Artist and designer Linda Brothwell talks to Teleri Lloyd-Jones
How did your first solo show at the Holburne Museum come about?
I met Catrin Jones, curator at the Holburne, when I showed at collect a few years ago. We got chatting and she invited me to see the museum’s collection. The process was organic.
What items were you drawn to?
William Holburne’s collection includes small pieces gathered on the Grand Tour and that’s what gives it a great breadth – from polished marbles or ceramics to silver spoons, all these things that he picked up. Their small scale interests me – it’s how I gained entry into the collection.
Your practice is often about place, but isn’t Holburne’s collection almost the opposite, taking souvenirs from places?
Yes. I’m interested in place but also passage and journeys. I’m fascinated by him taking things, such as Italian marble, out of their context. All these different materials and techniques shown all together. Catrin and I are both interested in overlooked objects, things at the edges. It is perhaps a little left-field, but I was drawn to the marble plinths Holburne had made: agates, malachites, lots of clashing colours, quite contemporary.
A lot of these are in the collection’s store and they’ve been removed from their objects. That’s why the show is called The Missing, because it’s about the families of objects that have missing connections. What are you making for the exhibition? An exploration of material. I’m starting to use particular forms, rectangular and square. A lot of the work will be wearable. It’s exciting – I trained as a jeweller but this will be the first time in a few years that I’ve made wearable pieces. It’s nice to think about bodies and people again.
How did you come to jewellery?
I grew up on a farm near the Peak District. The idea of connection with materials and resourcefulness was there. Being part of the environment was important, not having a gap between me and the landscape. But I walked past a jewellers when I was 15 and realised that I’d never thought about jewellery as something that was made by people. So I started working there on Wednesday afternoons.
How did you make the change from functional work to more conceptual?
I went to Sheffield Uni, able to make to a relatively good standard, but the thinking was what I needed to explore. I saw Otto Künzli’s Gold Makes You Blind [a gold bracelet covered in black rubber, hiding the gold] and imagined holding it, my response. You and the object, the charged space between. I realised that traditional jewellery wasn’t where I wanted to be, despite those skills being so useful. I wanted to explore other narratives. I’ve never been interested in jewellery’s external opulence. It’s always been an intimate thing. Jewellery as touchstones.
How did your series Acts of Care start?
Straight out of the RCA I met Clare Cumberlidge, and she commissioned me for Experimenta in Lisbon in 2009. I learnt to do wood inlay and repaired benches around the city. Then I got Jerwood Makers Open and I came up with Acts of Care, a model for working that allowed me to look at what I’m interested in – heritage, tools, English craft, repair.
The first edition was in Sheffield…
Yes. I created stainless steel shims to repair the wall cracks at Portland Works – where stainless steel was invented. I showed the shims but also the tools I’d made to make them. The Acts of Care in Sheffield was different because it was the first one, and I love that city. Portland Works is important, a most magic space.
Are there artists who inspire you?
For project research I don’t tend to look at other artists. But on a personal note I’m interested in place, movement and journeys. Maria Militsi and Caroline Broadhead’s show at Marsden Woo last year was beautiful. It was so poetic, personal and embedded in making. And then Frank Auerbach. I don’t look at painting much, but I’m lucky that a collector of my own work has a couple of his paintings. I had a cup of tea with her and sat with the Auerbach – again, it’s about the creating of the sense of place and sculptural quality of his work. I would never look at paintings in a gallery, but I really like the woman who owns the painting so it’s a memory of a day of being with her. It’s all about stories, really.
The Missing is at the Holburne Museum, Bath, 6 August 2016 to 2 January 2017. Linda Brothwell is a Crafts Council Directory maker