To label the New York City–based artist Daniel Brush a jeweler because he creates portable objects using precious materials is to gloss over the intellectual and emotional resonance of his work. Over the course of 50 years, the painter, sculptor, and craftsman has handmade scores of pieces that call into question the very essence of jewelry.
“I’ve always loved jewels that had absolutely no service and function,” Brush once said. “They would stay in your hand, and one would look at them. They were so independent, one wouldn’t even have to wear them—nor could one wear them.”
From October 13 to 30, visitors to Paris will have an opportunity to grapple with Brush’s deeply philosophical approach to the art, craft, meaning, and purpose of fine jewelry when an assortment of collars featured in Necks—a visual book of poetry he created to document 117 collars made of steel and precious stones—and other highlights from his career go on display at L’École des Arts Joailliers in Place Vendôme.
Founded by Van Cleef & Arpels in 2012, the school of jewelry arts is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year with a new cultural exhibition series that began in January with a showing of work by the artist Harumi Klossowska da Rola. The Brush exhibition, the second to be held in a renovated space at L’École, marks the first time the famously reclusive artist’s creations have gone on public display since the Museum of Arts and Design’s successful fall 2012 exhibition of his oeuvre in New York City.
“The point is not to promote one company or collection but to expose fine jewelry within the field of decorative arts and get as many newcomers to discover a world we feel can be quite fascinating,” Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, said at a May press event in Brush’s Manhattan studio.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1947, Brush traces his fascination with jewelry to a trip he took with his mother to Europe when he was 13 years old. At London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, the young Brush happened upon an object that affected him deeply. “I saw this little bowl with a bunch of gold balls all over it, and it was stunning,” he told the journalists and editors gathered at his studio in May. “I knew I had to make something like that in my life.”
Today, Brush is recognized as a master of granulation, an ancient goldsmithing technique that involves the application of tiny gold beads. But his deeply personal body of work defies easy categorization. While he remains preoccupied with notions of preciousness and the historical and spiritual context of his creations, he dismisses wearability, style, and other issues of concern to most makers of accessories. Above all, he is proud of the physical effort he has made to bring his complicated ideas to life.
“I was there, on the work, with every breath and every mark with all of my heart, sharing space with them,” Brush said in an email. “The pieces were not made by a workshop with many hands, but just by one person in the studio, grappling.”
Photo from Necks, a jeweler’s poetry book documenting 117 colliers de chien, 2013-2015