Conversations with the Makers

An array of questions to fibre/textile artists and their answers.

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Conversation with Anna Davern, Australia

Anna Davern is one of Australia’s most respected contemporary jewellers. Her practice straddles the visual arts, jewellery and fashion. She gained her undergraduate degree in Jewellery and Object Design at Sydney College of the arts and her postgraduate studies and subsequent Masters degree were completed at RMIT. Anna is a founding member of Northcity4, a not-for-profit organisation that supports the Australian contemporary jewellery community by providing workshop space, education programs and resources to promote sustainable work practices. Anna teaches, writes, curates, blogs and primarily makes jewellery from the Northcity4 studios in Brunswick, Melbourne. She exhibits regularly in Australia and overseas, has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards and has participated in residencies in Australia and Europe.

CONVERSATION WITH THE MAKER(CWTM) Did you always envision a life as an artist? 

ANNA DAVERN(AD)No! I thought I was going to be a scientist! I was good at science and maths at school so I kind of thought I should head in that direction. It wasn't until I failed my third attempt at a science degree that I realised I was going to be very bored and unhappy if I continued in that direction. I started at Sydney College of the Arts when I was 24 and haven't looked back. 

CWTM What was your first experience with making art?

 AD I loved Craft and Art classes at school (we had both at my primary school!) My mum wasn't a big knitter but she did teach me how to knit a boob tube with that variegated coloured wool. I remember painting shells with nail polish and glitter and attaching them to a chain for mother's day once. And my dad has a pair of ceramic sand shoes I made for him in the 70's, which he still raves about!

 CWTM Do you have a dedicated studio?

 AD Yes, I work from the Northcity4 studios in Brunswick, Melbourne. I set up Northcity4 with 3 other jewellers as an alternative to the existing jewellery schools and institutions. We have a focus on sustainability and offer permanent studio space for nine artists (nearly all jewellers) as well as our project space where people can come and work on specific projects for a very reasonable rent for up to six months (anyone interested in an artist in residence?!). We also have a fully equipped education space where we run a variety of classes from beginners jewellery to highly skilled technical classes to masterclasses with visiting artists. We also offer a range of classes that don’t require any previous making experience.


CWTM Can you describe a typical day?

 AD Due to the diverse nature of my practice, I have a very structured timetable where I work on different aspects of my practice on different days. I would like to say that I stick to it but this rarely happens! Working on programming and marketing for Northcity4 takes up at least one day a week and the other days are divided between working on my ‘rocks’ range (sublimation printed gemstones), my art practice, my production silver jewellery, my range of precious jewellery incorporating high carat gold and precious gemstones, and orders and repairs.


CWTM Would you consider your art making to be more about the process than the outcome?

 AD I think it’s a combination of both. I also like to consider the life of the artwork after it leaves the studio. With jewellery in particular the things that leave my bench go out in the world to have very important relationships with their owners. They also get to travel!

 CWTM Do you agree that a small element of uncertainty about the finished look is what makes the process of creating so enticing?

 AD Definitely. With my artwork it’s very important for there to be room for a viewer to develop their own understanding of the work. With precious jewellery, however, the opposite is true and I really struggle with this.


CWTM Any indispensable tools or equipment?

  AD My piercing saw and my sublimation printing equipment.


CWTM Do your pieces start with a planned course of action or are they more spontaneous?

 AD I ‘sketch’ a lot using paper collage and these tend to be very spontaneous but when I work with metal I incorporate a lot of construction in my objects and they sometimes require a complicated course of action.


CWTM How do you know when to “stop” – when do you consider a piece actually finished?

 AD Each piece is different. I get very excited about a piece as I begin to work on it and quite often as I’m coming to the end of it, I start to get a bit disappointed. I think it’s because I’m too close to it and I have to be very careful not to keep going and make it too finished.


CWTM Your greatest source of inspiration is….

 AD Australian history and kitsch Australian souvenirs


CWTM Favourite quote?

 AD “In a modern world, jewellery finds appealing those groups whose sense of power depends upon the eyes of others” Kevin Murray


CWTM When do you do your best creative thinking?

 AD When I’m driving in the country

 CWTM What do you enjoy most about your work?

 AD Being adept at using tools. I love that my hands know what to do without me having to think about it.


CWTM Best advice you’ve ever received?

 AD To have faith in my self

CWTM Worst advice you’ve ever received?

 AD Don’t take advice from anyone


CWTM Best part of your day?

 AD Walking my dog in the early morning

 CWTM Who would be 6 people that you would invite to dinner?

 AD Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (for sophistication), Julia Gillard and Gough Whitlam (for conversation), Ross Noble and Dawn French (for laughs)


CWTM What inspires your creativity?

 AD Seeing/experiencing Art! I have programmed gallery visits into my weekly schedule as I find it so inspiring to see what others are doing.

 CWTM What are you excited about right now in the world of textile art?

 AD Can I change this to What are you excited about right now in the world of contemporary jewellery?

CWTM Of course!!

AD I’m excited about jewellers who are looking beyond the object and exploring ways that jewellery can be about participation and communication. Roseanne Bartley and Claire McArdle are two jewellery artists whose work excites me.


CWTM You’d be lost without…

 AD My piercing saw and my glasses.

 CWTM What would you do with a few extra hours each day? 

 AD Try and be more organised

 CWTM Your favourite luxury in life? 

 AD My very deep claw foot enamelled bathtub. It’s like a pool and requires litres and litres of water but it is so delicious.

 And cheese.


CWTM Has the advancement of computers and technology impacted your work?

 AD Absolutely! Sublimation printing is a digital process but still requires the handmade to turn images into objects. I also do a lot of sketching in photoshop. I use social media to promote my work and Northcity4 and 3D printing is definitely going to play a huge part in the future of jewellery. I don’t really like the process but I know that I have to keep up.

 CWTM Is it important for us to be recognized by the art world and if so, how can we help affect that change?

 AD I don’t know. I might once have said yes, but now I’m more pragmatic. There are so many artists trying to be recognised by the art world and I just don’t want to have to compete. Particularly when it’s mostly who you know rather than what you know.


CWTM What is next for you?

 AD Lunch!

CWTM. Hope you enjoyed lunch!