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"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." - Confucius

The most intimate gesture I can imagine is when someone invites you into their closest private space: their mind. Both opening it and entering requires bravery and sincerity. Wallace Chan is among the most influential jewellery sculpture artists of our time, whose hands miraculously shape gemstones and titanium with the stories of his inner world. His desire to express himself and let others play with his tale-like colourful creatures prompted him to cast them in jewellery. I was honoured to meet him and enter into his magical theatre at TEFAF.

Wallace Chan is a quiet man, who in a New York Times interview said that, fleeing from hunger and the coldness of poverty he escaped into dreaming. He grew up in Hong Kong, where left school to work as an apprentice sculptor at the age of 16. Shortly, in 1974, he opened his own gemstone carving workshop. Meditation is a source of inspiration, while continuous learning – that he religiously believes in – provides the means to realization.

Mr. Chan applies the techniques and technologies of our times and even develops these into new ways to set gemstones, new tools to carve quartz crystals through a small opening or cuts to play with optics. As a result, viewers are not only captivated by the beauty of his creations, but find themselves incredulously searching for the tricks behind them. His works do not merely tell stories, but interact with the audience too.

Stilled Life cicada brooch, made of carved imperial jadeite. Stilled Life cicada brooch, made of carved imperial jadeite

For many artists the raw material is the source of inspiration. Mr. Chan regards jewellery as a creative form of self-expression. Although he lets the material teach him new processing techniques, the challenge for him is to show what is not visible. He wants to open new perspectives to the world surrounding us. In this quest, the different materials with their characteristics are his ally, just as colours and light, that build up the soul of the jewellery piece. A good example is the butterfly whose wings are carved from amethyst to reflect the shock waves it generates.

By definition, this adventure is flanked by trials and failures until the impossible becomes possible. Curiosity and continuous learning are what Wallace Chan holds in the highest regard. He says, one must dream to get inspired and try to realize it gradually until they succeed. Failure is no defeat; one must let the material teach us how it wants to be treated. He described it with a peculiar image: working with new materials is like a boxing match. If a fighter takes a hit in the ring, he must understand what he did wrong to receive it. You can only win if you get to know your opponent and avoid your previous mistakes. With jewellery making it’s the same: “I’m in one corner, the material is in another. It will punish me every time I fail to listen”.

Wallace Chan’s art pieces can be admired at major exhibitions just like TEFAF Maastricht and NYC, or by private appointment in Hong Kong. If you get the chance, I strongly recommend that you visit one venue and let yourself be amazed by his creations in person.


Photo credits: Wallace Chan, Loupiosity.com.
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