Interview:

Katie Corcoran - Info?

KC: Where did you grow up?

Klaus Bürgel: I grew up in a small village on a peninsula which stretches into the Lake of Constance marking the southern border of Germany. Zurich is a 50 minutes ride away.

KC: Did anyone else in your family work with metal?

KB: No

KC: Was your family supportive about your decision of becoming a metalsmith/ jewelry designer?

KB: Yes. I actually wanted to study painting but my family talked me into learning some useful skills.

KC: When exactly did you get interested in metalsmithing?

KB: I can’t say I’m predominately interested in metalsmithing or jewelry. I’m interested in many things and one of them are small intimate objects. In 1976 I was a 17 year old student at the Goldschmiedeschule in Pforzheim. A key experience were my frequent visits at the Reuchlin Haus in Pforzheim a museum solely devoted to jewelry. I remember vividly the excitement I had over the work of Anton Cepka, Reinhold Reiling, Hermann Jünger, Daniel Kruger, Manfred Bischoff, Claus Buri, Therese Hilbert, Otto Künzli, Bernhard Schobinger....and many more. It was unbelievable inspiring to see their work. Something I did not know existed.

KC: When and where did you first learn to work with metal?

KB: In High school. In hindsight it was a rather annoying experience. To stand in line and to wait till a tool becomes available is what I remember the most of it . KC: What is it you do and why do you do it? What do you call yourself, a metalsmith, jeweler, designer, artist?
KB: I spend more time in my sculpture studio then in my jewelry workshop lately and with it came a shift in definition. Now, more often then not I call myself an artist simply because it seems to me the most encompassing term for what I’m doing without going to much into details.

KC:When you look at a jewelers work what questions do
you ask yourself?

KB: Is it honest ? Is it true to the idea and the language of material. If I can answer those questions with yes, I can like a lot of things.

KC: In the latest issue of Metalsmith magazine there is an article about craft vers. art, what is your opinion on this?

KB: The question really belongs to the past. A serious artist never understood the question on the first place and a serious craftsman does not care for it anymore either. You do what you do and you use what’s available. High art, low art, crafts, photography, video... It’s people who are trapped who ask these kind of questions. I put special emphasis on trapped here, because those who do not feel this way really don’t give a damn. They do what they do anyway, with great pride and confidence. I have great admiration for them. It does not have to be one against the other, one does not have to exclude the other. It’s the concept, the content and the context that make the difference not the medium.

KC: As a teacher do you feel that students should be equally disciplined (knowledgeable) with their design skills and their craftsmanship? Is one more important than the other?

KB: The independence that comes with the ability to execute a piece on my own gives me great pleasure. I don't separate one from the other and I don’t think that they should be. But they are very different and can just as well be trained separate. It’s the choice the student has to make before he/she enters a program.
I think the schools have to make clear what it is they offer the students to prevent future frustration on either side. I wish there would be more distinction between the jewelry programs and a harsher selection process for the students to get in. Students who are mainly interested in marketable skills paralyze the discussion by enrolling to a fine arts oriented program. There definitely is a need for more technique oriented programs.

KC: Can you make an artist statement about your jewelry work? Wearable art ver. non wearable art?

KB: I am primarily concerned with the sensual and the physical aspects of jewelry and ornament. I have tried to cast as wide a net as possible, not limiting myself to the execution of the object nor the function of a single object. I'm interested in touch of material, intimate surface, weight, light, structure and ideas of concealment but the method of production is secondary. I like to think of my jewelry as a secretion. Like a bee produces honey, the jewelry is what comes out of me.

KC: What motivates you?

KB: To see other artist’s work. I find it very difficult to live up to my own standards. It’s like wrestling an alligator. I know there is a place where I feel complete but the place is always shifting. There are times when I wonder why I do what I do and what it is all for. But then, each piece I finish opens a new door .

KC: Do you envision a particular person wearing your jewelry?

KB: When I’m in the studio I hear hundreds of voices in my head. I only think of a particular person when I do a commission or when I incorporate a spell.

KC: Can you make an artist statement about your metalsmithing pieces?

KB: I do very little metalsmithing. But not to long ago I received an invitation to participate at a show called “Boston Tea-Party” at Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge. I was thinking of doing a larger functional object for some time. The invitation motivated me to take on the challenge and to make a teapot. What I like about it is that it is functional and ceremonial. I like beauty. Beautiful objects turn the most mundane activity into a ceremony.

KC: What are the Materials you are working with?

KB: Silver, iron, palladium, precious and semiprecious stones of all kind, gold, and everything else I’m getting my hands on.

KC: Why do you use these materials?

KB: I’m searching for a dialog with the material. I prefer to use materials which do not like to talk, materials which are shy, locked up in themselves. Their silent power is driving me crazy. I try everything to make them open their mouths, everything to make them talk to me.

KC: Do you ever incorporate found objects into your work?

KB: If I use a found object, it is usually for the opposite reasons. Found objects are loaded with history, chatty and eager to tell their story.

KC: Do you use color in your work? (enamel)

KB: Not really. I did some enamel when I was working as an apprentice and have not touched it since. Not that I mind color. It’s just that I don’t have any use for it.

KC: Do you have themes that you work from?

KB: I’m never quite sure what it is I’m working on till I have a few pieces finished. Miraculously they all fit into a bigger story. When I was first starting to work in wax there were all this forms wanting to come out, and it was extremely exciting and pleasurable, almost like automatic writing. I’d just sit there at the bench and start working away and I would not know what I was going to do or what was going to happen. With my branching out into making large scale sculpture came a change in my working process. I recognized that a lot of the work was going on in my conscious mind beforehand. So there was a shift to subject matter, whereas before I’d been interested in form.

KC: What are you working on?

KB: In 1999 my focus shifted from small intimate objects to large scale installations. Most of the year I had lives in apartments which have not been my own and in in-personal hotelrooms. My interest in insects culminated in the desire to create my own environment. An environment where I’m the insect so to speak.

KC: What inspires you? Can you say anything about your design process?

KB: Nature, appears to be a major source of inspiration. Architecture and how it relates to structures built by animals I also find tremendously inspiring. With various degrees of success I try not to think of myself to much as a human being.
I seem to improvise a lot. I get to a certain point and then I check if it still works with what I think the piece should do or be like. There is a large element of spontaneity in my working process. But I’m very critical with myself. Even though I start out with an idea I do not enslave myself to it. The process is more like building. It’s a constant give and take.

KC: As a student was there a particular person or persons that you admired?

KB: When I started my training as a jeweler I was 17. Soon after that I saw work of Hermann Jünger and some of his students from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. All I wanted was to get there. It took me another 13 years and by the time I was accepted Jünger had taken on the persona of a god.

KC: Do you cast your pieces yourself ?

KB: If I have access to a centrifuge and burn-out kiln. Yes.

KC: Do you work more with wax or metal (fabricate)? Do you have a preference?

KB: I started to work with wax when I came to the US. Primarily because I had no bench and no tools. What happened was a tremendous relaxation in how I would approach a piece. Spontaneity became one of the strongest characteristics in my work. The surfaces became very lively often times I kept the sprues attached or reused the spruebuttons for other pieces. Casting was a technique I knew very little about and therefore made many mistakes. Mistakes which I treasure and would never have happened if I had worked in sheetmetal. Working in wax -particularly soft wax- allowed me to step back and approach jewelry from another angle.
More recently I fabricate elaborate hollow constructions out of sheetmetal with openings which turn inward like a trap. I pretty much go with the flow. One advantage of teaching is having access to equipment. Whatever equipment I have access to I try to figure out a way to use it for my work.

KC: When are you happy? When do you think your work has been successful?

KB: The pieces I feel very strong about usually combine discipline with chance. Intellect with emotion. They encourages me not to listen to all the sweet voices I so very much would like to please.

KC: Do you have a theory or philosophy about what makes a good metalsmith/ jewelry designer?

KB: I don’t know. For me it was hard work and still is. Skills are learnable but it is all the other crap that gets in the way. Expectations...

KC: Are there guidelines that you go by? Certain criterias that the work must follow?

KB: There are many traps for a jeweler to fall into. The most frequent one is to get carried away by craftsmanship. A successful piece to me has to incorporate the surprise of discovery, a secret and a mistake. A piece that reveals everything is either to literal or to didactic. Either way I find them rather boring.

KC: In your work as well as your students work do you encourage exploration of design? Jewelry that is made to look at rather then to be worn?

KB: Of course! I try to open up the students to all aspects of jewelry. Esthetics vary from person to person reflecting the human psyche, cultural, religious, even geographical and professional backgrounds. My understanding of teaching is to develop and nurture a students sensibility to what he/she is bringing into the studio and to work on ways on how his or her findings can be placed in context to the cultural environment we are living in now.

KC: Direction jewelry design/ metalsmithing is taking?

KB: It seems to me that jewelry once again is taking on an observer position rather then to participate. Not a good time for jewelry as a whole.
I would love to see more obsessive craftsmanship, abstract constructions, deconstructivist ornaments, anti-dogmatic and unpredictably honest. Work of divine madness, visually complex and free of seductive packaging. Work that is bold, confident and discrete. Work that makes use of the advantages of the small intimate format to connect with the human psyche.

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