A Handmade Tale: Meet Three Artisans In The Running for the 2019 Loewe Craft Prize
Away from the polish, sparkle and glamour, Jonathan Anderson has been carving out a luxury niche of his own since September 2013 when he was appointed the creative director of Loewe. Not every upper class lady wants to be covered in diamonds, flashing her wealth for the world to see, and Anderson knows that. For all those chic gallery goers and vacationing intellectuals, Loewe offers a wardrobe that speaks beyond what is being worn. A midi asymmetrical dress with a chunky belt and a wooden necklace? It does look good, but there’s more to it too. Satisfying the needy customer who falls somewhere between bourgeoise and aristocracy (and represents both at the same time), Anderson steadily established a lifestyle within the brand. Thanks to him, Loewe now doesn’t just describe a Spanish heritage leather brand. It also stands for craft and a dedication to cherishing the handmade. What through the clothes and accessories on the catwalk, but also through the other pieces completing the puzzle. This full picture is best on display inside the brand’s new London flagship, a maze of beautiful objects. Some made to be worn, others just to be looked at and admired for their intricacy.
Reinstating the skills of making at the core of the brand, Anderson launched the Loewe Craft Prize in 2017. A competition opened to global artisans presenting a diverse spectrum of techniques, media and modes of expression, this year’s edition received 2558 applications hailing from 100 countries. The works of the 29 shortlisted craftsmen and women will be on display at Isamu Noguchi’s indoor stone garden Heaven at the Sogetsu Kaikan in Tokyo from June 26th to July 22nd. The night before the opening, the overall winner will be revealed, taking home a prize of €50.000 and the title of Loewe’s Next Top Artisan. Yes, we might’ve made the title up, but it surely does sound good. You’re very welcome, Mister J-Dubz.
Ahead of this global celebration of arts and crafts, we chose three standout names from the shortlist and asked them the all-important questions. About work, life and – most importantly – what they would spend the prize money on.
Hailing all the way from New Zealand, but based in Berlin, Sophie Rowley first fell in love with the art of making thanks to her mum. “She would make things for the house and introduced me to many textile crafts; knitting, crocheting, quilting, sewing, macrame…” She then went onto studying Fashion Textiles in Berlin, before graduating from a Material Futures course at Central Saint Martins in London. The first thing she ever remembers making were a pair of house slippers from recycled newspapers. What got her on the Loewe Craft Prize shortlist was something a bit more elevated though – using traditional Khadi technique she learned in India, her technique is based on destruction rather than accumulation, thereby creating rich textures out of modest materials. She cites textile artist Sheila Hicks as her inspiration, and says that the reemergence of craft comes thanks to the ways we live now: “I think that handmade objects have a bigger meaning to us than objects we can buy off the shelves, they carry more soul and that’s why we connect to them. Especially nowadays where we have such busy lives, we can appreciate the time that goes into the craft.”
What would she spend the prize money on? “I would use it to explore and experiment the technique I developed in Khadi Frays further. The biggest piece I made so far is 1.60 x 2m but I would love to make a really massive piece. I have quite a small studio space here in Berlin and I will need more space to make bigger pieces so I would invest in a bigger space with the money too.”
Sophie Rowley, ‘Khadi Frays’ (2018)
Instead of a classic story of an artist becoming a teacher, the trajectory of Masanori Nishikawa was the opposite one. While at university, studying to become an art teacher, Nishikawa explored drawing, sculpture and craft. “I had almost no knowledge about Urushi lacquer back then, so its process and expression felt quite mysterious,” he tells us. After graduating, he studied further about the basics of the traditional technique at an industrial testing site in Aomori Prefecture. As the time went on, he learned more and more, getting seduced by the tradition. “Ancient technique, contemporary result,” is the mantra behind his work, which takes simple materials and makes them extraordinary. “My favourite material to work with would be Japanese paper. It shows unique expressions when you attach them with Urushi lacquer and apply it over them,” Nishikawa explains.
When asked about the inspirations, he looks back at his childhood and growing up in Hokkaido, the northernmost area of Japan. “While I was in high school, I remember seeing a painting by local painter Nissho Kanda, and how it made me realise that the painting I was doing for fun is actually about expressing something. I think that the views in Hokkaido such as the skies, mountains, snow, and grassland I saw when I was a child are subconsciously reflected in my works now.” Falling right between arts and crafts, the sharp edges of Nishikawa’s sculptures carry a poetic tone of the past. What would he spend the prize money on? “I would like to expand the lineup of my tools and equipment in order to widen the range of my expression.”
Masanori Nishikawa, ‘Form of the Wind’ (2018)
“Sense of place.” This is how, in three words, Annie Turner describes her practice. With a past exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery and her work currently part of the collection at the V&A, Turner is arguably one of most prolific names on the short list. Representing Team GB on this year’s line-up for the Loewe Craft Prize, her sculptural latticework seems very on point with Anderson’s aesthetic. The clay netting could easily be transformed into a great new Loewe bag. Before there were these elevated pieces, she remembers falling in love with craft while looking at her step-father and his brother building “beautiful yachts called Dragons and small clinker built sailing boats called Dragonflies.” Her first memory of making is a den she constructed from fragments of wood, leaves and string at seven years old.
Inspired by the beauty of the Suffolk countryside, the ideas behind her work are drawn from Deben, a tidal river in the area where many generations of her family lived and worked. Focusing on clay as her material of choice, Turner describes it as “amorphous squishy stuff” that is one of the most versatile materials out there. Her work is described as “controlled decisions that lead to unexpected results.” Sounds like our Friday night but looks way more fabulous. “Handcrafted objects in the 21st century not only add richness to our every day lives, but will also be our history in the future,” she tells of the importance of preserving craftsmanship.
What would Turner spend the €50K on? “It would give me more time to investigate and experiment with my colour palette and the surface qualities found in glazes. The combinations of chemicals and oxides are boundless and require extensive research. But being an artist craftsperson and living predominantly off the sales of my work creates pressures that do not always allow as much time for this as I would like.”
Annie Turner, ‘Net’ (2017)
The finals of the 2019 Loewe Craft Prize will take place on June 25th at Isamu Noguchi’s indoor stone garden Heaven at the Sogetsu Kaikan in Tokyo, Japan.