Julie Lake: Exploring the bounds of wearablity

"Sometimes my experiment starts with a material, sometimes with a tool or process."

Teresa Dovalpage
Posted 6/1/14

Julie Lake makes jewelry, installation and sculptural pieces. Her work ranges from earrings to knives to large welding projects.

Her jewelry is delicate and contemporary, most of it made with surgical grade stainless steel.

“It does not …

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Julie Lake: Exploring the bounds of wearablity

"Sometimes my experiment starts with a material, sometimes with a tool or process."

Posted

Julie Lake makes jewelry, installation and sculptural pieces. Her work ranges from earrings to knives to large welding projects.

Her jewelry is delicate and contemporary, most of it made with surgical grade stainless steel.

“It does not tarnish and is strong, durable, and almost completely hypoallergenic,” she said.

Lake had a jewelry trunk show at the Harwood Museum in 2011 and has been invited to participate in a show in September in Stressa, Italy. But she doesn’t call herself a jewelry designer, or even an artist.

“I prefer to just say that I make things, and being a maker is the only career I’ve ever had,” she said. “I waited tables for a long time, but that was simply a means.”

Lake has worked with metal, wood, resins, plastic, chocolate (a student project that was eaten rather than just admired), vacuum packaging, plant matter and fabric, to name a few.

“It’s all about discovering what a certain material can do and what it wants to do,” she said. “As for jewelry, I think it’s a great creative loss for those that are confined and defined by the typical materials—gold, silver, and platinum. I’m not saying that people don’t create amazing work with those metals, but as a culture we place far too much import on these standard materials, mostly because of our concept of their value, which in reality is incredibly ambiguous.”

She has a set of jewelry in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Ore. They are made from spray foam insulation and binding wire. Lake considers them some of the best jewelry she has ever made. But she currently has an affinity to stainless steel.

“I love its durability and lightness,” she said.

“It’s imbued with modernism, edginess, utilitarianism. It’s so Buckminster Fuller, Ray Eames, Donald Judd, the Jetsons, kitchen knife, and serving spoon.”

Like so many artists, Lake admits enjoying more the actual production of her pieces than the act of selling them. She says that she finds the business side of art to be extremely contradictory to the process of making.

“For me, the money-oriented aspect will most certainly lead to a level of pandering,” she said. “This conflict is, by far, my biggest struggle with being a self-employed maker. I would venture to say that there are many that have the same issue.”

It’s difficult to put a price on the endless hours spent in the making of a piece. In that sense, jewelry is easier to market than other creative outlets.

“When it comes to the money-making, jewelry seems to be the easiest for me to justify the transaction,” Lake said. “It’s much more accessible as a commodity than a wall piece or a sculpture. Jewelry also gives me an opportunity to explore the relationship of objects to the body, its movement and physical requirements.”

Lake uses an experimental approach to her designs. She considers the studio a laboratory.

“Sometimes my experiment starts with a material, sometimes with a tool or process,” she said. “For example, when I first learned how to TIG weld (an arc welding process), I got the technical side down and obtained some proficiency; then I pushed it. I set out to discover what the welder could do, and although the process is typically utilized to join steel and aluminum, I welded precious metals like silver and gold.”

The process was messy, but she came to understand the full breadth of possibilities the machine offered.

“Through this, too, I also discovered what the welder really wanted to do, and that was to join stainless steel,” she said. “I knew when I first started welding that this machine was very suited to stainless, but there was some sort of embodied knowledge I gained through the struggle of experimentation, so that when I returned to the basics, that welder and I had been through a lot together.”

Though Lake prefers this hands-on approach, there are times when she sits down and works everything out on paper.

“It can’t be avoided with a structural project or a piece that has a prominent mechanical element,” she said.

She also likes to explore the boundaries of wearability.

“I use variations of the same forms between different branches of my work,” she said. “So, if I can take a form, integrate it into a piece of jewelry and wear it, then comments or feedback I receive might inform a sculpture or a wall-piece.”

Lakes cares as much about the tactile, sensory experience as the look of the object. She once created a spoon with Braille inscriptions on it and a whole set of cutlery engraved with words that describe the experience of eating.

Though nobody would call her designs “Southwest-ish,” Lake says that her work has been influenced by the Southwest landscape and energy in a subtle, yet deep manner.

“For me, the region speaks to a minimalistic aesthetic,” she said. “The landscape is stripped down to an essential, basic beauty, and its influence is evident in my jewelry. There isn’t much that can be taken away from these Southwest deserts, and this sparsity deeply informs my work.”

She quotes writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “a designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

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