Self-confessed daydreamer Alan Ardiff tells Colin White why he creates art that is wondrous and wise, but always fun.
Ardiff creates his jewellery from a combination of gold and silver, working in a number of art media including bronze, etching, print, painting and wearable art pieces. Much of his jewellery incorporates kinetic parts: birds swing, stones rock and sheep jump!
In 1989 Ardiff graduated from the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin. The Artane native initially studied industrial design at the college, but quickly made the switch to the metal department – a change that has paid dividend for the inventive craftsperson.
When asked why he made this switch, Ardiff comments: “The reality of a job in industrial design was basically redesigning existing products. Also, working in a team didn’t bring out the best in me.”
Ardiff spent six years in college, and felt pressure to commercially justify this investment to the people who supported him through his development as an artist. He describes how this pressure helped “focus the mind”. He says: “My mother had invested a lot financially over the six years. Towards the end of my time in NCAD, I found a visual language that I was comfortable with, which was small intricate pieces with an element of humour. I enjoyed working with small-scale pieces. I wanted to tell a story through something that could almost fit it in your pocket.”
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
Ardiff’s art comes alive through movement – not something you’d traditionally expect to see with jewellery. Movement has been the signature of Ardiff’s work and he’s elaborated and evolved this concept throughout his career.
His magical talisman pieces are portable nuggets of sculpture. For Ardiff, the aim is to empower the person wearing his art. “We’re all programmed to recognise movement as a survival mechanism. My jewellery is a contemporary way of telling a story; a way of creating magic through movement,” he claims.
Packaging has also become a key ingredient of Ardiff’s brand. “The box says as much as what’s inside it. It’s all about the anticipation. My jewellery boxes are not a typical shape, and this adds an element of surprise to the product,” says Ardiff. “Sometimes I’m an artist and sometimes I’m a designer. For me, it’s all about the joy of creating something from scratch.”
I wanted to tell a story through something that could almost fit in your pocket
THE TWO TOWERS
Siobhan Riordan is Ardiff’s business partner, who came on board in the mid-nineties to deal with the financial side of the business. “I couldn’t come up with my ideas if I needed to focus 100% on the business side of things. I’ve seen people attempt it but it’s so easy to burn out,” declares Ardiff.
The artist has had a presence in The Design Tower in Dublin 2 since the early nineties. All production work takes place there, but Ardiff focuses on the conceptual side of things at his home in Ballina, Co. Mayo, and visits the studio in Dublin on a regular basis.
“The environment and structure helps me immensely and the facility has been a big part in the making of me,” he explains. “Sean O’Farrell in the Crafts Council was brilliant to me during my application funding. He helped with the business plan which allowed me to obtain a grant and ultimately a place in The Design Tower.”
He continues: “He recognised my enthusiasm and passion. Creative individuals may not be the most business savvy people, but if they’re given a chance, their drive will take them far.”
The export market is an important one for Ardiff. As his art is available for purchase online and at Dublin Airport, he’s been able to grow his brand internationally. Ardiff remains optimistic for the future, both in Ireland and internationally. “The art of craft is appreciated on a much higher level now. This is partly as a reaction to the fact that much of what we own is mass produced. The craft humanises the product. I’ve always seen myself as an Irish storyteller working through the medium of metal,” he concludes.
Photography: Colin White