review by Elka Karl
At first glance, jewelry makers Elisa Bongfeldt and Chris Neff, featured in Shibumi Gallery’s current show, Visual Cadence, share many common factors: extensive use of oxidized silver; a near-obsession with repetition of simple forms, and a surprisingly gender-ambiguous aesthetic. The more compelling story, however, isn’t in the shared qualities of the work, but in how these two artists and their work diverge.
Berkeley-based Elisa Bongfeldt creates her jewelry pieces using a mix of 22 karat bimetal and sterling silver tubing, resulting in pieces that are decidedly forward-looking, modern, and minimalist in nature.
Chris Neff has always self identified as a craftsman with a major focus on fabrication.
In the current show, Neff’s obsession with working with dozens of intricate stones is exemplified in his Quatrefoil Pendant, which is one of his favorite pieces in the show. The piece required extensive fabrication work on the lathe for milling out the arches in the pattern, as well as almost three dozen black rose cut diamonds set into the oxidized silver and 18 karat gold metal.
Unlike Bongfeldt, whose designs favor a more industrial-influenced or overtly modern look, Neff’s designs look back sometimes centuries or more for inspiration. The Globe Ring in the current show was inspired by a 19th century ring; Neff then used modern fabrication techniques to re-create the inspiration piece as crisply and perfectly as possible.
For Neff, this challenge means that he relies on more analog methods to create his work. Computer programs are much too easy of an option, and he prefers to know — and master — every step of the fabrication process. Neff noted that when he overheard a guest at the show opening hypothesize that one of Neff’s pieces must have been made with CAD, he had to let him know about the backstory on the piece, including the absence of computer-aided design or drafting. For Neff, the design is important in his work, but on equal footing is process. “When I get to my studio and sit down there’s a shift that happens. My everyday life is so quickly paced. I love to put blinders on and slow down.”
Elisa Bongfeldt and Chris Neff’s show, Visual Cadence, runs through September 30th at Shibumi Gallery.