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A Journey to Artistic Triumph at the Florence Biennale, Before & Beyond

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

12th December 2023

Let's delve into the Florence Biennale. What exactly is it, and what was your experience like participating in it? What motivated you to be a part of this event?

Participating in the Florence Biennale marked an incredible journey that began with my pursuit of support through Creative New Zealand three years earlier. My aim was to secure funding for a unique necklace creation and its accompanying jewellery suite, intending to exhibit the collection in esteemed galleries across New Zealand. Despite facing challenges such as the absence of support from Creative New Zealand and being assessed outside their criteria, my unwavering determination to manifest my artistic vision led to a profound self-belief. Ultimately, this perseverance resulted in a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised over $20,000.
 

This support enabled me to create replicas of part of that jewellery suite, exhibit them and attend the prestigious Florence Biennale, marking my debut in this esteemed event. The support I received was truly incredible. I was fortunate to receive two community grants, one from the Sarau Community Trust and Network Tasman Trust. The generosity of donors from my local community, across the nation and internationally made this journey not just possible but also deeply meaningful. I utilised the 'Boosted' platform, operated by the Arts Foundation, which stands as New Zealand’s sole crowdfunding platform dedicated to fostering homegrown art initiatives. Their primary goal is to help empower artists like myself to bring their creative visions to life.
 

Motivated by the absence of support from Creative New Zealand, my unyielding self-belief, and a strong desire to reclaim the international recognition I had attained over a decade previously, the Florence Biennale became a pivotal focus for me. I was determined to vie for either the Leonardo da Vinci Award for design or the Lorenzo il Magnifico Award for art, seeing it as a chance to rekindle global appreciation for my work. Italy's rich artistic heritage, its profound celebration and appreciation of the arts ignited a fire within me. The event offered an opportunity to reaffirm my artistic prowess, particularly after the setback of rejection from Creative New Zealand.
 

The Florence Biennale, a prestigious exhibition held biennially in Florence, Italy, serves as a showcase for contemporary art and design from talents worldwide, spanning diverse mediums such as painting, sculpture, mixed media, photography, digital art, and jewellery. It stands as a platform fostering cultural exchange and celebrating a wide spectrum of artistic excellence. The recent iteration, the fourteenth edition, took place from October 14th to 22nd, 2023.
 

Participating in the event was an incredible nine-day journey, brimming with vibrant showcases of diverse artistic expressions and excellence. The event included engaging lectures by art critics, lifetime achivement prize givings and discussions that enriched business and cultural exchange, fostering greater awareness and excellence.
 

It was truly incredible to win gold, the first-place spot, receiving the prestigious 'Lorenzo il Magnifico Award' for jewellery art and design. The overwhelming moment of joy, coupled with a profound sense of validation and deep gratitude, culminated in a pure elation that will be etched in my memory forever. This win stood as a powerful affirmation of my journey, symbolising the triumphant overcoming of obstacles.

At first, being accepted to showcase my work among such exceptional talent was an incredible honor. However, winning this significant award went beyond fulfilling my aspirations and vision; it validated my unique artistic skill and perspective. It was recognition for the years of dedicated hard work poured into my artistry, made possible with the unwavering support of my community and family by my side.

The award's historical significance, tied to Lorenzo de' Medici's patronage, struck a deep chord within me. Lorenzo’s historic support of the arts, instrumental in fostering the Renaissance and nurturing luminaries such as Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Botticelli, lent an added layer of profound significance to this achievement for me.
 

The Florence Biennale means a lot to me as an artist. Its global acclaim among the international art and design community bestows prestige upon its awards, significantly enriching my art portfolio and credentials. This validation has already made a wonderful impact on my artistic journey, unlocking doors to new opportunities. This success has rekindled my passion for exploring diverse art forms beyond jewellery design and has reinforced my confidence in my talent and unique artistic vision, inspiring me to slowly venture into new creative horizons. Additionally, the prospect of being featured in the upcoming exhibition at the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence presents an exciting opportunity to again showcase my work alongside the other award-winning artists and captivate international art enthusiasts.
 

The winners' showcase of the XIV Florence Biennale will take place at the Exhibition Hall of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of Drawing Arts) in Piazza San Marco/Via Ricasoli 68, Firenze, from January 11th to 28th, 2024. Hosting this public event, the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, founded in 1563 by Giorgio Vasari and Cosimo I de Medici, is the world's oldest art academy. Originating from the San Luca Company established in 1339, its members included illustrious figures such as Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, Benozzo Gozzoli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Benvenuto Cellini, Andrea Palladio, Galileo Galilei, and Pablo Picasso.
 

What does this success mean for you now?

Securing this award marks a pivotal moment in my career, affirming not only my unique artistic vision but also asserting that further external validation isn't requisite. This success holds deeper significance beyond mere accolades; it stands as a testament to my resilience, dedication, and the recognition of my creativity on a global stage. It's significance reverberates as a milestone in my artistic journey.
 

It's a resounding affirmation that my creative aptitude is innate and limitless, inspiring me to explore, create, and immerse myself in various art disciplines that captivate my curiosity and passion. Amidst the vibrant atmosphere of the Biennale, an art historian's captivating lecture on Picasso reignited a dormant passion for drawing, painting, and fine art that had lain dormant since my early years. His storytelling about Picasso's life and art directly resonated with my artistic aspirations, reminding me of my innate longing to create across different mediums, transcending the boundaries of being solely a jeweller and embracing a broader spectrum of artistic expression as an artist.
 

Engaging with Gregorio, the lecturer, whom I later discovered, during the prize-giving, was one of the ten esteemed international judges, became a deeply profound moment. Expressing my gratitude for reigniting my artistic passion and the desire to become an artist again, I was met with his impassioned response - acknowledging my necklace as an artistic masterpiece. 'It's a piece of art,' he remarked, affirming, 'You are an artist.' He further emphasised, 'In a world that has created so many necklaces, you have come up with something unique that has never been seen before.' His words and my awakening hold such significance on my life's journey.

The International Jury at the Florence Biennale comprised highly educated and experienced international art experts, art critics, art historians, professors, museum and university lecturers, curators, and master craftspeople.

This newfound validation of my artistic abilities and unique vision intensifies my confidence, compelling me to push further. I aspire to create more one-of-a-kind pieces and explore diverse art forms, broadening my creative horizons. Beyond being a personal affirmation, this experience cements my identity in a highly competitive global market, carving a niche for my work within the artistic landscape. This prestigious award signifies more than just an achievement; it serves as a gateway to fresh opportunities, amplifying exposure and driving sales and most importantly, this award commemorates a remarkable achievement. The journey to Italy and back transcends my identity solely as a jeweller, encouraging me to embrace a broader spectrum of artistic expression and evolve as an artist.
 

What does this mean for the future of your artistic career and business growth?

Our future is looking bright, with international stockists coming onboard and with the success of our first crowdfunding adventure we are looking at setting up a new campaign soon. This will be an investment crowdfunding opportunity to help in the jewellery manufacturing costs and speed up this process by spreading the cost outlay amongst many. This will give our supporters the opportunity to become real patrons of the arts and invest privately with a return on their investment, backed by gold and gems. Beyond the individual benefits, this model contributes to New Zealand's economy by generating private wealth through the creation and sale of tangible assets.

As we move forward, our vision includes expanding our company, incorporating state-of-the-art technology, and hiring talented individuals in the thriving art and design sector of New Zealand. I am excited about directing my creativity toward crafting even more unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, truly treating my jewellery as the art form that it is. I am committed to bringing to life any design that captures my imagination, including more elaborate high jewellery pieces. The freedom to create without constraints fosters authenticity and ensures a diverse portfolio, opening up boundless opportunities for self-expression and creating masterpieces. Each piece will serve as a canvas for my imagination, allowing me to experiment with unconventional materials, intricate designs, innovative techniques and exquisite gemstones.

 

Eager to explore diverse artistic mediums like painting and drawing, the inspiration from my Italian journey has ignited a passion to transcend being solely recognised as a jeweller and embrace a broader identity as an artist. However, before delving into these pursuits, I acknowledge the need to prioritise designing and producing the unique jewellery ideas that have brewed in my mind during the years I spent off the tools raising my children. This is vital for both expanding my company and meeting the demands of the global stockists coming on board.
 

While returning to New Zealand from Florence, we (me, my husband Craig/business partner and two children) extended our trip to explore business opportunities. We visited Rome, Milan, London, Dubai, and Singapore in search of supportive international stockists. In London, Craig organised a sales day and sucessfully connected with a potential enthusiastic stockist in Harvey Nichols. Additionally, our travels led us to a potential stockist in Singapore.
 

Furthermore, actively seeking exclusive stockists in major cities worldwide is pivotal to expanding our brand, ultimately contributing to the growth of our company and design house.
 

How did you get into jewellery design?

My journey into jewellery design began from a deep passion for artistic expression that took hold at the age of 15. It felt instinctive, almost like a natural calling. What drew me particularly to jewellery was the sense of harmony and perfect fit that comes with artistically designing and crafting pieces.

When reminiscing about my journey into jewellery design, one particular memory stands out like a vibrant gem against the canvas of time. It was when I was merely 15, navigating the stormy seas of adolescence and enveloped in a shroud of teenage woes. Seeking refuge from the world, I retreated into the cocoon of my bedroom, channelling melancholic energy into a drawing.

 

In the midst of this emotional tempest, a vision emerged - a design that would later become a cornerstone in my life's narrative. With immense sorrow, I sketched an eye shedding a tear, a delicate chain descending from its tear duct, adorned with a teardrop-shaped diamond at its base. In that poignant moment, uncertainty gave way to clarity, and a resounding realisation struck - I was destined to be a jeweller.
 

The fate of that initial sketch remains a riddle to this day. Perhaps it found its home within the pages of my high school, 5th form art workbook - a compendium of my artistic exploits. Art wasn't merely a subject; it was my lifeline, the oxygen that fueled my existence. The art room became my sanctuary, my haven of creation. But fate, with its unpredictable nature, had other plans. That cherished oversized workbook, akin to a vault housing my passion and dedication, a treasure trove, vanished without a trace. It had been bestowed with an A1 grade, an honor, and among another five students all receiving A’s that year. However, the cruel twist of fate lay in the fact that all of these portfolios and workbooks that were marked with an A Grade, including mine, were dispatched for show and external assessment and vanished into oblivion on their way home. The loss was unfathomable, leaving an irreplaceable void - a part of me, my essence as an artist, lost in the labyrinth of time. The impact was profound, quietly dormant throughout my artistic journey. Years of artistic expression, a chronicle of my growth, seemed to vanish in an instant. It precipitated a type of disorientation in my evolution as an artist. The vibrant hues of my creativity dulled, tucked away in the recesses of memory.
 

Yet, life is a curious symphony, weaving unexpected melodies into the tapestry of existence. The ember, long forgotten but never extinguished, was reignited by recent triumphs at the Florence Biennale - a testament to perseverance and the enduring spirit of creativity. It's a unique twist of fate that took 34 years to reveal the truth - that I am, indeed, an artist! Life has a way of unfolding its mysteries in its own time. Perhaps this twist of fate was necessary to guide me toward the path of becoming a jeweller at the start. After leaving high school, I faced a decision between moving away from Wellington and attending fine art school or delving into the arts and crafts locally, with a particular focus on textiles and jewellery. Opting for the latter, I set foot on this path. Without this pivotal turn of events, I might not have entered the realm of jewellery and may have pursued the fine arts first.

I studied at Whitireia, in Porirua, Wellington, immersing myself in a couple of years of exploration across the spectrum of the arts and crafts. Among these pursuits, jewellery design was my main focus. My gratitude extends to my tutor, Peter Deckers, whose boundaryless approach to teaching left an indelible mark on my creative journey. He steered away from traditional jewellery instruction, focusing instead on art jewellery, urging us to conceive ideas rooted in concepts that seamlessly aligned with a brief, before delving into the crafting process. It was then we would try to figure out, how we think it would be made, or he would step in and show particular techniques to help create it. His teaching allowed me to break boundaries without even knowing that boundaries existed in the field, fostering my ability to think uniquely and innovatively.

 

One memorable project earned me a mark of 99%. We were tasked with designing an adult toy (keeping it clean, of course). My creation was an adult's 'jack in the box.' The box, made fully out of aluminum, was adorned with sharp, pointed corners and featuring spiral-like wave engravings on each side and a latch at the front. Upon releasing the latch, a metal-clad piranha would spring out with a cacophony, providing a noisy and playful fright. This piece now resides at the rear of my jewellery workshop. I asked Peter why he hadn't awarded the project a perfect score of 100%, to which he replied, 'There's always room for improvement.' He was right; there were small rivets inside the box that occasionally impeded the piranha's spring. That experience taught me that within every pursuit, there exists an ongoing chance for enhancement and progress, steering me towards unexplored paths and fresh direction.

How do you stay true to your artistic vision?

One of my strategies is to refrain from actively observing or studying contemporary jewellery trends and the work of peers. Instead, on occasion I look into the mechanics and historical aspects of jewellery. This intentional avoidance helps me preserve the purity of my thoughts and artistic concepts. By steering clear of current trends and styles, I mitigate the risk of subconsciously adopting or imitating designs, safeguarding the integrity of my creative process. Despite the challenges of avoiding influence, I will then recognise what has not yet been explored in the industry. This commitment allows me to produce genuinely unique and innovative work rooted in my authentic artistic vision. While residing in London, I was mortified to discover that students and employees were encouraged to go around, study, sketch, and photograph other people's jewellery. In my view, this encourages plagiarism. There's a vast world of inspiration to explore; find what resonates with you, avoid merely replicating existing jewellery or becoming highly inspired by what you see. By looking at and studying current trends, influences can be so strong, both consciously and subconsciously, that we risk becoming indistinguishable from one another and being inspired to the extent that we may not even realise we are copying.
 

Why do you like to work with precious metals, 18ct gold and diamonds, and colourful gemstones?

I have a deep appreciation for enduring materials that stand the test of time. Jewellery possesses an incredible ability to resurface after centuries or millennia, carrying its identity and a captivating history that fills us with awe. The timeless beauty transcends generations, holding immense value and carrying deep emotional and sentimental significance. What truly fascinates me is the way these treasures and memories persist, passed down, cherished, and often joyfully rediscovered, whether it's a lost ring, a lost diamond, or any piece of lost jewellery.
 

My connection with precious materials, the allure of gold and the captivating beauty found in the diverse range of gemstones available, resonates with me naturally. Working with this vast variety and spectrum of colour brings true joy, allowing me to expertly pair carats and colors, much like an artist with their palette and creative process. This creative freedom empowers me to highlight and celebrate the inherent uniqueness of each design and meticulously crafted creation.
 

The choice of 18ct yellow gold and white diamonds for my award-winning necklace exhibited at the Florence Biennale, is not casual; it's a deliberate decision rooted in their timeless beauty, inherent value and contrast. 18ct yellow gold, akin to working with butter, radiates a remarkable luster and enduring durability that's undeniably beautiful. Diamonds, with their mesmerising brilliance, depth, and lasting quality, further enhance my designs and craftsmanship. This fusion of materials laid the perfect foundation for me to articulate my artistic vision and aspire to create sophisticated luxury high jewellry pieces.
 

My process in jewellery design is deliberate and intricate; it often spans hundreds of hours from inception to completion. The enduring nature of the materials justifies the substantial time invested in creating each piece, and the pricing reflects this commitment to quality, longevity, and the exceptional uniqueness of every creation.
 

The process isn't merely about crafting jewellery; it's a profound journey of ethical considerations as well. Responsible sourcing of materials is a guiding principle. Wherever possible, I'm committed to ensuring that the gemstones and metals I use are obtained from verified ethical sources, upholding environmental standards and respecting human rights.

How did you choose this piece to submit into the Florence Biennale and why?

The inception of my Natural Instinct jewellery suite dates back to 2005, marking a significant moment during a visit to my homeland, New Zealand, while I resided in London. Enveloped in the embrace of the natural beauty and family connections, I find solace wandering through the captivating interior of the NZ bush, experiencing a deep sense of reconnection and rejuvenation, it always possesses a remarkable ability to ground and invigorate my spirit. While settled beneath a ponga tree in the tranquil surroundings, I encountered a tiny wooden flower pod - a resilient remnant from the manuka plant. Studying it closely, I was captivated by its intricate design, observing five naturally formed petals that seemed to mimic a claw stone setting, perfectly suited to cradle a brilliant cut diamond. I explored and gathered many of these pods to take back to London and had my sister and young nephews package and send more over when I needed them.
 

Ironically, a consistent inspiration underlying my work involves unveiling elements right in front of our eyes that often escape notice or to delve deeper into an object to reveal its intricate patterns and enticing aspects. So the discovery of this flower pod was the perfect find, hence the name ‘Natural Instinct’. My creative process revolves around appreciating small details and uncovering the often overlooked. Attention to detail in the unobvious or taking the time to observe and explore form is a fundamental aspect of my creative process. I like to emphasise the importance of paying attention to beauty and subtle, hidden aspects, exploring them with a curious eye and being fully present, observant, and engaged in experiencing all of life, just like consciously slowing down to stop and smell the flowers.
 

The necklace design, cuff and ring took shape 15 years ago and was initially prototyped in sterling silver back in 2008, during my time in London. This was a year before my husband Craig and I returned to New Zealand to start a family. The inception of this design involved research and development supported by a London-based casting company, foreseeing its potential success and impact.
 

Despite a dormant period spanning around 10 years dedicated to raising my two wonderful boys, this unique setting and prototypes remained a persistent presence in my thoughts. Three years ago, I re-immersed myself in my career by establishing a delightful jewellery boutique, complete with a jewellery workshop tucked away in the rear. As I returned to the tools of my trade, I had a compelling urge to breathe life into this partially completed jewellery suite. I felt an undeniable drive to actualise this vision.
 

I chose this specific piece for submission to the Florence Biennale due to its uniqueness and potential for awards. My ultimate goal was to excel at the Florence Biennale, and I held steadfast confidence that this creation possessed the caliber to secure a prize. Each piece of this jewellery suite is one-of-a-kind, showcasing subtle variations that reflect the evolution of my artistic expression.
 

Your time in London/how that shaped you as a designer/creator

My time in London from 2001 to 2010 was a pivotal chapter in my journey as a jewellery designer. It served as the launchpad for my successful and exciting career in jewellery, shaping me as a jewellery artist and creator in several ways. It was during this period that I truly discovered my footing and honed my craft, establishing a strong foundation as a jeweller.
 

I underwent significant growth and development in my craft. I refined my design style and skills, immersing myself in the vibrant jewellery trade scene. Engaging in various events and achieving accolades, such as winning a diamond grading scholarship from GEM-A (Gemmological Association of Great Britain) and learning CAD (computer-aided design), expanded my knowledge base and technical expertise within the jewellery industry. This period became instrumental in my evolution as a jeweller, fostering both my creative vision and technical proficiency.
 

My achievements in London were significant milestones in my journey as a jewellery designer. Being selected as a finalist for jewellery designer of the year at the UK Jewellery Awards, securing the runner-up position for the best new merchandise at the Goldsmiths Fair, and receiving two gold awards and two commendations at the UK Goldsmiths Craftsmanship and Design Awards, including recognition for technological innovation and fine jewellery design, stood as testament to my unique creativity and unwavering dedication. These accolades not only strengthened my confidence but also cemented my reputation within the industry, marking pivotal moments in my career.
 

For a couple of years, I had a shared studio space at Cockpit Arts - an incubator housing 80 creatives in Holborn, central London. Nestled near Hatton Garden, London's renowned jewellery quarter, this environment became a wellspring of creative inspiration and craftsmanship, exposing me to the multifaceted worlds of jewellery, business, and art. Cockpit Arts not only provided essential business support and development but also equipped me with a diverse set of skills. From learning website coding to crafting effective press releases, the program's resources proved invaluable. The mentoring program and biannual open studio events, among other offerings, significantly contributed to my growth as both an artist and an entrepreneur.
 

My time in London was more than just a period of skill acquisition; it was a transformative phase that laid the groundwork for my evolution as a jewellery designer. The experiences, knowledge, and recognition garnered during my London years continue to shape my identity as an internationally acclaimed, multi-award-winning jeweller and an artist with a vision that knows no boundaries.
 

How do you materialise your goals?
Through positive affirmations and my personalised vision board, I've transformed what were once mere sentences into tangible achievements, coupled with immense hard work. On the wall of my bedroom and my jewellery studio hangs a list of words and sentences I aspire to accomplish - a word board, akin to a vision board but composed of words. 

 

Each day, I immerse myself in these phrases reflecting my ambitions and 100% believing each:
Exhibiting at the Florence Biennale,
Win the Leonardo Da Vinci or Lorenzo il Magnifico Award,
Travel to Italy, London, Dubai, and Singapore in pursuit of stockists and buyers,
Accumulate $20,000 for the Florence Biennale,
Finance my family's participation,

The power of belief, focus, and immense hard work transformed these aspirations into reality, reinforcing my conviction that I can create anything I desire.

Talk about being a jewellery designer in NZ – the network/community?
Establishing a career as a jewelry designer in New Zealand has posed unique challenges compared to working in London, mainly due to the country's smaller population. Transitioning here has essentially meant starting afresh, considering the vast differences and the considerable distance from the UK.

 

Unlike in London, I've found there's a limited number of suppliers and skilled craftsmen offering diverse collections and services to choose from. Personally, I have a preference for physically examining gemstones, feeling their textures, and seeing them firsthand before making selections—a task that's notably challenging while residing in the South Island.
 

However, I've adopted a solution-oriented mindset to navigate these hurdles. Rather than resisting or dwelling on the negativity stemming from these limitations, I embrace a positive and adaptable approach. Viewing every obstacle as an opportunity for growth or a challenge helps me channel my energy towards finding creative solutions.

Ultimately, while there are hurdles to overcome in the New Zealand jewelry designing landscape, my adaptable mindset allows me to navigate these challenges with optimism, seeking innovative solutions along the way.

 

Artist Bio 1:
Renowned jewellery artist Stacey Whale from New Zealand, skillfully blends influences from nature, art, and architecture into her contemporary fine jewellery. Her creations unveil mesmerising structures and reveal hidden beauty, drawing inspiration from microscopic worlds and evoking awe and fascination.

 

Fuelled by a profound passion for art, Stacey studied art and craft design, as well as textile design in Wellington, New Zealand, and embarked on a transformative journey in London, where she refined techniques and embraced cutting-edge technology. Her meticulous attention to detail and innovative design won her prestigious Goldsmiths Craftsmanship and Design awards, establishing her as a rising star in the field.
 

Constantly pushing boundaries, Stacey's art transcends time, captivating viewers with bold colors, intricate patterns, and alluring designs. From her enchanting jewellery boutique, she proudly showcases her mastery, redefining limits with modern classic pieces. With aspirations to captivate admirers worldwide, Stacey aims to expand her presence by showcasing her work in select shops across the globe.

 

Artist Bio 2:

As an artist designer, Stacey takes her inspiration from a broad range of natural forms and architecture and is especially interested in organic shapes, structures and textures at the microscopic scale. She grew up surrounded by pottery and textiles, and studied textile design and visual communication when she left school. Stacey combines all of these diverse inspirations including her love of fine art and design, to create original pieces of miniature wearable art. Each piece of jewellery is created to the highest level of artisanship using finest quality materials.

Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Stacey studied Art and Craft Design at Whitireia, in Porirua, then went on her overseas experience basing herself in London between the years 2001-2010. During this time in the United Kingdom she experienced the first chapter of her very successful and exciting jewellery career. Entering her second chapter in 2020 she is continuing on with the same passion and dedication from where she left off. Today you can now find her creating exquisite treasures from her bright and colourful jewellery boutique in the heart of the Upper Moutere Village in Tasman, Nelson, New Zealand

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