Conversations with an Artist: Metal Atelier
Anna Butwell of Metal Atelier practices sand casting in her jewelry collection. She tells us it gives her the ability to experiment with one form in multiple ways, which can accommodate slight idea changes on the spot. She loves being able to control the production process happening in her hands… and gets immense satisfaction melting metal into a liquid with an oxygen and propane torch! We love the results and excited to introduce you to this Berlin-based artist of modern punk jewelry!
Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
I do not think there was a sudden Eureka moment for me. I was always creative, if not particularly skilled at what was considered “art” in a conservative small town. Looking back on my early years, I guess it could be said that I was very into immersive installation pieces from a young age, ie building giant spider webs in the living room or taking appliance boxes to build fantasy worlds in. As I aged into adulthood, my professional plans were to be a screenwriter or director and a few of my short films exhibited in festivals.
Jewelry was never the plan, but I think the experience in narrative story telling helped to allow me to express ideas in metal that I would not have otherwise been able to.
It's a tough question... I will say that sometime as a child when I was allowed to accidentally cover myself in paint, glitter, and feathers I knew I was on to something. I just did not yet have enough object permanence to understand what a soul was.
What themes do you pursue in your jewelry collection?
Aesthetically, I have always preferred the worn down and aged more so than anything precise, shiny, or new. I say that I take this inspiration from the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi, but it is more that I eventually realized that what I was creating and inspired by was called wabi-sabi.
During our rolling lockdowns of 2020 into 2021, I had a lot of time to work through both ideas and frustrations alone in the studio, and starting stamping the word “f***” on signet rings and then pretty much every other item I could think of. This proved to be both an emotionally cathartic exercise and a relative commercial success. Although I am relieved to be out of this period of time, the core pieces of this work remain in the collection, as every time I consider retiring the work I look at a newspaper headline and decide the time is not yet nigh.
Tell us about what influences the direction for your jewelry collection.
I am very interested in pushing the technical limitations of what I can do with sand casting and producing every piece from start to finish in my own studio. For this reason, once I have figured out how to accomplish something with relative success rates, I like to move on and attempt something more complicated, or attempt to integrate multiple ideas into one piece.
At the same time, if I can find a narrative theme which I find worthy of exploration I like to take that and figure out how to translate my words into ideas and emotions in metal.
How has your jewelry developed over time?
I think I have learned what I can and cannot do well, and figured out how to focus on the techniques that work better with my personal aesthetics. At the same time, my jewelry journey is an ever evolving process of both technical trial and error, learning from those who have crossed the bridge before myself, and finding the best ways to harness narrative ideas into small scale metal work.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
I would love to say something like my brain or my hands, but its actually the oxygen and propane torch. Sand casting requires large amounts of heat to melt silver and gold quickly and efficiently. Without it I would not be able to make most of my collection. This being said, I admit that getting it tattooed on my forearm with the words “Home is where my tools are” could be considered slightly excessive by some.
Do you collect anything?
At present, I have a slight sapphire problem.
Throughout my life, I slowly built up an apartment filled with gorgeous vintage and antique furniture and deco spanning the ages. When I decided to move to Germany 6 years ago from Brooklyn, I sold off the apartment piece by piece. Having reduced a 5 room flat to 16 boxes (mostly of tools and shoes) made me consider ideas of ownership and consumption. I have become infinitely more conscious of my purchases, looking at objects and thinking about how they were made, who made them, and the story and production behind the piece (very much like the mission at Poet and/the Bench).
Whenever possible I buy hand work and support artists. It is more that I really think twice about things like plastic kitchen gadgets of questionable long term usage, vintage bags that I may love but know I will never actually use (I have had the same pocketbook for 10 years), boots that look like 3 pairs I already own and don’t wear so often, and project pieces that ultimately become dust collectors. Moving from the mass consumption culture of the US to the infinitely more conservative consumption of Germany has also ingrained me to a more “Do I need that, is it the best quality option for my needs, where will it go if or when I no longer need it?”
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
I recently travelled to London to see the 50th anniversary show of one of my favorite bands, Cocksparrer. The concert was a grand old time, but seeing a band still able to inspire an audience of their peers when every member is 70+ is a beautiful reminder that age is but a construct and we can keep rocking in a real or metaphorical way forever.
What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
As an artist, this is very hard to say, but, it would be to go to business school. Few of us really know what we want to pursue at the age of 16 or 17 or 18. If you have the knowledge and backing of being able to navigate the business side of things, you can learn and perfect a craft later and then be infinitely better positioned to enter the market.
What role has music played for you during COVID or while you work?
I have had the same, roughly 7 days worth of, music on my phone that I continue to listen to on shuffle for the better part of 5 years.
We asked Anna to go deeper so you can explore some of her faves... I listen mostly to a lot of old British punk rock and roll, with a mix of other eras and geographies and some random pop and hip hop and old band tunes. General high rotation bands are as follows, but when I put my music on shuffle it can easily go from Iron Maiden to surf rock to Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga to some band that put out one album in 1984 to Cypress Hill to some Riot Grrrl band of the mid 90’s.
Stiff Little Fingers
Jaya the Cat
Peter and the Test Tube Babies
Joan Jett (every era :))
New York Dolls
~ Bonnie & Jeffrey