INTERVIEW WITH JEWELLER KARL FRITSCH

This was an interview originally commissioned by the New Zealand Listener last year, which they never used, never paid for, and so I'm putting it here:

Categorising what Karl Fritsch does – jeweller, artist, craftsman – isn’t easy. “I make rings,” he says. “A jeweller makes rings, so that suits well. I think jewellery can be art as much as anything nowadays. I wouldn’t create a new art form for what I’m doing; I’ll stick to making rings and being a jeweller… Or goldsmith, I quite like that. And I certainly agree that the outcome can be art. People in that art world can see it as art as much as a book or anything can be art today.
 “I like making rings. I like the form and I like the size. It’s made with your hands and it’s worn on your hand. It touches everything we touch. It’s what it is. It sounds like a limit, but actually I can’t reduce it to a solitaire ring, it’s a great challenge every day to make a new version of a simple solitaire ring.”

A leading figure in contemporary international jewellery, German-born Fritsch trained at the Goldsmiths’ College in Pforzheim and the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. His work is found in the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, the Pinakothek Modern in Munich, MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and Te Papa. His aesthetic is striking, recasting old jewellery, leaving silver tarnished and lumpen, counterpointing precious stones with incongruous found objects or coloured glass in an instinctive commentary on the elemental object and the relationship between generic commercial production and rarity. Since late 2009 he and his New Zealand-born partner, fellow jeweller Lisa Walker live in Wellington. Fritsch describes the move:

“We were looking for a new apartment in Munich and it was very difficult finding something, with two kids and needing more space. Also Lisa’s mum was not well and she wanted to be closer. So we just said, Ok, we’ve lived in Munich long enough, let’s go to New Zealand. That was a really good decision.”

In New Zealand, Fritsch shows with Wellington art dealer Hamish McKay, Fingers Jewellery in Auckland, and The National in Christchurch:

“I enjoy that I’m not only in jewellery galleries,” he says, “but also art galleries. I enjoy sitting in that world. With art you can never be too sure what that is. It works with open minds and open minds can look at my rings and enjoy them as art or just as rings, but that they receive that attention is a pleasure and it’s nice to reach an audience.

“I sit down with my brain of ideas and my hands keen to make and things happen. Some deliberate, some by accident. When I start manipulating existing jewellery pieces, I bought them to melt them down as material. When I’d had them sitting there in my workshop a long time suddenly they opened up and gave me a new idea – that they were something already and intuitively I started fixing and manipulating them. The dealers remove the stones [before sale] and I replace them with something else.”

That realisation was a turning point for Fritsch from the commercial jewellery he’d trained in, combined with the ideas he was exposed to at the Munich Academy:
“It was quite spontaneous,” he says, “and intuitive reaction but they changed a lot, suddenly from being rejected and melted down, they ended up in show cases at art fairs. That was really exciting and their new life meant they go back into the world again as a different, new ring.”

Fritsch likes to use the Northern Rata as a metaphor:

“It starts growing as an epiphyte on other trees, then grows roots down and slowly overtakes the old tree and turns it into a rata. Scientists aren’t sure if it kills the old tree or it’s symbiosis. There was something about that statement and I kept it in my mind and years later I realised that’s what I do. It’s always straight into making – I don’t start sketching. It’s best when I go straight into the idea with the material – the excitement transfers into the piece and the making.”
Fritsch actively collaborates with artists like Francis Uprichard and Gavin Hipkins, and Italian-born furniture designer Martino Gamper:

“With Frances and Martino we do Gesamtkunsthandwerk (the comprehensive work) which is an amazing pleasure. We really love each other’s work. I love that Francis is a sculptor, a maker, that hand on things – there’s an overlap, a common base. Same with Martino as a furniture maker it’s hands on things. We start by making things together but usually our collaboration is putting our things together, not necessarily making things together, but putting them together as Gesamtkunsthandwerk – the work of all arts and just enjoy the common presence and the way things talk to each other and just adore each other in a nice conversation.

“With Gavin it’s quite different – he gives me photos, I manipulate them, and the result can’t be separated. That’s a real collaborative piece. I enjoy that openness. It’s amazing that he trusts me to work with them as a material that already has something to say. With him I allowed myself bigger gestures, using aluminium as a material.”

Regarding NZ jewellery, Fritsch namechecks Dutch-born curator Peter Deckers HandShake project. “There is,” he says, “a real looking at opening up, looking at international markets and connections, more than in that ‘stone, bone, shell’ era when the idea was more New Zealand jewellery for New Zealanders – that’s still there and I really like that, but I think that the young jewellers are pushing outside.”

Fritsch was selected to participate in this year’s Schmuck, the internationally prestigious exhibition of contemporary jewellery, running for fifty years now, as part of Munich’s annual jewellery week. It’s a tremendous honour, and a homecoming of sorts, but also a reminder of where he now feels home. But does he see himself as more a German or New Zealand jeweller?

“It felt great to visit Munich for Schmuck,” he says. “Beside the general jewellery buzz that is created by hundreds of international shows and events that make all our jewellery efforts feel most important. It is awesome to come home see my old friends and splash out on Schweinebraten and Weissbier. I really enjoy being part of the New Zealand jewel-gang that seems to get bigger every year and is already known for their friendliness and enthusiasm soaking up the buzz to spread it back home.
“This year the New Zealand delegation even got underpants sponsored from Thunderpants, such a nice Kiwi thing organised by the jeweller Sarah Read. I definitely felt on the right side of the room singing a waiata with the New Zealand delegation at the Pinakothek der Moderne two years ago at a very official handover of NZ jewellery documentation.”

It’s all about people.


“You need to get close to jewellery,” he says. “I make it for a wearer. A ring is a ring, but its fulfilment is when it’s on a finger.”

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