Kreamondo > Blog > Striking a balance between country and city life with jeweller Janine Combes


09 July 2019

Striking a balance between country and city life with jeweller Janine Combes

For its first time down under, Kreamondo met with contemporary jeweller Janine Combes. The island of Tasmania, off the Australian southern coast is where Janine gets her inspiration. There, she explains her story and artistic universe as we discover this beautiful island.

© Janine Combes

Tell us a bit more about yourself and how jewellery came into your life ?

I’ve always made things with my hands. I grew up on a farm in country Australia so we were all used to making many of the things that we needed in life. But my professional career started out working with people – I became a Social Worker and most of my early working life was spent talking with people. Along the way I decided that I needed something more tangible and physical in my life. People are great but I enjoyed the solitary time of making and the fact that I could hold up something at the end of the day which I had made. This was incredibly satisfying.
So, I enrolled in a two-year training course in jewellery making through a local college. I bought some equipment and started making on my days off from work. The turning point for me was when my partner and I spent three months living on a remote lighthouse island located between Tasmania and mainland Australia. I set up a small jewellery workshop in a shed on the island and really started to hone my skills and my style. My first exhibition was held shortly after I returned from Deal Island. I discovered that I thrived on being in a remote location and making jewellery. I built a small studio on Bruny Island which is located off the coast of Tasmania (yes, an island off an island) and this is where I now work. I’ve been a professional jeweller for about ten years now.

© Janine Combes

What’s it like living on Bruny Island ? How does the “island life” affect your work ?

My partner and I are lucky enough to live in two wonderful places – we move between Bruny Island and the small capital city of Hobart. We are part of a growing trend here in our little island State of Australia where people choose to live both in the country and the city. For half of the week I live on Bruny Island and make my jewellery in a beautiful forest setting by the sea. The other half of the week I live in Hobart and do the business side of my jewellery work. The city/country mix is the perfect combination of solitude and social contact which I need to be creative and happy.
On the island I am perfectly focused on my artwork. I can stay out in the studio all day and half the night if I wish, completely immersed in what I am doing. I am inspired by the native vegetation, animals and seascapes around me. I love being tucked up in my little studio, listening to the sounds of birds and the wind in the she oak trees. Native animals come and sit under and around the studio which makes for interesting company. The days have a quiet rhythm which allows me to be completely in the ‘making zone’.
On the days that I am in Hobart, our little capital city, I gain the intellectual stimulation to support my work and can liaise with galleries and other artists. On these days I engage with the world, I am online, I see other artwork and feel connected to the creative world. On Bruny I am definitely in my own creative space.
I think this mix of island lives has allowed me to develop my own distinctive style of work. I feel like I can focus on my perspective of the world and not be too influenced by what others are doing or what is current and ‘in style’.

© Janine Combes

You mentioned that you perceive your creations as “wearable sculptures”, where would you draw the line between being a jeweller and a sculptor ?

From my point of view there is a very indistinct line between these two artforms. There is a difference of scale in many cases and jewellers may tend to use more precious and semi-precious metals than sculptors. Many jewellers would focus on the wear ability and functionality of a piece of work but some of the pieces I make for exhibitions are much more designed to be displayed rather than worn.
For example, I have just made a neckpiece for an exhibition about women’s lives and I have printed text and old photos onto linen, cut up the pieces and mounted them in silver holders. The photographs are of my family and the text is about the life of my mother who just passed away recently. This piece is much more sculpture than jewellery but I consider it to be part of my broader jewellery body of work. However, I do also make much more wearable and ‘everyday’ jewellery pieces which I sell both through my own online store and through galleries in Tasmania. It is the mix of the two forms of artwork which keeps the interest going for me.

© Janine Combes

You use a wide-range of materials and techniques, are there any other art forms you would like to explore ? What does the future hold for you as a contemporary jeweller ?

I do use a wide range of materials and techniques and I like to keep learning. In a few weeks I am off to learn some new skills at a five-day workshop in Bangkok.
I often think about the move into making sculpture rather than wearable jewellery. I think the appeal is in the one-off nature of the pieces and the fact that you have a bigger space to work within when making sculpture. I also really like strong forms which of course is a big part of sculpture. In jewellery making the biggest surface you have for expression if often when making brooches. The limitation in moving more into sculpture for me is the investment in different tools and equipment. I would probably need a bigger studio as well!
The future for me as a contemporary jeweller I think is to keep refining my distinctive style and to keep growing my skills. Making jewellery for me is essentially about being able to physically make the things that I can picture in my head and sometimes that presents technical challenges which require new skills or approaches. I am never short of ideas of things I want to make.
I have found that the residency approach is what works best for me in making ‘a leap forward’ into new designs and work. Last year I took was lucky enough to gain an Arts Tasmanian funded residency on yet another remote island (Maria Island) and several years ago I spent time at a residency in North Vietnam. As both of these experiences led to new forms of making for me I think I will continue to explore this combination of travel and learning into the future. The other area of interest I have begun to explore more is to link my previous career in the social services world with my jewellery making. Up until now I have largely worked with nature-based themes as my subject matter. I have begun to introduce historical themes into my work but I also think that I can use my community engagement skills from my previous working life and bring this into my jewellery making to work more at a community level to tell stories and reveal personal histories.

© Janine Combes

You can follow Janine and keep up to date with her latest creations on Facebook, Instagram and on her website.

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