“My greatest enjoyment is to express emotions, wisdom of our ancestors and the greatness of Mother Nature through jewelry creation.” -Wallace Chan
I am honored and overjoyed to feature a fascinating and extremely inspiring interview that I conducted with Master Sculpture & Jeweler, Mr. Wallace Chan. We discuss his exceptional skill in jewelry design, his inspirations from nature and his outlook on life and creativity.
To begin I would like to formally welcome Master Sculpture & Jeweler Mr. Wallace Chan to The Black Nouveau, I am so honored to speak with you.
TBN: Since your debut as the first Asian designer at the 2012 Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris with the collection “Path to Enlightenment: Art & Zen” your work has been featured in countless publications and has been critically acclaimed as works of sculptural art.
Your style is a whimsical blend of naturalistic themes, fantastical motifs and exceptional craftsmanship, where do you draw inspiration from?
W.C: To create is to live fully, to absorb knowledge in all ways, and to practice repeatedly. The creating process can be described with two words, “life” and “understanding”.
Life is the key to creation, a vital element. Creation changes, and is full of vitality, it reflects the pulse of the heart and the spirit of the age, and motivates the development of history. Creation and life are interactive, for there to be creation, there must be life, and for life to have meanings, creativity is a must.
“Understanding” involves communication and channels. The creator must understand the skies, the earth and in between the two, human beings. It may sound a bit vague, but to put it in simple words, it means the creator should learn about the past, the present and the future, and he should dig into different kinds of knowledge e.g. astrology, geography, technology, history, psychology and philosophy etc.
As for inspiration, when you understand life and the universe, you will naturally understand that, there is humanity in everything, from a piece of wood to an elephant. When you treat them with emotions, they respond to you in the same way. Inspiration comes from the accumulation of our everyday experience. Like the herbal cabinet of the Chinese doctors, each little piece of our memories is stored in one little drawer, and when I see a gemstone, these pieces of memories come out from different drawers, they entwine, merge and transform with one another, and this interaction generates creativity.
I hope to re-interpret and enliven the elements of Mother Nature and culture through jewelry creation, and pass the wisdom of the skies, the earth and human beings on to the next generation. But to make it happen, solid and cultivated craftsmanship is crucial, from techniques to materials and tools, it is important to invent new ways in order to have our imagination actualized.
T.B.N: You have been credited as the creator of the “Wallace Cut” may I ask what this means, how did you come about designing it?
W.C: Why did I invent “Wallace Cut”? One time I went to a photography exhibition, in one of the photographs I saw the images of a man overlapped. They said it was a dark room technique called “multiple exposures”. I wondered if I could achieve the same effect with carving. I kept this piece of memory and the curiosity on my mind. When I finally started learning about gemstone cutting, I saw how the light entered the gemstone’s body through its surface, and how the light interacts intensively inside it. This experience recalled my impression on “multiple exposure”, and since I had acquired the knowledge to carve and design with gemstones, I could try to realize my idea this time.
The Wallace Cut is a carving technique which creates an illusion in transparent materials by combining medieval 360-degree intaglio into 3-dimension engraving. The resulting quintuple reflection unifies these features with precise calculation and angle casting and forms a 3-dimension and multi-line reflection.
The concept sounds simple, but the execution was near impossible. Let’s take my “Horae” design as an example. To get a full-bodied, 3-dimensional face for this work, I had to empty out precisely just such a face at the back. First, I bored a tiny hole right in the center. That’s the starting point, which is the nose. Then I slowly widened the space from inside out. As it was done in reverse, every drill was an act of reverse thinking: left is right, deep is shallow, and front is back. Since the space inside is the face of the Goddess itself, there was no space to move around. But that’s how the image acquired multiple reflections, creating different angles of the face. I carved the front view of the Goddess, and she would be looking at me sideways
Moreover, the tools that were available on the market were not sophisticated enough. I had to make some of the tools specifically for this work. I went to a factory and became an apprentice in order to learn about the mechanics it took to invent the tools. After six months in the factory, I found out that I could use the dentist’s tool for it. But the drill rotated for 36,000 times per minute, which was too fast, and the heat it generated while carving would damage the stone. At last I realized that I had to do the carving under water. So here it went: I carved, I dried the stone, checked to see if it was alright, (because one tiny mistake would be reflected into four more mistakes, and the whole piece of work would be ruined,) and then I put it into water to carve again. It was a stroke by stroke process, I forgot how many hours I worked on each piece, but at the end I felt that my mind, my hand, and the tool were all working as one, it was my consciousness doing the carving. It was 1987, and it was one of the craziest carving periods in my life. I surrendered myself to the magic of light and shadow, and found great happiness in it.
I had to do a lot of calculations to determine where the center was – where exactly would the face be situated. The next step was the amount of space for each half of the face; both sides have to be symmetrical. Then there were the angles of the faceting on the periphery of the face in order to achieve the number of reflections that I wanted. And even if the calculations were all correct, I still needed to put them through some trials before I committed them to the stone. All in all, this piece took me two years to finish, not counting the years I spent in perfecting the 3-dimensional technique. Life was not easy during those two years, I had to earn a living, and at the same time keep inventing.
T.B.N: With your vast knowledge of Gemology, metallurgy and sculpture, what sort of obstacles do you encounter when designing a piece? You have been known to completely destroy pieces if they are not up to your standards, would you call yourself a perfectionist when it comes to your art?
W.C: Since I began my creative journey in 1973, I have gotten used to absorbing knowledge and techniques from all directions. The wisdom left to us by our ancestors benefits us throughout life, but no matter what we do, we must not depend it all on existing knowledge. We have to explore and pave new paths. We have to turn our world upside down. Upon the old foundation, we have to build something new for the development of our future.
Difficulty has an intimate relationship with creation. It nurtures creativity and through challenges we grow. Difficulty comes from everywhere, from tools to techniques, materials and our mentality. But as long as we can overcome our own desires, we know how to deal with difficulty without backing down, as well as without fear, anxiety and disgust. The path of creation is often lonely, but this lonesome feeling makes us strong and helps us persist. Creativity grows as a result. I feel that I have entered a fairyland every time I meet obstacles, and once I solve my problems, I go back on earth with a sense of satisfaction and joy that is beyond words.
I pursue perfection, but there is no perfection in this world, there is nothing you can call the highest, or the best. But this is the reason why there are limitless possibilities. As there is no limitation, I can pursue perfection without fear, I can try, I can fail, and there is no need to compromise. I am used to absorbing new knowledge with open arms and an open heart. I am always under pressure, and upon the existing pressure I pressure myself even more, to explore the depth and width of knowledge and work my mind out.
T.B.N: My absolute favorite pieces are your exquisite butterflies. They represent your work very well and are a reoccurring theme in your collections. Do you have a favorite piece that you consider your greatest achievement?
W.C: Underneath the sugar-coated idea – “greatest achievement”, you can only find stumbling blocks. I do not have anything that I can call my “greatest achievement”, but I am happy to share with you a creation that I have recently completed. This creation has been on my mind for more than a decade, until about 4 or 5 years ago, I started to have it realized. In the process of creation, I went through tons of struggles and was often close to giving it up, but I couldn’t help continuing. Finally, it was completed right before the 27th Biennale des Antiquaires.
This creation is titled “Secret Abyss”; it expresses my exploration on the meaning of existence.
More than 10 years ago, I saw a magician trying to escape from a glass tank of water whilst chained and handcuffed; logic said that it wasn’t possible, yet he escaped. I was moved by the performance; I was, in fact, extremely impressed. And after some years the idea of “Secret Abyss” came alive on my mind.
When you try to make an idea reality, it is often the case that a series of difficulties, sacrifices and failures tag along. I was looking for the materials for this creation, at first I thought crystal would do, but it was too clear, so it could not create the dream-like feeling I wanted. I gave up the idea of using crystal and turned to rutilated quartz instead. The texture of rutilated quartz gives the feel of a fairyland. But it is not easy to find rutilated quartz that meets the standard required for my creation, so it took a long time and great efforts.
After acquiring the suitable materials, I created a 6.5MM opening on the rutilated quartz, through this small opening my tools got in and empty the stone out. Where could I find the right tools to do this? As the creation has never been done before, naturally no one had invented the tools I needed. So it was another long process of consideration, calculation, design and experiment to have the right tools invented. I’d better not go into details here.
After a series of failures and tons of broken materials, I finally found a way to empty the stone out in a satisfying state. The 43MM wide space inside the stone became my creative space. My tools entered the space through the 6.5MM opening, and gemstone clouds were set. I would say that the 6.5MM opening was the entrance and exit of my soul, it extended my existence. Inside the rutilated quartz there was this metaphysical world, in which there were materials. What is empty is no longer empty, the clouds float in light and colors… – that denotes a state of mind, as well as a state of life.
T.B.N: What do you enjoy most about your career? What advice would you give to aspiring designers and business owners?
W.C: Accessories have existed in human history for a long, long time. It appeared way earlier than other forms of art. It is an ancient culture, and this culture has then become evidence of civilization, and an embodiment of knowledge aesthetics, wisdom and emotions. And my greatest enjoyment is to express emotions, wisdom of our ancestors and the greatness of Mother Nature through jewelry creation. Jewelry stands for eternity, and through this eternal media I can share the stories and meanings of life with others.
Designer and creator are different, and they are different from merchant or dealer. Very often, designers come up with ideas and sketches, and then they hand over their ideas and sketches to craftsmen to work on. However, I encourage designers who are interested in the jewelry field to learn with patience, and to train up their ability to reach out to all directions – on the top there is culture, philosophy and art, beneath these there is knowledge of a craftsman that includes optics, physics, ergonomics, metallurgy etc., on the left you find technology, and on the right there are trends and markets… The mastery of all allows greater creative freedom.
I am not very good at commercial activities, certainly not an expert in business. But I believe that as a merchant, dealer or investor of this field, it is important to acquire thorough knowledge of the field in order to recognize the talents of a creator. Designers and creators live in their own worlds, their pursuits tend to be more spiritual, but merchants live in a collective world, and economic growth is their fundamental consideration. But the former and the latter join hands to create the many legends we have seen in this industry.
T.B.N: Your pieces are considered to be works of art in their own right, and I would certainly agree that they are extraordinarily beautiful yet delicate and complex. Was that always the goal when you were designing your first pieces?
W.C: If I must define the goal of my creation, it is the true, the good and the beautiful. When I feel that my creations are far from meeting the standard, that is when I have to destroy them and start over, or I may put them aside for a period of time, and try to enhance and enliven the knowledge on my mind. My creations come alive when I enter a new world of thinking.
I have this very strong belief in my life: only when I have my work done to perfection today can my dreams be realized tomorrow. I maintain the same attitude towards any goals, dreams, obstacles and challenges in my life. It is fair to say that, in life, we may not always be rewarded for our hard work, but it is always true that no pain, no gain.
The aesthetics and craftsmanship of each piece of creation is nothing but the result of hard work.
T.B.N: Lastly, what is the ultimate vision for yourself and your brand? How would you like to be remembered as a designer?
W.C: I enjoy living for the moment, spending every second and every minute on creation. History is vast, and deep, the universe is wide, and limitless, and our existence is so small. I look at the world with the curious eyes of a child. I have to seize the moment, practice on and do my homework. Once I have completed a piece of work, I must move on to something new right away, as I cannot linger in the satisfaction that belongs only to the past. I hope that with my creations I can fulfill my responsibility for history, and I leave it to history to grade my performance.
It was great honor to be given the chance to interview Mr Chan. His passion, seemingly endless creativity and respect for his art only fuels my own career goals. He is, in my eyes the true definition of the word “Craftsman” using his various skills and experience to create one of kind, sublimely beautiful and timeless works of art.
Special thanks to the Atelier of Mr Wallace Chan.