Julie Blyfield’s work explores the small details of Australia’s natural environment—plants, fungi, leaves, lichen, marine organisms, invertebrates—and interweaves parallel stories of our human interaction with this often unseen organic world. Returning to favourite places, she records minute changes in plants and organisms as research for her jewellery and objects. Blyfield was born in Melbourne in 1957 and has lived and worked in Adelaide since 1965. She was a founding member of the Adelaide jewellery studio Gray Street Workshop.
Tinder, vessel 2008 is based on Blyfield’s observations of leaves on the bush floor of Kangaroo Island after bushfires in 2007. The fragile evidence of life in the blackened yet structurally intact forms, overlaid with greyish-white ash is encapsulated in this highly accomplished work. Its use of eucalypt leaves to create a vessel makes reference to the consciously naturalistic foliate decoration in the nineteenth-century narrative silver and gold table centrepieces and epergnes of South Australia’s German silversmiths. Such objects often commemorated the role of pastoralists in land development and clearing and, to modern eyes, the resultant susceptibility of these landscapes to drought and fire.
Blyfield’s skill as a silversmith is downplayed in this work, as she oxidises and paints the silver to evoke the fiery transition of live plants to tinder and the melancholy of the observation of this process. Made in silver (even if the gleam of the precious material is hidden) with finely chased texture and applied enamel, this ‘vessel’ of leaves has become a different sort of commemorative object as it celebrates the resilience of the natural world.
Robert Bell AMSenior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design
in artonview, issue 71, Spring 2012