‘My aim is to try and stretch the boundaries of what can be achieved with enamel as a medium, thus introducing a different way of enamelling in the contemporary jewellery world as an alternative to what is already out there.’
In 2003, after nearly twenty years as a freelance interior designer, Liana Pattihis embarked on a degree in Jewellery at Middlesex University. The Jewellery department at Middlesex, then under the leadership of Caroline Broadhead, had an ethos of encouraging a conceptual and open approach to the production of jewellery beyond traditional techniques and materials.
Pattihis was initially introduced to traditional enamel techniques by Middlesex tutor Ros Conway. Although Pattihis found the material attractive she was frustrated by her inability to master the complex techniques in the short time allotted to the project.
A workshop with visiting enamel artist Elizabeth Turrell introduced her to the possibilities of sifting enamel, a technique that offered her a more immediate way of working. Finally, and most significantly for Pattihis, was a workshop led by German jeweller and enamel artist Bettina Dittlmann. Pattihis was intrigued by ‘a lightness and sense of freedom’ she perceived in Dittlmann’s enamel work and this pivotal experience led her to create a body of experimental work using enamel on fine copper mesh at the end of her second year.
The course structure at Middlesex was such that Pattihis was not able to return to her experiments with enamel until the last six weeks of her forth and final year.
She began increasingly to explore the aesthetic associations her enamelled pieces have with long buried archeological finds. During this period she was also concerned with making wearable pieces using enamel and with this in mind developed methods for pins and fixings that would not interfere with the overall design. The final collection that she exhibited at the graduate show New Designers in 2007 comprised of a number of pieces from the series Unearthed. Also shown were a group of pieces made using layers of copper mesh and a process of making what Pattihis describes as ‘leaves’; pieces of thin enamel sheet that are fused onto a background of previously enamelled mesh. These early pieces, some of which were based on the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky, used a mixed palette of colours to create an expressionistic surface.
After graduation Pattihis established her London workshop and continued in a practice that focuses on the use of enamel as a primary material. Another important quality that her work investigates is movement (something not commonly associated with enamelled jewellery that can often be rather rigid and static). To this end she has developed a way of working that uses silver and gold chain to create work that has the appearance of having been dipped in enamel.
Departing from her earlier use of a broad colour palette recent work has seen colour restricted to black and red. Pattihis’s dramatic collection exhibited at New
Designers - One Year On in 2008 featured only red work.
Pattihis describes her approach to her work thus: ‘The enamelling methods I devised and follow are very unconventional. Unlike traditional enamelling, I do not degrease or prepare the surface to be enamelled in any way. I experiment with different fixing agents in various consistencies. Depending on the finish I want to achieve, I either paint or sift enamel onto the surface of the chain, or drag the chain directly into the dry enamel. Firing temperatures vary according to the fixing agents used, and also the type of chain. I mainly prefer shorter and more frequent firings to ensure that the integrity of the chains I use remains intact. Necklaces that are made up of separate chain links are interlinked before firing so that they are fired as one piece. This is a far more laborious method than firing each link separately and assembling after firing, as the links tend to change shape and stick to one another. The results however are more rewarding as the final piece is uniform in colour texture and pattern.’
Pattihis has no interest in repeating individual pieces but instead sees each piece as part of a continuum where one piece informs the next. ‘Every piece created is part of a continuous and fascinating experimental journey which gives my work the freedom of constantly achieving something different and new. The appeal to me is that each piece is unique. My designs cannot be pre-conceived; each piece is allowed to create itself.’
As one of only a handful of British enamel jewellers not using traditional enamel techniques, Pattihis’s work demonstrates an aesthetic more readily associated with enamel work emanating from mainland European and American. She is the only
British enamel artist represented by the influential contemporary jewellery curator, and agent Charon Kransen. Kransen, who was once professor in jewellery and enamel at University of Utrecht in Holland, was particularly drawn to Pattihis’s unusual approach to enamel.
Unlike the practice of a number of jewellers discussed in this case study series, who work in a variety of media, Liana Pattihis’s practice concentrates solely on enamel and she predicts that it will continue to be her principal medium for the foreseeable future. When asked to describe the unique qualities that enamel brings to her work Pattihis replies, ‘I am always amazed by the different textures I can achieve through using enamels. The versatility of the material is what attracts me the most. I like the organic feel it gives my work and the fact that I can never predict how my pieces will turn out. I don’t think I could achieve this element of surprise and originality with any other material.’