CHASING THE LIGHT: THE DREAMS OF WALLACE CHAN
I went to the preview last night of Masterpiece London 2016, the fine art and decorative fair which exhibits pieces of unparalleled quality. Everything, the furniture, books, glass, paintings, miniatures is of exceptional quality and you do not get considered to exhibit if you are not first in your field. The quality was as high as always; and my heart turned somersaults when I saw the stand of the renown jeweller Wallace Chan.
I have seen this artist jeweller’s work in books and on the internet, but never in the flesh- and nothing really prepares you for the beauty, creativity, technical ingenuity and colour of the pieces in display. Wallace Chan is first and foremost an artist; he grew up in extreme poverty in Hong Kong in China, leaving school at 13 to support his family. He became an apprentice sculptor and was able to set up his own workshop by 1974. He becomes utterly obsessed by the stone he is working with: ‘I can see its flaws and angles. There are elements I want to hide and elements I want to bring out. I am chasing the light.’
He is most famous for developing a technique of carving faces and images into precious stones, which then multiply through the facets of the gem. He marries the most up-to-date technology and materials to create dream-like, often sculptural pieces that vibrate with colour. Flowers and butterflies remain a firm favourite; these are now often set in titanium, extraordinarily light and strong but notoriously difficult to work with. The beauty of titanium is that if you dip in acid and run an electronic current through it, it colours the metal. Different currents produce different colours. He is a jeweller after my own heart; although he has used some real showstopping gems in his work, he is fascinated by them as a medium, not by their commercial value. He does not produce collections, only unique pieces. And that is right, I believe- if you are asking clients to part with fortunes on jewels, it is normally done with the premise that the piece is forever and will hopefully become an heirloom. By creating yearly collections, as a designer you are staring that what you already produced last year has dated.
Wallace Chan broke a glass ceiling by becoming the first Asian artist jeweller to be asked to exhibit in that bastion of good taste, the Paris Biennale des Antiquaires. He has been asked to exhibit at Masterpiece London twice before, finally accepting at the third request. This truly has to be seen to be believed.
Masterpiece London 2016: 30th June-6th July 2016, Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London. www.masterpiecefair.com