For more than two decades, local contemporary jewellery maker Phoebe Porter has been dedicated to the perfection of her art.
She studied gold and silver smithing straight out of year 12, graduated from the Canberra School of Arts in 2001 and spent the ensuing 20 years developing an intimate knowledge of precious metals and gems.
Following a mentorship funded by the Australian Government’s principal arts investment and advisory body Creative Australia with acclaimed contemporary jeweller Blanche Tilden, she spent 10 years in Melbourne developing her own distinctive aesthetic as part of the thriving contemporary jewellery movement there. Then in 2013, she brought her practice back to Canberra, setting up shop at Gorman Art Centre in Braddon.
Influenced by modernism and architecture, Phoebe’s work explores contemporary materials such as aluminium, titanium and stainless steel combined with precious materials including gold and precious stones.
“Those are materials of our time, so they speak to the contemporary human condition, but also the value of jewellery, why people value it, not just in terms of its material worth but as an expression of their interests, passions and beliefs,” she says.
“Jewellery is a popular gift to mark milestones, so it can become a totem of the things that are most important to people.”
Phoebe’s aesthetic is quite minimalist. Bold colours and geometric shapes are often featured.
She says she likes the beauty to come through “the revealing of the structure in the work”.
“Also, in the attention to detail in terms of surface finishes – they’re meticulously hand-finished,” she says.
Later this month, Phoebe’s perfectionism will be on show at Undercurrent Design Market alongside that of another 59 Australian makers of beautiful things.
It’s taken her more than a year to pull together the body of work she will showcase there.
“It’s the most comprehensive range of my jewellery I have ever put together, and all very laboriously handmade,” she says.
“I’m very excited to be a part of this market for the first time. I’ve tried to push the envelope for it. People who’ve known my work know I usually stick to the primary colours of red, blue and yellow but for this, I branched out.”
Her stall will include a wide range of her signature pieces such as her “Hidden Line” and cubist earrings in many colours including limited edition mint green, crimson and soft pink. New collections “Quarter Twist” and “Raw and Refined” will also be on show. The latter juxtaposes native metal specimens (metals as they sometimes occur in their pure form in nature) against her signature precision elements in the same metal in its alloyed form.
Part market, part exhibition, Undercurrent is fittingly housed at The National Portrait Gallery.
It was about half its current size when founded in 2009 by The Curatoreum owner Richard Baz as a platform for makers to showcase their wares. These days it has a reputation for being a place where, once a year, in the weeks leading to Christmas, Canberrans can find something truly special.
“When we invite artisans to showcase their work in this market, we concentrate on the artistic merit of what the makers are creating,” Richard says.
“Whether exhibition artwork or functional cup, Undercurrent is a celebration of the designing and making process – and there’s something truly magical in that.”
Up to 15,000 people visit Undercurrent over the three days.
This year, patrons can expect everything from fashion to ceramics, glassware to bags – and they’re all Australian-designed. Newcomers joining Phoebe Porter include ethical fashion label Eva Cassis and Metoni Leather.
“It’s like the anti Black Friday. The makers here are all about slow making and quality making,” Richard says.
“When you’re buying from a stallholder at Undercurrent, there’s a 95 per cent chance you’re buying directly from the person who designed and, quite possibly, made it. So there’s this wonderful connectivity to the origin of the work you’re buying, and you’re supporting Aussie artists and Aussie-made.
The Undercurrent Design Market takes place from 5 pm to 8 pm on Friday 24 November, and 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 November at The National Portrait Gallery.