Interviewed by Yu Fang Chi
Felieke van der Leest is a trained metalsmith who graduated from the jewellery department at the Rietveld Academie, The Netherlands in 1996. Living close to a zoo, her passion for animals probably started in her early childhood, just like her innate love for crocheting in textiles. By combining her crocheting technique with precious metals and plastic toy animals, she has developed her own idiom in contemporary jewellery and art objects.
van der Leest describes her work: “When I am working with colours, I feel like a painter. When I am working with metal, I feel like a constructor. And when I am working with toys, I feel like a child.”
Felieke van der Leest currently lives and works in Norway.
Could you please tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I was born in 1968 in a small town in the north of The Netherlands. My parents had a building construction company with trucks, cranes, and bulldozers. Between 13 and 17 years old, I was very into horses and horseback riding, and I thought for 1000% sure that working with horses would be my future. But people change and so did I. After high school I went to a technical school to learn to become a goldsmith. My biology teacher suggested that option to me because I always wore my self-made jewellery to class.
After finishing my metalsmith education, I went to an art academy in Amsterdam. I graduated from that academy at the jewellery department in 1996 when Ruudt Peters was the head of that department.
How did you break into the world of jewellery?
When I graduated in 1996, I was one of the few who made art jewellery using textiles and textile techniques as well as figurative colourful work with humour. I got a lot of attention right from the start. People and galleries contacted me directly so I never had to do very much about reaching out. I have been very privileged. I think if I were to start my career now, it would be much more difficult since it has become more competitive with so many more people making contemporary jewellery.
Who and what inspire your work?
I think everything I see around me! I am very visual, and everything I see goes into my head and there I mix things and ideas pop up.
Where do you create your artwork? In your studio? Would you please describe your studio, and share your daily routine of making and creating with our readers?
I have two work places. In our living room, I have my crochet corner with all the yarns, needles, and my patterns. I sit always in front of the TV and watch programs about nature, the universe, and sports. I watch TV while crocheting. Downstairs, I have my atelier where I do everything else, mainly metalsmithing. I start working at around 8:30, lunch is from 12 to12:30; and I usually work until 16:30 when my son comes home. Then from 20:30 to 22:00, I spend the night doing crochet work in front of the TV.
What’s your creative process?
I start with an idea in my head. Sometimes, there is a toy animal or a specific theme (e.g. dinosaurs, cowboys and Indians, and sports) that I want to work with, or sometimes an idea just pops up when I am doing nothing (e.g. sitting on the train or something like that). I make a drawing or I start directly with crocheting. When I am in the design process, I try to make something that I think looks interesting. Mostly, I do and then I watch if it works. If I don’t have a good feeling about it, I know that I have to change something: sometimes the material, sometimes the colour or the size. Or I have to rethink everything and take another road completely. It is a bit difficult to describe exactly what happens when I make a new work. But doing is the most important. Doing and seeing that it is not good is good too. It takes a lot of time, but by doing wrong, you know when you are doing right! And a lot of times, you get new ideas while making. Mostly, the works look totally different from the idea I had in the beginning.
Who bought your first piece of art and what was it?
That was a long time ago! After my graduation in 1996, I went to the Dutch Textile Museum in Tilburg (The Netherlands) with some works to show what I had made. The museum immediately bought three pieces! I still remember on my way home on the train that I was in great shock and excitement.
How do you collaborate with galleries and museums around the world? For example, what was the first gallery you collaborated with.
Galerie Louise Smit (Amsterdam) asked me to work with them right after my graduation show. I was with that gallery for 10 years. Then that gallery “split up”. The owner Rob Koudijs started his own gallery and I continued working with him. I prefer to work with some galleries on a regular basis. There, I have my solo exhibitions and they have my work in stock. Since 2016, I have worked also with Nogart and Froots Gallery in China. And I do participate in group exhibitions in other galleries around the world. I like to work with galleries because they are professional and they specialize in selling. I am not a seller; I am a maker. Therefore, galleries help me explain to the audience why these kinds of jewellery works are not just nice crafted man-made funny things but serious art works.
What excites you about the art jewellery field?
I like to be with creative people and people who love to work with materials and are into the details. Jewellery artists are very social; they like to share their knowledge.
Any frustrations that you have seen or experienced?
I feel that now it is very important to talk about your work in a philosophical way. Nowadays, students are trained to execute that way, and they are very good at it. But sometimes there is too much into the writing and talking, rather than the work itself. I personally think the work has to be strong without words. To be honest, I don’t like to write and I don’t like to read about the works too much. I want to see the works. I am a very visual person.
How do you think your art has evolved or changed over time?
The works are more complicated now and they take longer time to design. There are more depths and layers into my work now and more decisions have to be made. In the earlier years, I would directly make what I envisioned in my head. Versus now, when I started with an idea, it could end up somewhere completely different.
Name an artist, past or present, whom you admire.
I never came across much art in my childhood and adolescence, but during the time, I went to a technical school for metalsmithing, I was fascinated by the works of Salvador Dali. His paintings and autobiographies completely intrigued me.
The artist I admire now, though much less well-knowned, is an artist friend of mine Simone Hooymans. She uses her wonderful drawings and computer techniques, making animations portraying an imaginative and dreamy world. She has also collaborated with other artists to make special music into her animated films. Fortunately, her work is much more recognized and appreciated by the public, due to the prizes she has won in recent years. (Artist Link)
Which materials, textures, and colours do you like to surround yourself with at home (or studio)?
Plastic miniature toy animals, of course! I am a bit picky. They have to be made in good quality. Every January, I am very anxious to see which new toy animals will appear on the market. I also like to be surrounded by art, especially artwork that relates to animals. I like the colours blue (water and air) and green (nature) the most; I use a lot of those colours in my living room.
Weaving (Crocheting) plays an important role in your creation. What does crochet mean to you?
Crochet is the technique I like most simply because I enjoy the process of crocheting! It is a simple technique, yet you can make complicated things with it. The process is repetitive, so you can think and see other things while doing it. And I prefer it to knitting because it is one stitch at the time, not one needle with a lot of stitches. When developing a new work, you can go back easily and start again because you only have one loop on your needle. Crocheting is similar to building, but instead of bricks, you use stitches. I always liked to build with Lego as a child.
Because I crochet with textile, I can use any colour I want, and I like playing with colours. I think that is why my work looks vivid and lively.
How do you apply the textile-related work with the other goldsmithing techniques?
During my lectures to goldsmithing students, when they ask me how I connect the textile part with the metal, I often jokingly answer, “ With chemical soldering…” That confuses the students because they know soldering but have never heard of chemical soldering… then I would reveal that my answer is glue. I love glue; glue is a great material!
What’s something that you haven’t done yet that you’d like to achieve?
Ａfew years ago, I would have answered, “Playing in a band.” But since recently, I started participating in a punk band called “Scrotum Clamp” as an electric violinist. It has fulfilled my long-time goal. My other members are from London, and the singer and bass player are also jewellery makers Tim Carson (Timothy Information Limited) and Petra Bishai. We play every year at Schmuck in Munich!
Do you wear jewellery every day? Which piece? Does this jewellery have specific meanings for you?
I do wear some rings: silver on my left hand and gold on my right. They don’t look very special and I can wear them while working. They have an emotional value to me, mostly to do with family. I also wear a golden necklace with a pendant, which I bought when I traveled to Eritrea years ago.
I am not quite a jewellery wearer. I have to remind myself to put something on when I attend special occasions. I prefer to wear somebody else’s work, but many times I also wear my Spermheart. That brooch fits into all kinds of occasions and clothes. (See Link)
Who do you envision wearing your work? If you could see any woman (or man) wearing your jewellery, who would it be?
I would love my work to be worn on TV, preferably someone positive and intelligent. Then it could possibly serve as a PR purpose for the art jewellery field. I always have to explain to people that there are other kinds of jewellery than what you see in shops, that jewellery can also be a work of art, and it has something greater to show, other than only looking pretty and valuable in precious metals and stones.
And secondly, if the person on TV wears a piece of my jewellery that fits into a specific topic or TV program, it could add another value and atmosphere to the situation. Jewellery is a lively communication and channel. It is another level than spoken words.
Not that I specifically like my work to be on TV. How I work with my gallery colleagues and fellow artists is also very fine. It’s just that my better goal is to expand and reach a broader public.
Any suggestions for young students in the jewellery world?
I wish I could give suggestions, but I am afraid the only one I can give is to produce good and professional pictures of your work. That is one of the best things you can do for promoting your work.
Another suggestion I have is to stay close to yourself when making work. There is no other person like you in the whole world. If you stay close and true to yourself, you can make work that nobody else is making. If you want to be noticed, your work has to be original and different from the rest. Just keep in mind to do the things in your own way!
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