Rachel’s Eye on Design: Carved Chatoyant Bead Necklace

Pier Voulkos, Carved Chatoyant Bead Necklace, 1999, 36″ longThe elements of design are present in all fabricated objects, although we rarely stop to consider them.  A stylistic analysis of a hand crafted piece of jewelry, a manufactured chair or product packaging may seem strange, but one can evaluate each of them with the same care and language as one might use to discuss a painting or piece of sculpture in a museum.  The basic design elements of line, form, color and texture are important components of the creative process.  And, although each has a separate function within a given piece, they generally work together in a fully integrated way.

In the world of polymer art,  jewelry represents a significant proportion of the work.  Consider the idea that a piece of jewelry is really a type of miniature art.  In this wonderfully, playful necklace by Pier Voulkos  each acrobatic unique unit of one, two, or three beads is interconnected through a repetition of color, form and pattern that is literally held together with a line of cord.  Unlike sculpted art in which form often dominates the composition, in this case, the first thing one might notice is the limited range of color. Each component of the necklace is a variation in brown that brings to mind the qualities of polished wood.  The subtle suggestion of a carved surface only enhances the effect. Within the two basic brown hues- one more red and one more golden-  there is a range of values from dark to light, but essentially it is a monochromatic palette.  Almost simultaneously with the color, one notices the pattern or texture of the surfaces. This is an integral part of the color component since Pier created the patterns by employing the clay’s chatoyant properties.  Even within the limitations of a limited value range, Pier Voulkos, Carved Chatoyant Bead Necklace, 1999, detailthere is enough contrast from dark to light to create strong graphic patterns.  Variations on the checkerboard, bull’s eye, stripe and wave appear seemingly at random throughout the necklace along with a single, large, star patterned bead.

With the star patterned bead to draw in the eye, Pier created a focus point, or a place to begin.  Your attention captured, the linear component of the piece emerges and leads the eye from bead to bead.  In this necklace, the suspension of the different bead forms on a single, exposed cord provides a very strong unifying element. The cord functions as both a physical connection as well as a place for visual calm within the overall composition of the necklace.  As your eye follows along,  the forms of the different beads demand attention.  All are variations on a round or oval shape.  The rounded, snail type coil, with its one flat side, offers syncopation within the jumbled tumble of the other, more symmetric beads.  While realizing the form of each bead, your eye naturally comes back to its surface pattern.  There is no obvious system of relating form to pattern, nor is there a consistency of scale.  Wide stripes are on smaller beads, and petite checkerboards are on big beads; there are larger and smaller versions of the same basic shape. This unpredictability imparts a sense of whimsy to the piece and gives it compositional interest. The total effect is a playful cascade of form and pattern united with cord and color.

I cannot remember a time in my life that I wasn't interested in looking at art, talking about art and the making of art. In 1990 I earned a Phd in art history at the University of Maryland. My first experiences with polymer clay were in 1992, but I consider my real work with the medium to date from 1999.