The artist as metalsmith: John De Rosier's jewelry

De Rosier bracelet

Sterling silver flattened links bracelet.

By Akum Norder

To someone who's really creative, one creative job may not be enough.

John De Rosier is best known for putting a spin on the day's news as the Times Union's editorial cartoonist.

He's also a jeweler.

His jewelry has a rich simplicity about it, echoing both natural and industrial forms. Metals and shapes are the focus here; he uses gemstones rarely. The designs are modern but not sterile, and very eye-catching.

Read on to learn a little about his work and his inspirations.

De Rosier jewelry 4.

You already spend all day making art. Why take up an artistic hobby?

I know. Here's this guy with a cool job and a large audience that reads his opinions and -- get this -- he's still not satisfied! Really, occupying the editorial cartoonist's post at the Times Union is an enormous privilege, not to mention the fulfillment of a dream that began in high school, so it's a large part of who I am. But my cartoons -- by the very nature of the medium -- necessarily focus, daily, on what is wrong with the world. I don't mind that because jobs that matter often do precisely that, and by so doing improve the lives of those they serve.

By contrast, my jewelry is my attempt to dwell on what is amazing and beautiful in the world, distill it, and present it as a different kind of offering.

Finally, I'm driven to create. Creating reminds me that I am alive and connected to the source of all creation, whatever it is, and in that sense, it's a spiritual pursuit. But we live in a culture that reduces us to the role of "consumers," and I think we're poorer if we believe it. Too much consuming makes me anxious; I guess it strikes me as gluttonous. I'd much rather be making something of value, building something important, saying something thoughtful, rather than passively using, watching, hearing. Too much consuming, and not enough creating or doing is in my view the grave of the soul, and a shallow one at that.

De Rosier jewelry 5.

What appeals to you about working with metal?

You mean, besides the really cool tools?

Seriously, metal, and the process of working with it is magical. From the musical "ping" of a jeweler's saw blade to the rainbow that dances in a torch flame, metalworking is at times beautiful, violent, sensual. Metal is earthy and for me working with it is intellectually grounding and like a meditation, mastering it requires total attention. If your mind wanders, so does the tool, and the desired result escapes.

Metal is also palpable and eternal. As a small sculpture it occupies three dimensions and can be held and worn, which makes this work different from my cartoons -- more physical. The cartoons, being drawings, are in two dimensions and come to life primarily in the minds of my readers. They're more cerebral. Neither pursuit is better than the other; they're both fulfilling, and in my life, they're complementary.

De Rosier jewelry 1

What inspires the forms of your jewelry?

My designs distill inspirations that come from so many sources I'm hard-pressed to categorize it. They often begin as something I see -- architectural or industrial elements, organic objects, landscape imagery or even glimpses of the heavens, like those magnified through the Hubble telescope. These visual raw materials become sketches that I break down to their essential elements, and if I like what I see, I take them to my studio.

Other times, what began as a sketch will evolve as I'm working on it, or sometimes a random scrap of metal on my bench serves as the germ for a new idea and takes me in unexpected directions.

De Rosier jewelry 2

Fundamentally, though, I seek essential beauty and attempt to relay that through my work in the simplest, most elegant ways I can. Light, color, shape, proportion and texture are some of my favorite design tools. But ultimately I love simplicity. Simple beauty captivates me.

Tell me how and when you got started. Did you receive any formal training?

My mother would tell you that I showed precocious eye-hand coordination when, as a youngster, I would kill flies against the window with my finger, Mr. Miyagi-style (I have no memory of this).

Many modeling-clay dinosaurs, Lego spaceships and plastic models later, on a hunch, I took a jewelry making class at The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, maybe eight years ago. The discipline came quickly and intuitively to me and totally sucked me in.

Some years later, I took a sabbatical from the Times Union to work as an apprentice under a master goldsmith in Massachusetts. Since then, I have taken a number of classes from masters in their respective specialties. But I'm still learning, and having endless creative paths to explore with this medium is immensely appealing to me, not to mention daunting and humbling.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.
_____

You can see some of John De Rosier's pieces in his Etsy shop. And he writes about the process of making jewelry on his personal blog, "The Jeweler's Files." His blog is also where he posts information about his upcoming shows.

De Rosier jewelry 3

Comments

I'm a big fan of John's work, including his use of recycled materials (he made my wedding ring, and my husband's ring, out of recycled white gold). Great profile, Akum.

John, you are a very talented young man! You are not only a great cartoonist for the Albany Times Union (they are very lucky to have you!), you also display great artwork as a metalsmith! Keep up your great work and enjoy!

Hi John...you're so gifted in the arts...cartoonist, metalsmith, photographer! We're proud of you!

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