Claire Kahn: Signs of Life
opening reception: October 18, 2019, 5-7 pm
Patina Gallery, Santa Fe
Claire Kahn’s design sensibilities are applied across a staggering range of media. From architecture to water features (she was the project designer and a choreographer on the team that designed the Bellagio fountain, among many notable others) to jewelry, she seeks to discover, distill, and express the essence of her subjects. Her upcoming jewelry exhibition at Patina Gallery, Signs of Life, explores the twelve months of the year through pieces composed of their birthstones and crocheted beads.
What does it mean to find and distill the essence of a stone?
I like the challenge of working within the structure provided by the birthstones. It’s a personal interpretation. What is the unique spirit or character that a stone might have, its visual and emotional qualities? I try to abstract and express the meaning of these materials using only pattern and color, avoiding any symbols that would need to be read.
With such a varied design background, what calls you to make this jewelry?
Across all the work I’ve ever done—large water features, graphic or textile design, or jewelry—there’s a strong connection to pattern-making. Beaded crochet is thousands of tiny beads that, on their own, don’t mean much. But when they come together, they create something special. At the Bellagio, too, you have thousands of individual units that don’t mean anything alone. When they come together in choreography, the fountain emerges. It’s the same thing: pattern-making, mosaic.
It also just happens that these are lovely to wear. It’s a gift of the bead crochet process. You get beautifully supple ropes that you can tie in numerous different ways and make your own when you wear them. The fountain designs are huge; these are intimate. The contrast interests me.
The contrast in media seems striking as well.
Stones suggest hardness and inflexibility, but in fact, they shimmer and change as you wear them and as you move. They are made kinetic by the wearer.
So the wearer is a conscious element of the design philosophy guiding this work?
“Design is the artform that is incomplete until it’s engaged.” That’s what my father, a designer and professor at Stanford, used to say. This is exactly how I feel about these pieces. The wearer completes the work. The pieces are very much about how someone can wear them and make them their own. Often, there will be a single progression of color. One end will be light and the other dark. You can move the piece around to change its character, color, and look to any way you want that day. They’re not finished until they’re worn.
What was your process for this show?
It was all informed by the stones. They have a strong presence that dictates the patterns I create. I have to work within the limits of my medium, material, and technique. That usually means that the stones are never much bigger than six or seven millimeters, but that can change. If I really love something else, it might force me to come up with a new idea or technique in order to use it.
What’s your birthstone, and what does it mean to you?
Opal. When I see opal, I think of spectral color.
One of the things I love about Patina Gallery is how they marry contrasting ideas in their staging. It inspires me to explore. I think that’s where I’ll head next: into some really new ideas I’ve never had before.