Cartier Masthead Final Weeks

Phoebe Porter: unfold and construct

Wendy Johnson

One of Phoebe Porter’s earliest memories of jewellery making was collecting hundreds of tiny, spiral shells from the pristine beaches of the South Coast and carefully threading them onto fine fishing line to create intricate necklaces. She’d do so with her sister and Mum, who always encouraged her girls to busy themselves with fun craft projects.

‘I loved making those shell necklaces,’ says Phoebe. ‘And have loved the process of making jewellery ever since.’

Today Phoebe Porter Contemporary Jewellery represents Phoebe’s ability to perfectly combine the creative and technical sides of her personality. The result? Elegant pieces of contemporary jewellery created with industrial materials, a restrained approach and the refined hand skills of a highly experienced craftsperson.

‘Although not an artist herself, my Mum was very involved in the craft movement in the ‘70s,’ says Phoebe. ‘I thought our childhood craft projects were totally normal, but looking back I can see how special it was that I was encouraged to explore my creative side from such an early age. It has led me to operate at a much deeper level.’

For more than a decade, Phoebe has, with precision, accuracy and a steady hand, used sophisticated tools and custom-adapted machines to cut, fold, file and finish bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces.

On 13 February, she opens ‘Unfold and Construct’, a solo exhibition at Manuka’s Bilk Gallery showcasing new pieces that highlight the true value of material things in today’s world of mass production and consumption. With the exhibition, Phoebe’s ultimate challenge is to make pieces that stand alone as sculptural objects, yet come alive when being worn.

Phoebe’s skill is evident in her choice of materials. She works mostly with titanium, stainless steel and aluminium, materials that are difficult to manipulate because they’re less malleable than silver and gold. ‘Titanium is very strong and this allows me to make pieces that are fine yet robust,’ says Phoebe. ‘The jewellery is surprisingly lightweight and comfortable to wear.’

In ‘Unfold and Construct’, Phoebe manipulates simple geometry, such as lines, circles, triangle and squares, and combines it with a palette of bold primary colours. Each piece is reduced to its simplest expression.

Helen Aitken-Kuhnen, Director of Bilk Gallery, says Phoebe has an exceptional level of individual style and commitment, qualities the gallery strives for in the artists it chooses to work with.

‘Phoebe has an excellent finish in her work and produces outstanding collections,’ says Helen. ‘She takes a lot of care to ensure that the simple shapes have a balance within them. The more simple a piece, the more difficult it is to construct. If a piece is off slightly, by even a millimetre, it’s glaringly obvious.’

Helen also says that Phoebe’s work is ‘restful’ and that each piece has a ‘gentle feel’ to it. ‘It’s not easy to do,’ says the director.

Included in the exhibition is a black and white video developed in collaboration with Melbourne animator and video artist Sal Cooper, that reveals each step in Phoebe’s creative process. A small excerpt is shown below.


‘People are fascinated with how jewellery is made,’ says Phoebe. ‘The video helps people gain greater appreciation of the intricate steps, time and patience involved with each piece and how I use custom-adapted tools and machines.’

Phoebe never intended to study jewellery but found herself on that path thanks to some insightful panel members who looked at her application for photo media at the ANU School of Art. ‘My application portfolio included some 3D objects I had made in Year 12, including metal, and the panel thought I would be better at doing something more applied,’ says Phoebe. ‘And I’ve never looked back.’

Porter graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Gold and Silversmithing) in 2001. She studied under German-born Johannes Kuhnen, one of Australia’s most well recognised silversmiths who has had a close relationship with the university for more than 20 years. After graduating, Phoebe was mentored by one of Australia’s leading contemporary jewellers, Blanche Tilden (Victoria).

Phoebe’s work has been acquired for a number of public collections, including the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Powerhouse Museum. She has exhibited work across the country, including at Craft Victoria (solo show), the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne Now 2013) and the Powerhouse Museum (A Fine Possession 2014). She has also received a number of awards, including grants from the Australia Council and Arts ACT.

Still a young talent, Phoebe’s work demonstrates a consistency and evolution of form that promises a long career, and a permanent place in Australia’s jewellery and design landscape. After living in Melbourne for several years, the artist has once more made Canberra home.

the essentials

What: Unfold and Construct—solo exhibition by contemporary jeweller Phoebe Porter
Where: Bilk Gallery, 12 Palmerston Lane, Manuka
When: Opening, 6pm Friday 13 February – continues to Saturday 14 March 2015

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author

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