did pottery, my practise is very broad. When I came to NZ in 2004 I began designing uniforms for corporates, everyone from Noel Leeming to Rebel Sport, Four Square - I love the little man! They still wear my uniform design in McDonalds. Eventually I entered WOW (the World of Wearable Arts Awards) to escape the structured fashion world and go totally fantasist. I was runner-up in the South Pacific section when I first entered in 2010. The expectations from my family began straight away! Then in 2012 I was the winner of that section.
In the meantime I did a lot of visual artwork, using perspex to make carved etching prints. I would pair that work with my garments on stage making large scale pieces of jewellery. I started making jewellery that way. I’m self-taught as a jeweller. The challenge of making something without first knowing how, is always very exciting for me, so making art for WOW was a good way of creating and pushing boundaries.
When I started making adornment jewellery I discovered when buying findings that I preferred to make from the beginning. So I started doing courses in silversmithing - I knew already how to make things but just needed to learn the technical side of working with metals. Then I practised all day every day until I started to find the answer of the metal - when you bend it, it bends back. Now I let metal or shells or stones tell me, I’m not the one to bend and force, they are the ones to dictate my work. So I always say I am their tool, they are very manipulative! And I like that.
I like to play with organic shapes because I like to work with nature, it’s what inspires me especially here in New Zealand. Early on I used scoria which inspired me after trips to Hokitika and Punakaiki. My jewellery is like a small sculpture, I use the lost wax process and carve the wax in the shape of natural objects. So I might make a tiny sculpture for a ring but as a piece of jewellery it’s quite big.
Has nature always been your inspiration?
Mainly yes, it’s what made me come to New Zealand - as well as the people who are so friendly and welcoming - but I still work with my cultural background. I am inspired very much by artists like Matisse and Cocteau because that is where I come from. I love using a certain style in art that will depict New Zealand with a French eye.
What are your favourite materials to work with?
Sterling Silver. It’s the base of my work. I’ve done a lot using wire and wondering why I like it. I think it goes back to the artists like Matisse, Cocteau or the Japanese minimalists with their one line sketches. The purity you can get with one line is so simple also so complex, to create the feeling and atmosphere from just one line. I also recall my youth in Provence and St Tropez, as a kid of 5 or 6 I was fascinated with street artists who sell things to tourists. This guy was making things with wire - birds and butterflies - and that was the first time I became interested in working with wire.
I have a fascination for pearls and the lustre of shells, we all walk on the beach and collect shells or we like to crush them underfoot. I love using shells because they are unpretentious - you can find them everywhere. They represent each beach anywhere. Now when I collect shells I write the date and where it’s from. I love the whitened oyster shells from Waiheke, I paint them with gold and they make me think of Christian Lacroix or Gautier. Over-the-top jewellery pieces created with something very unpretentious. I am a woman of contrasts and relativising things, are they precious or not?
I am a walker, I go fast then I spot something and slow down. The shell finds me. I love the volcanic scoria here. There are millions of little pieces, I pick up a few and eventually find the right one. When I do it I feel totally in harmony with nature. When I carve it is very pleasing and calming.
You mentioned the French fashion designers. Does fashion dictate your designs?
Yes and no. If I create an adornment piece it’s like an extravaganza, it’s really big and in that case I am influenced by fashion, it’s my background. In fashion I like minimalist designers like Yuji Yamamoto making slow fashion pieces that will keep forever. But I disagree with fast fashion, buying rubbish one day or every day doesn’t please me because of what is left on the earth after that. So that’s what I try to reflect in jewellery making. Why buy when I can just pick up, why buy more when I can recycle? The philosophy of up cycling, recycling I embrace totally.
Do you see this as your niche now? Or is there something else in your sights that you’re ready to tackle?
I am going a bit more conceptual with pieces that speak about NZ but in different ways. I find pieces that the water gives back. Colourful pieces of porcelain plates I find on the beach. I am very excited about this because nature gives us back our rubbish but we can still make something beautiful from it. Again I relate this back to Asian culture and philosophy like the Kintsugi technique of using gold to repair broken pieces to end them in a more beautiful way. I’m very excited about my little bits of porcelain and I’ve asked people to send pieces they find to me and I’ll make jewellery for them. The 13 year old son of a friend has given me pieces of plates and glass to make with, so in return I gifted him a piece that he cherishes. The exchange of these pieces is about love and it really means something to me. I’m French, I am a romantic.